Thursday, June 04, 2009

COPA, sexting, and "self promotion": we don't see around the corners

A day after more media reports that a central Virginia county sheriff was investigating another teen for possession of porn in his cell phone after receiving “sexting” meesages, it seems to me that the whole question of protecting minors – and the families that raise them – has become convoluted indeed. We constantly find more legal and security-related corners that we just don’t see around.

COPA was focused on what now seems, in retrospect, a relatively narrow issue, of images and perhaps text that would be “harmful to minors” when placed by commercial sites on public areas of the Internet. What we found was that many of the concepts weren’t so narrow: what is “commercial”, what is “prurient”, how relevant is the maturity level of the individual minor (the “Smallville Problem”). The Judge that decided the case, as well as the Supreme Court when providing guidance, articulated the idea that many supposedly stable legal concepts can play “shape shifter.”

But, even getting beyond the sexting issue as well as laws like COPA, what we find is that the biggest underlying problem for parents protecting minors is the easy self-promotion. A lot of it has to do with search engines, and a lot of it has to deal with the incredible power of social networking sites. When one draws attention to oneself before one has “paid his dues” and competed appropriately, one can attract unwelcome and unexpected attention to oneself and even other family members (especially of teens). We’re finding this particularly in the behavior of employers, making sniff judgments on social networking profiles (it seems that this happens now even with profiles supposedly marked private), and it is a problem that seems to be growing. This isn’t really a teen’s problem. Teenagers learn that the world is a competitive place, and in the world that they can perceive, the web, as well as the high school stadium (or the classroom) is a place that everyone competes. No wonder they do what they do. They’re just copying what they learn from us, and they can’t see around all the corners. But neither do we.

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