On Facebook, don't panic!

Sony lets you mix and match your laptop keyboard, mouse, and frame color; a bicycle lock messages you if someone is stealing your wheels; and the Facebook "panic button" may not be as effective as one would hope.

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In 2008, the Loaded crew took a road trip to interview Janis Wolak at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center. Wolak, a UNH professor, co-authored a study about "Internet predators," which showed that they do not fit the stereotype of thuggish basement-dweller using force, abduction, or deception to lure young teens into sexual relationships.

On the contrary, research shows that Internet sex offenders coax teens into relationships slowly, gaining their trust over time. Once the relationships become obviously inappropriate, teens feel that they have been complicit and are therefore less likely to report it. This is a disturbing trend and one that we really need to recognize if we are to help teenagers avoid online abuse.

Because of this, I don't think the new, so-called "panic button" Facebook app in the U.K. will be very effective. First off, you have to add it to your profile as a Facebook application. What teen would voluntarily do that? And if you are an online predator, wouldn't you avoid making contact with teens who have this application installed on their profile and instead target a teen who does not?

Second, if teens are involved in relationships that evolve slowly with people who have already gained their trust, they are already highly unlikely to report abuse. A button won't change that. A healthy conversation will.

We need to accurately analyze and represent the many colors that online targeting can take--not incite panic and fear with things like a panic button. That is a small Band-Aid on a bigger problem and typical of the ways in which government tends to react to media-hyped fears in disproportionate ways.

Unfortunately the interview with Wolak was never published and the tapes have long since gone missing. We take full responsibility for that. Hopefully we can follow up if and when further research is conducted.

More links from Monday's episode of Loaded:

 

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