Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Sex, identity and the Digital Realm

DOPA, COPA, CIPA, CANSPAM. Acronyms that portray the efforts of lawmakers to control and organise the Digital Realm. DOPA seems to be the most recent and absurd one on the list. It aims at protecting children from online sex predators. A lofty goal for sure, but the aim is wrong. Government  funded or subsidised agencies and organisations should prevent children from going on line and visit social networking sites like myspace. The encompasses all sites where you can create a profile and interact with others. The FCC is supposed to draw up a list of banned sites.

Too bad that lawmakers have little sense for  history. Otherwise they would have remembered the true impact of the Roman Catholic’s Church Index of forbidden books. It only increased the popularity of books that would otherwise have faded due to lack of interest. The FCC list will no doubt become popular as guide to the fun part of the Digital Realm.

The rationale behind the proposed law is more worrying. It basically says that when the streets are no longer safe for children we prevent the children to go outside. It is the final admission that we, as a government and society, can not control the public space, of which the Digital Realm is an integral part. Hence we decided to limit access to that public space. And that’s stupid. And it won’t protect the children from sexual abuse.

The majority of sexual abuse with children is not done by some strange sexual predator, but by a father, a brother, a neighbor, a teacher or a friend of the family. It is not done in the public space, but the so-called safe private domain, the confines of the family home.

The law also ignores the fact that increasingly children engage in sexual activities at an earlier age, both boys and girls alike. Without proper sex education these kids simply focus on the technical act of having sex in all forms, singular and plural (yes parents, gangbangs do take place among our 13 year olds), lacking a moral compass. Then you get children that don’t think about oral and anal sex as real sex.

Some time ago I tested various cyber filters that were supposed to protect children from finding ‘unwholesome’ material. The filter were tested with real pr0n sites, sites providing sex education and misspelled URL’s (like Britneespears.com, a simple typo for an 8 year old). The results were shocking. Oh, pr0n was blocked, but so was sex education as well. Sort of. Sex education was partly blocked. The links to an online erotic catalogue were not blocked, including the site that resulted, text and pictures. The misspelled URL’s, which are clearly targetted at little children, redirected to  pr0n sites without so much as a hickup by the filters. Lesson? Parents, don’t put your trust in technical means to protect your children!

The proliferation of acronymic laws, filters and software might give adults the warm feeling they are makng a difference, in fact it only proves their digital illiteracy. It won’t stop the tech savvy kids from going online, but it does leave them without the moral guidance that is needed to discern right from wrong. Proper sex education that deals with the biological, emotional and moral aspects is needed. Parental guidance and oversight is needed. Children should feel free to discuss their digital encounters with their parents without fear of their msn account being blocked for a week (you won’t keep them from school for kissing someone, won’t you?).

Yes,the Digital Realm has dangers that other parts of the public space don’t have. Access to filth and dangerous materials is much easier. Hiding your identity and intentions is much easier. But that is no different then when you move from Backwater to Bigtown. And yet no one seems to be willing to suggest that all roads leading to Bigtown have to be closed. Nope ,you just have to become streetwise in the Digital Realm. And, please, lawmakers. Stop spending time in creating laws that have nice sounding acronyms. we don’t need nice labels,but good content.

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