Thursday, August 25, 2005

Byte: In defense of the internet user

There was a very interesting program on Channel 4 on Tuesday night about how a 14 year old boy used internet chatrooms to construct a very elaborate and outlandish fantasy, which very nearly ended up with his own (self-provoked) murder.

Clearly, this is an exceptional, if not perhaps unique, case: there was, of course, the very famous German case of a cannibal advertising on the internet for victims. Incredibly, someone replied, and was indeed killed and eaten...

In the face of such sensationalist coverage as Channel 4's program on Tuesday, it would be very easy to think that the internet is full of dangerously psychotic people (not to mention predatory paedophiles), that it should be banned and you shouldn't let kids near it. (I can see the Daily Mail writing up the headlines now) Though, to be fair to Channel 4, the program makers *did* try to inject a sense of proportion into the final segment of the program - trying to make clear just how unusual a case it was - but for people who didn't watch the whole program, it appeared to be dangerously unbalanced against internet use by children.

This has to be addressed. The Armin Meiwes cannibal case was between two adults who were acutely aware of what they were doing - regardless of how deranged it was. The problem in the case of the two children isn't just that "John" was a complete fantasist, nor that "Mark" was so naive that if you told him that the word "gullible" had been taken out of the dictionary he would have answered "Really?". "John" was clearly out to hoodwink "Mark" - just because he could - and that's not what I'd consider normal behaviour. The fact neither his parents nor "Mark" were able to spot this is, in my opinion, the crux of the matter. At just 16, "Mark" didn't have the life experience to spot a con, but "John"'s parents should have noticed a change in his behaviour - and should have taken firmer action when his school work began to become effected.

Is it responsible parenting to allow a 14 year old child access to the internet for up to 12 hours a day? Note that these 12 hours are above and beyond the normal school day. Ignorance of what they were doing is no excuse, either. You might not be able to watch people for 24 hours a day, but as a parent, you have a duty of care to your progeny. Which means you shouldn't be letting them stay up all night on internet chatrooms without you knowing...

The vast majority of kids using the internet probably don't need to be supervised. If anything, they're probably more internet-savvy than their parents (which is part of the problem) - but in the cases where interest turns into behaviour-modifying obsession, parents have to exercise their control.

99.99999999999% of people on the internet are completely normal, stable people (albeit half of them are assholes... Just half? - Generic reader) who don't pose a danger to you, your kids or your dog. A few simple precautions here and there, plus a bit of interest from parents in seeing what their children are doing would go a long way to preventing bizarre cases like this from happening.

Take this example of good parenting: (The 5th post down)

Pardon me for hijacking the thread, here..

But, Brion - if you don't want your mother to know you were up and on the computer at 3:29 in the morning - DON'T post on a forum that she reads.


[ post edited by Faydra ]

Kudos to you, Faydra. Brion, your pwned!
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