Solicitation and harassment much more likely in chat rooms and over IM says study

Social networking sites have been under fire for poor security measures and screening of users leading to harassment and sexual solicitation of minors using sites like MySpace and Facebook.

The results from a study were announced today that was performed by child health researchers Michele Ybarra of Internet Solutions for Kids and Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center. The goal of the study was to find where young teens and children were most likely to be the victims of unwanted sexual solicitation and harassment.

Many may think social networking sites are the most likely place for kids to be harassed online. DailyTech reported in December of 2007 that a family had sued MySpace after a teenage girl killed herself after being the victim of cyber bullying on the site. MySpace competitor Facebook was also the target of legal action last year when the New York Attorney General filed a subpoena against the site due to allegations of sexual solicitation of minors.

Contrary to the image these types of cases give social networking sites, the new study shows that young teens are much more likely to be harassed via instant messages or in chat rooms than on social networking sites.

Of the 1,600 kids between 10 and 15 years of age surveyed across the nation, 4% reported unwanted sexual solicitation and 9% reported being harassed on social networking sites. The study respondents reported 59% more solicitations were received over instant messengers and 19% more in chat rooms. Overall kids were 96% more likely to be harassed in instant messages than on a social networking site.

The study authors use this data to illustrate to parents that they need to be aware of what their children are doing online and not simply focus on social networking sites. The authors also point out that the vast majority of children using social networking, instant messages or chat rooms will never be the victims of harassment of unwanted solicitations.

Ybarra also says, “Young people experiencing problems online are often experiencing problems offline as well. We need to make sure that we are giving them the support and tools to healthfully navigate across all environments, both online and offline."

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