Blown To Bits

The 90,000 Sex Offenders Booted Off Myspace

Saturday, February 7th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

I’ve been waiting until I read something intelligent about it before commenting further on the widely publicized story that 90,000 registered sex offenders had been removed from Myspace, mentioned last week on this blog. The Connecticut Attorney General took this big number as proof of what he’s been claiming all along, that social networking sites are a new form of danger to children and need to be regulated and controlled to keep bad people away from unsuspecting, innocent children. The AG’s enthusiasm for trumpeting this statistic is part of a vicious and anti-scientific campaign to discredit the Internet Safety Technical Task Force report (see here and here and here for my earlier comments about this task force and its report). He doesn’t like the facts, so responds by denying them and then erecting a distracting sideshow.

Now danah boyd has done the math and made a few other important observations too. On the math front first: given the number of Myspace members, the density of sex offenders on Myspace is not high; in fact, it’s significantly lower than it is in the general public.

An observation that will surely excite an “even one is too many” response from Blumenthal and his fellow AGs, as though every registered sex offender is pedophile with a record of raping children. Hardly; you can wind up on the sex offender registry for all kinds of reasons, including plea deals in he-said-she-said rape cases involving two college students. (See Chapter 7 of Excellence Without a Soul for the long, sad story of one such case.)

But the most important observation is that mental model of danger is all wrong. It would do far more good to focus on vulnerable children and their Internet behavior than to try to purge the Internet of possible predators. There is a pretty good profile of what kinds of kids get into trouble, and it’s not the sexually innocent 11-year-old children of vigilant parents in suburban America. It’s older and sexually aware kids, kids with troubles, often family troubles, kids who crave affection and attention and explore liaisons in search of something that’s missing in their lives. The sad thing about the AGs’ ranting about Myspace pedophiles is that it distracts attention from the place where child endangerment could actually be addressed — with the children.

One Response to “The 90,000 Sex Offenders Booted Off Myspace”

  1. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Bill Would Require Logs of Internet Use Says:

    […] we have said before (here and here, for example), the Internet threats to child safety have been mischaracterized and exaggerated, and […]