Thursday, April 1, 2010

Issues of Internet Safety

The Wisconsin DPI recently announced a series of meetings around the state called Wisconsin Project Safe Childhood: Training for Educators and School Liaison Offices on April 21, 26 and May 12. It is sponsored by the U.S. Attorneys Office, the Dept. of Justice and DPI. I believe they have done a similar session in the past.

In response to the announcement, Keith Schroeder (no relation), a school librarian from Howard Suamico and a former WEMTA Board member, issues this response. He raises a number of important issues to consider if you choose to go to the session. I'd also highly recommend looking at the work of Nancy Willard and Justin Patchin. Dr. Patchin spoke at the recent DPI meetings for librarians and tech coordinators and offered a well-documented, thoughtful view of cyberbullying. Keith has given me permission to share this posting with you.

From Keith (March 31, 2010):

While I think the combined DPI and AG presentations have been a step in the right direction (see email below), I think it’s good to understand that much of the information and statistics out there are based on misinformation (or disinformation as Nancy puts it) that has been circulating for years. Based on solid research and statistics, Nancy Willard (nationally from the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use ) and Justin W. Patchin (locally being Co-Director, Cyberbullying Research Center Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Department of Political Science University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire ) and others have been saying that a fear based approach to internet safety education does not work. Based on information on the Wisconsin AG website I am concerned that much of this presentation will be fear based and want to make sure you access some of these other sources of accurate information, if you haven’t already.

Here’s a bit of background taken from various sources relying heavily on information from Nancy Willard from CSRIU:

For the last decade, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the state Attorneys General have been providing disinformation (Nancy’s word) or "half-truths" about the risk associated with online predators. Nancy believes that NCMEC is the source of the disinformation. As the leading research center in this area, the Crimes Against Children Research Center, has stated: "The publicity about online “predators” who prey on naive children using trickery and violence is largely inaccurate."

The inaccuracies include the statement, which is in the Wisconsin AG's public service announcement, that "one in seven children will be solicited by a sexual predator." The actual study, by CACRC, asked teens whether they had received unwanted communications of a sexual nature - something that happens with frequency in high schools. Only 8% of these communications came from older adults. The remainder was received from teens and young adults. The teens who received these communications responded effectively. The vast majority reported no distress.

Other frequent disinformation presented is that this is a major area of risk, that predators frequently engage in deception - pretending to be other teens - and that they are tracking teens down based on personal contact information they have posted online and abducting them. The actual research demonstrates that arrests for online predation accounted for just 1% of all arrests for the sexual abuse of minors, just over 600 arrests in 2006 - a concern, yes, but compare this concern to the estimated 100,000 teens who become involved in sexual trafficking every year. The teens, who present many other risk factors, meet with these abusers knowing they are adults and intending to engage in sex - statutory rape. Additionally, risk prevention professionals know that the "scare tactics" approach to risk prevention is entirely ineffective.

A recent study by the FCC found that 24% of people with and 46% of people without broadband access "strongly agree" the Internet is too dangerous for children. This high degree of fear, which many of the nation's top researchers and risk prevention professionals believe is grounded in the disinformation about online predators, is a major factor that is preventing schools from shifting to the 21st century educational environment enriched with interactive technologies. “Trying to prepare students for their future without these technologies in school is like trying to teach a child to swim without a swimming pool” quoting Nancy Willard from a recent presentation for a grad class and also from her website. The Project Tomorrow Speak Up research has found that students report that after their schools receive "Internet safety instruction" most of which is being provided by organizations that are presenting this kind of disinformation, the teachers restrict their Internet access. Project Tomorrow believes that unwarranted fear about the Internet is a major barrier to the use of the Internet in schools.

Thus, based on an assessment of the language included in the announcement (see below) of these summits and the information on the Wisconsin State Attorney General's site, I believe there is a possibility that this presentation will include this same kind of approach leading to the same results in our schools. As I said Justin Patchin and Nancy Willard are highly credible in the area of cyberbullying. Some great current statistics and resources are available from Justin Patchin’s website and Nancy Willard has a great handout on “technopanic” that can be found here: The report outlines the commonly found disinformation - or "half truths."

I am not an expert, but have merely given you some information on the disinformation (as Nancy calls it) out there to help you to better understand the issue. I know the goal of the AG is to keep kids safe, just like it is our goal. I don’t feel, though, we should rely on bending the facts to accomplish that goal nor do I feel that we should rely on a fear based curriculum to accomplish that goal. Internet safety education, including a social media and bullying curriculum is vital to keeping our kids safe online! I am very glad that our DPI sees the importance of this and is offering this forum. I encourage you to attend but to also take the time to check out some of the resources that I’ve addressed before you attend. Take a look at your curriculum. Is it strictly fear based? The more we know, the better off and safer our students will be. Thank you, DPI and AG for helping to inform educators.


Keith Schroeder

Library Media Specialist

Bay Port High School

Howard-Suamico School District

2710 Lineville Road

Green Bay, WI 54313

Phone: 920-662-7157

eFax: 720-247-3332

Google Voice: 715-330-4618

Skype: keith.schroeder

Google Wave:


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