AGs, “Predators”, and Manufactured Fear

 Posted on February 10, 2009 in Uncategorized

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North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper told The Wall Street Journal that he believed the "research was outdated and doesn't take into account the explosion of social-networking sites."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?)

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