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The Internet links people together via computer terminals and telephone lines (and in some cases wireless radio connections) in a web of networks and shared software. This allows users to communicate with one another wherever they are in the “net.” This Internet link began as the United States military project Agency Network Advanced Research (ARPANET) during the Vietnam War in 1969. It was developed by the United States Department of Defense’s (DOD) research people in conjunction with various contractors and universities to investigate the probability of a communication network that could survive a nuclear attack. For the first decade that the Internet was in existence, it was primarily used to facilitate electronic mail, support on line discussion groups, allow access to distant databases, and support the transfer of files between government agencies, companies and universities. Today over 15 million people in the United States and approximately 25 million people worldwide access the Internet regularly, including children.
Many parents believe that depriving their children of the opportunity to learn computer skills and access the knowledge available on the Internet would give them a distinct technological disadvantage as they enter the twenty first century. Portelli and Mead state by the year 2002, the reported number of children who access the Internet from home is projected to increase from the current 10 million to 20 million (6).
In addition to home access, Poretelli and Meads further stated that as of 1997 the percentage of United States schools that offered Internet access as a part of their regular curriculum was over sixty percent. There were over nine thousand public libraries across
America in 1997, sixty percent of these offered on-line access to its users (7). In view of this information, one can concluded that the on-line percentage for both schools and libraries has increased notably since 1997 and the number continues to grow as more of these facilities “plug in and log on.”
Whether at home, at school, or at the public library, children are accessing the Internet. The word “children” is somewhat ambiguous considering the range of ages that it encompasses. For instance, eighteen is the normally accepted age at which a child reaches legal adulthood; therefore, “children” would refer to any age between birth and seventeen. Porterfield stated that a study conducted in 1997 by Gateway 2000, a leading computer manufacturer, concluded that most children Internet access and computer skills typically commence with their school work. Although in some cases it may be earlier and in some later, the typical age at which a child begins to learn computer skills are kindergarten age, or age five. For example at the Children Television Work Shop website, a young child can click on a query and in a few days an E-mail arrives. For the purpose of this analysis, the broad word “children” will be condensed to contain two age groups — elementary level, ages’ 5-12, and secondary level, ages’ 13-18.
At either level, the World Wide Web poses clear dangers to children. These children grow up enlightened with technology, which they take for granted and know exactly how to use it. Most parents are not conscious of what lies behind that innocuous
screen. If you give one’s child carte blanche use of a computer attached to a modem, it is as serious as handing a ten-year-old the car keys and telling them to have a good time. These “cyberchildren” are vulnerable to potential dangers as a result of Internet use. These perils include contact with dangerous individuals, exposure to sexually suggestive materials, exposure to explicit conversations and obscenity in chat rooms, and access to violent interactive games.
One very dangerous downside to Internet communication is its potential for the telling of untruths. One can never be certain at any given time to whom one is talking or if the conversation is sincere and truthful. Clothier state that a recent issue of Yahoo! Internet Live reported that almost half of the Internet users they had questioned lied occasionally while on-line and ten percent were untruthful fifty percent of the time
(2). Asch state that Gateway Global Research surveyed six hundred families in the spring of 1998. This research revealed that seventeen percent of elementary and middle school children lied about their age, or sex while chatting on-line (E1). This fibbing among peers is not where the danger lies. The real peril exists in those other, older
individuals who purposefully lie with the intent to harm. Parents can no longer assume their children are safe because they are at home and the door is locked. Instead of hanging
around the playgrounds looking for victims, these cyber-preadators are simply logging on their computers.
Defined as “adults whose sexual fantasies and erotic imagery focuses on children as sexual partners,” pedophiles have discovered a haven in cyberspace. These dangerous individuals often cruise the chat rooms dominated by teens and younger children, posing as a child of similar age. Often these individuals try to solicit the children’s location and identity, with the intent to set-up an on-line meeting. Once the meeting place and time are established, the children become easy prey for these twisted individuals.
Officials of law enforcement have pointed out an alarming fact concerning on-line pedophiles. Durkin says that an upward trend in this practice indicates the possibility that, due to the Internet, some of these individuals may now be acting on fantasies they otherwise might have never carried out (16).
Reports have shown that these instances are becoming more numerous and warn that children should report any suspicious on-line behavior to parents. The parents are then urged to inform law enforcement officials. In view of the rules of on-line privacy and anonymity, law enforcement officers have found these criminals to be hard to detect and locate.
There are millions of web pages dealing with a wide variety of subject matter available on the World Wide Web and more pages are being uploaded daily. Although only one percent of this information could be called indecent, there is still the chance that a child might run across information that contains sexually explicit material.
Although regulations have been placed on web sites that offer sexual content, most of these sites can still be accessed without a credit card. For instance, Madden says a visit on Netscape at the Yahoo search engine, one could only type in “men” and approximately 3,440 sites matching would appear. One of these sites was actually be labeled “sex”: lesbian, gay and bisexual. There would even be pictures; Images of men.” This site could be easily access by children. These children are subject to view butt shots of young boys. They could even preview several other shots that are designed to lure them into giving up a credit card number; however, there are various shots that could be access without a credit card. Portelli and Mead say the Supreme court in 1982 ruled the use of pornography involving children to be “harmful to the physiological, emotional, and mental health” of children and criminalized the practice, instigating strong enforcement and severe punishment for offenders (7). They further stated the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which strove to end the flood of pornography available on the Internet, was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court due to violation of the First Amendment (7). In other words, the issue of how to protect minor from Internet pornography without violating the right of free speech is under debate.
