January 19, 2009
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University has released the final report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force and an assessment of the risks faced by youth on social networks.
The task force, headed by the Berkman Center and comprised of academics, child safety experts and executives of technology companies—including Microsoft, Facebook, Google and MySpace—found that bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline. The report concluded there was no simple technology solution to protect children from online threats.
“[A] combination of technologies, in concert with parental oversight, education, social services, law enforcement, and sound policies by social-network sites and service providers, may assist in addressing specific problems that minors face online,” the study said.
The task force was created in February 2008 by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children by adults online. The study found, counter to popular perception, that youth report sexual solicitation by other minors more frequently than solicitation by adults.
“The image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations and Internet-initiated offline encounters,” the report states. “Of particular concern are the sexual solicitations between minors and the frequency with which online-initiated sexual contact resembles statutory rape rather than other models of abuse.”
The task force was created in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace.
In addition to the report, which provides a series of recommendations for creating a safer environment on the Internet, the task force produced a literature review of relevant research in the field of youth online safety in the United States, and a report from its Technology Advisory Board, reviewing the 40 technologies submitted to the task force.
HLS Professor John Palfrey was chairman of the task force and HLS Lecturer on Law Dena Sacco '93 served as co-director. Palfrey discussed the task force’s findings at a Congressional Internet Caucus Fifth Annual State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C., on January 14. Sacco, a fellow in the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center, is co-teaching a Spring seminar Child Exploitation, Pornography and the Internet.
The Berkman Center created a podcast "Radio Berkman" to accompany the release of the report.