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Blogging leads to kiddie-fiddling

According to this BBC news report, anyway.

A forensic psychologist spoke about the dangers of online journals, or blogs, and pictures posted directly online.

Rachel O’Connell said adults could use weblogs to learn about children.

Dr O’Connell said that the emergence of moblogs – mobile weblogs – allowed even faster transfer of pictures to the internet using mobile telephones with cameras.

She said: “This is just a paedophile’s dream because you have children uploading pictures, giving out details of their everyday life because it’s an online journal.”

The psychologist, whose research and work with police and other agencies has included posing as a child on internet newsgroups, said predatory adults could use an RSS feeder program – a syndication tool – to be instantly e-mailed any picture when it was added to a blogging site.

Well yes, they *could*. But will they, or is this yet another example of hysteria? This time last year, we were worried about kiddie-fiddlers with camera phones, and a number of places banned cameraphones altogether. As I wrote at the time:

The issue of child protection is behind many cameraphone bans. In December, the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) demanded a ban on such phones in all Scottish schools. General secretary David Eaglesham told the BBC: “There is a huge risk to the personal safety of pupils and staff and to the human rights of the individual to privacy… new technology would allow a simple photograph to be broadcast to a wide range of malevolent users and we cannot tolerate this. Enough recent high profile cases have shown just how great this risk is.”

At the time of writing there hadn’t been a single high-profile case involving cameraphones; a year on, there still hasn’t been one (if you know different, please let me know). I’m also amused that the SSTA is worried about the “human rights of the individual to privacy” – have you seen the number of CCTV cameras dotted around schools these days?

While there’s invariably a small nugget of truth behind media scare stories – for example, there are dodgy voyeuristic sites of the “upskirt” variety that rely on cameraphone images – there’s a bigger proportion of bullshit. We were told that phones were being used for “digital shoplifting”, photographing entire magazines in newsagents so they could be read later on a computer screen; at the time, the technology wasn’t capable of such things. Don’t believe me? Try photographing a page from a magazine with a standard cameraphone. I bet the results are illegible. Same with other big scares. Cameraphones being used for credit card fraud? Bollocks!

So: is it possible that kiddie fiddlers might read weblogs? Sure. It’s also possible that kiddie fiddlers might take to the skies in hangliders or jet-packs, or that they might build giant drilling machines that enable them to burst through playground tarmac without warning. But it isn’t very likely.

Of course, we need to protect children – but we also need to stop working ourselves into a frenzy about things that may or may not be possible at a time when there are very real problems to address. Despite the media portrayal of child abusers as mysterious strangers hanging around playgrounds, the overwhelming majority of child abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the victim – usually a relative or step-parent. According to the Scottish Office’s figures for 1997 and 1998, 70% of child protection cases involved the child’s natural parent(s) and nobody else; a further one-sixth of cases involved a step-parent. Children’s charities report that in 95% of cases, the abuse is by a relative, family friend or other adult known and trusted by the child.

Let’s do something about the real monsters before we start inventing more.