The tendency of children to conjugate in on-line chat rooms is universal. It is hard to regulate the nature of these chats as it is to censure live conversations among groups of children. Groups sharing the same interests and the same age levels usually create these chat rooms. Access to these rooms is usually not coded or barred, so the presence of a pedophile or other type of sexually twisted individual is a real and distinct possibility. The usual tendency of these individuals is an attempt to direct the conversation to a sexual subject, often using explicit and indecent language.
If found, it is easy for a child to enter a sexually explicit chat in progress. Since there is minimal monitoring of chat rooms, these are sometimes labeled in a manner that reveals the nature of the conversation going on within. For example pornography materials was just a click away from “Governor’s kid page” (fun facts, coloring books, etc.). Grooves state that once the children access this web site, all they had to do was to click on “links.” By their surprise, an adult chat room appeared with exchanges of sexually explicit messages within.
The dangers of the Internet continue with a variety of interactive video games. These games are usually access through dial-up networks and through on-line services. Many of these games can be downloaded at no charge.
These interactive games include arcade type games, classic puzzle games, and role-playing adventure games. Cummins state a recent survey of nine hundred students in the fourth through the eight grade revealed that nearly half of the children stated that violence
and fantasy was involved in their favorite video games (1E). Considering this statement one can conclude that it is these violent fantasy games, these role-playing adventure games, that have recently been the focus attention.
Following the recent tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, FBI agents have been taking a closer look at the Internet and the consequences of its role-playing games. Alderson says the gunmen involved at Columbine, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, two Columbine seniors, were members of a dark on-line community calling itself the Trenchcoat Mafia (31A). In other words, this Internet world evolved from simple role-playing fantasy games to an on-line world filled with deep hatred and violent schemes. Robert Denerstein, staff writer of the Denver Rocky Mountain News, reported that the events at Columbine “Underscored changes that have already occurred” and “point to the hidden life of many youngsters” (31A). A pertinent fact that needs mentioning at this point is that Harris and Klebold, Columbine gunmen mentioned above, obtained the knowledge to build their pipe bombs from the Internet.
This is not the first time the negative effect of interactive games and the Internet have been the center of tragedy and the subject of scrutiny. In 1997 Michael Carneal, age
14, brought a gun to his Paducah, Kentucky high school with the intent to harm. Michael began shooting at students involved in a prayer group. Parents of three of the victims brought lawsuits against various media companies on grounds that their products contributed to the violent episodes. Among the defendants were game manufacturers Nintendo and Sony, who produced games the young gunman was fond of playing — violent games such as “Doom” and “Mortal Kombat.” An Internet pornography site was also among the defendants. The parents of the gunman, as well as his teachers, school officials, and classmate, were also held partly responsible for the shooting.
Cummins state that David Grossman, a United States Army retiree who now teaches psychology at Arkansas State University, says that some of these violent video games “are no different than military simulators…in some ways, worse” (1E). Considering this statement one can conclude that what the children of today are getting from these video games is military training, a process of continuous stimulus and response known as “operant conditioning”. A process in which the main objective is to teach to kill. The violence of these interactive games available through the Internet needs to be scrutinized.
The key to sheilding children from negative influences on the World Wide Web lies in knowledge. Parents and other influential adults such as teachers and librarians need to get to know the Internet, to learn the World Wide Web and what it has offer. Douglas Ruhoff observed in a 1996 USA Weekend article that the children are “native” to the high tech world of today where the parents are ‘immigrants” (12).
Alderson, Andrew. “International: New Threat by Trenchcoat Mafia.” The Sunday
Telegraph . April 1999. 31A
Asch, Kim. “Teens’ Social Lives Woven Into the Web.” The Washington Times.
August 1998. E1
Clothier, Mark. “TechReport: A Little Lying is Part of the Online Culture.” The Atlantic
Journal and Constitution. February 1999. 2
Cummins, H. J. “War Games – Are Video Games No Different Than Military Training
Simulations? Are We Teaching Our Children To Kill ?”
Minneapolis Star Tribune. January 1999. 1E
Denerstein, Robert. “Into the Heart of Darkness – Two Killers Lived in Suburbs, But
Inhabited Their Own Twilight World.” Denver Rocky Mountain News.
April 1999. 31A
Durkin, Keith F. “Misuse of the Internet by Pedophiles: Implications for Law
Enforcement and Probation Practice.” Federal Probation. September 1997. 14-18
Groves, Howard. “Conduct of Life”. Christian Science Monitor. 16 March 1999: 24
CD-ROM. UMI- EBSCOhost. April. 1999
Madden, Lisa. “What Dangers Lurks Behind that Screen”. New Hampshire Business
Review. 15 August 1999: 14 CD-ROM. UMI- EBSCOhost. April. 1999
Portelli, Christopher J. And Mead, Coralie W. “Censorship and the Internet – No Easy Answers.” Contemporary Women’s Issues. October 1998: 4-8 CD-ROM.
UMI- EBSCOhost. April. 1999
Porterfield, Deborah. “Ask Parents Why They Want a Computer and You’ll Hear…”
Gannett News Service. June 1997. CD-ROM. UMI- EBSCOhost. April. 1999
Rushkoff, Douglas. “Are ‘Screenagers’ Wiser Than Adults ?” USA Weekend.
June 1999. 12
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