Friday, October 7, 2011

What every guide says about child safety on the Internet

At the same time that Blizzard and Google are fighting for real names only on the Internet, children's advocacy groups are fighting for exactly the opposite. Take a look at the top hits that come up if you do a web search on "advice to children online".

First there is ChildLine, a site targeted directly at children. Here is the entirety of their guide on how to stay safe:

How do I stay safe when playing games online?
  • Don’t use any personal information that might identify you. This could be your full name, home address, phone number or the name of your school.
  • Use a nickname instead of your real name and chose one that will not attract the wrong type of attention.
  • Look out for your mates. Treat your friend’s personal details like you would your own and do not share their details with others.
Not only do they suggest not using real names, it is pretty much the only advice they give.

Next is Safe Kids, a site targeted at parents. This site has a more detailed guide on things you can do to help a child say safe. Here is their number one suggestion under "Guidelines for parents":

Never give out identifying information—home address, school name, or telephone number—in a public message such as chat or newsgroups, and be sure you’re dealing with someone both you and your children know and trust before giving out this information via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, financial information, or marital status. Do not post photographs of your children in newsgroups or on web sites that are available to the public. Consider using a pseudonym, avoid listing your child’s name and E-mail address in any public directories and profiles, and find out about your ISP’s privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.

Third up is BullyingUK, a site dedicated to bullying in particular instead of general child abuse. Here are their first two pieces of advice for Internet saftey:

  • Never give out your real name
  • Never tell anyone where you go to school

The real names movement is not just out of touch with BBS culture and with norms of publication. It's also out of touch with child safety advocates.

Real names proponents talk about making Internet users accountable. Child advocates, meanwhile, strive for safety. Safety and accountability are in considerable tension. To be safe on a forum, one thing you really want is the ability to exit. You want children to be able to leave a forum that has turned sour and not have ongoing consequences from it. To contrast, real name proponents hope that if someone misbehaves and leaves a forum, there is some outside mechanism to track the person down and retaliate. That might sound good if the person tracked down is really a troll, but it's a chilling prospect if the person being hunted is a child.

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