AGs, “Predators”, and Manufactured Fear

Earlier this month, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, run out of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, issued a report stating that Internet predator danger to kids is not as high as some have claimed. The report was immediately criticized by a number of attorneys general including Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. And on Monday, an Internet safety organization in Oregon published a study that claims that data from press releases on Corbett’s own Web site fail to back up his claims about Internet dangers.
. . . .
The arrest of 183 Pennsylvania Internet predators in the past four years is indeed troubling, but the CSRIU study analyzed reports about those cases and concluded that “only eight incidents involved actual teen victims with whom the Internet was used to form a relationship.” Five of the cases led to inappropriate contact and in four of the incidents the teen or parents reported the contact.

Study challenges AGs on predator danger | Larry Magid at Large – CNET News

This is my sense: that there are lots of cops and Perverted Justice perverts trolling the internet pretending to be children on the make; that there are few adults looking to hook up with children on the internet; and that there are very few actual children responding to them. If you find someone to talk dirty to on the internet, odds are excellent that it’s someone play-acting. I view online solicitation, like drug use or unauthorized wearing of a cow costume, as a problem appropriately handled with more parenting and less law enforcement.

But government would rather raise our children than let us do it ourselves, and so government has an interest in keeping us scared. Fear effectively ensures compliance, and government can more easily expand its power when we are compliant. When the facts show that some danger is not as great as the attorneys-general would have us believe, they get defensive:

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper told The Wall Street Journal that he believed the “research was outdated and doesn’t take into account the explosion of social-networking sites.” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told the Journal “the report may be read as downplaying the threat of predators.” In a letter, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said the report’s findings were “as disturbing as they are wrong,” adding that “the conclusions in this report create a troubling false sense of security on the issue of child Internet safety.”
. . . .
[Kevin] Harley[, spokesman for Pennsylvania AG Tom Corbett] said that the Internet Safety Technical Task Force “totally minimized the existence of a problem.”

Sure — those attorneys general (aside: “general” in that context is an adjective; an AG who asks that people refer to him as “General”, as John Cornyn did when he was Texas AG, is an asshat of the eternally irredeemable variety) want us to believe that the threat of predators to our children is greater than it really is because that’s how they justify their budgets.

Government derives a benefit — in all the currencies of power — from our fear. Just as we don’t ask drug companies to diagnose our illnesses and prescribe cures, we shouldn’t trust Government to tell us how afraid to be of scary things like “predators.”

(Orthogonally: In the world of mammals, with few exceptions [armadillo?], an animal that is not a predator is prey. Humans are naturally predatory, both in dietary habits and sexually. We didn’t get to the top of the food chain by being mild. Is the choice of the word “predator” to describe those who victimize children intended to train us to think of ourselves as prey rather than predators, sheep rather than lions?)

0 responses to “AGs, “Predators”, and Manufactured Fear”

  1. I’m fairly civil libertarian (note: that is a huge understatement), but I have to disagree with you here. I think we should curtail CPS quite a bit, but I hope they keep up their cyber efforts. I’m not real sure how we’d catch these guys otherwise, except after the fact.

  2. So, there I was, about half a dozen years ago, minding my own business, and an AOL Instant Messenger message popped up, asking me if I would accept an incoming message from SweetYoungThingThirteen. I accepted, figuring that it was my older daughter — who was, at that time, thirteen, and, in a father’s not necessarily objective opinion, awfully sweet — and planning to have a word with her about choice of screen names.

    “Hi,” SYT13 typed, “I met you in a chat room last night.”

    That seemed unlikely to me, as I didn’t do chat rooms. IRC occasionally, but. . . But it was pretty clearly not my older daughter, as she had met me at her birth, some thirteen years before.

    So, I typed back, “That seems unlikely to me, as I don’t do chat rooms. IRC occasionally, but. . . ”

    “What are you wearing?” SYT13 typed.

    I thought about it for a moment, and started typing. “There’s two possibilities. One: young lady, you really should have words with your folks about chatting with strangers online. Two: Officer, I’m not interested either in trolling (online or offline) [I was in my parenthetical phase. JR] for underaged girls, nor in being the new blond on the cell block.”

    I hit the Enter key; SYT13 signed off immediately.

  3. The only cases I have personally seen of online solicitation have all involved adults posing as juveniles. So I agree with you that this “explosion” of online “predators” is largely a manufactured problem that wouldn’t exist if police didn’t troll the web.

    • I have had one case in which an adult was allegedly talking dirty to a real child online. I know that there are such cases. But “these guys” are, like asbestos, mostly harmless in ordinary circumstances. The question is not whether there is danger to children from online sickos, but how much danger — and how much we should be willing to give up for safety from the danger.

  4. I’m actually more cynical about these AGs (and by the way I literally LOL’d, I did not know Cornyn asked people to refer to him as General…I’d really love to be a fly on the wall when someone finally explains this to him, only it probably wouldn’t be that funny to just watch him stare blankly, “adjective?”). My guess is that they are probably as aware as we are of how exaggerated this problem is, but it is just clear cut political suicide to ever come out and say that. I know, because my wife is one the crazies. No matter how logically I try to explain to her that just identifying a threat does not end the calculus, that we need to determine how serious the threat is and what resources it justifies, she just refuses to even have the discussion and gets viscerally upset that I would even consider not doing “everything we can” to make sure some internet pervert doesn’t bother our daughter.

  5. “”..aside: “general” in that context is an adjective; an AG who asks that people refer to him as “General”, as John Cornyn did when he was Texas AG, is an asshat of the eternally irredeemable variety”” I agree with you here. They were not commissioned by the secretary of defense, nor the secretary of whatever branch comes to mind, so therefore they are NOT a General….

    Sorry, to the point of Internet predators. (disclaimer: I am on the registry): I have read the study and find most of the points are well thought through and researched. For those of us that have our pictures on the web, this report has some justifiable relief however it will not stop the legislature from their continued attack on us and our families. The information has been readily available for 10 years now that shows that rSO’s have a lower rate of re-offense than all but murderer’s, yet we are the most feared, and therefore legislated against. The vast majority of us made a mistake, we have learned from our wrong behaviors and are trying to make amends for those mistakes.

    That said, until someone in a place of power actually pays attention to the reports such as this one, instead of wanting to promote a political agenda, I along with my wife and two daughters will have to be outcast from normal society. This dangerous attitude by elected officials to ignore the data, and therefore ignore the rights of one group of Americans will filter over to other groups as well. Looking at the bills in the Texas legislature currently, it would seem that persons with DWI need to prepare themselves for the same rights infringment that the rSO community has been living with.

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