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Recent statistics compiled by leading news agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Justice revealed disconcerting facts about online predators. For example, it was discovered that in a survey of young Internet users – between the ages of 10 and 17 – one in five reported they had “receive unwanted sexual solicitations online” (ABC News, 2015, p.1). Also, at least 4,000 cases were reported to authorities in which online predators utilized chat rooms to prey on minors.
However, the most disturbing insight regarding this revelation is the realization that the number of victims is much higher, because in this type of cyber crime, related incidents are not reported to the police. To win the battle against online predators it is important to craft laws that were created by people with a thorough understanding of how perpetrators utilize information systems and the Internet to commit sexually-related cyber crimes.
Ignorance regarding the technical nature of information systems and the Internet will only result in the creation of laws hampered by loopholes and weaknesses that are easily exploited by online predators. It is important to point out that a typical information system is comprised of “a set of interrelated components that collect, manipulate, store, and disseminate data and information and provide a feedback mechanism to meet an objective” (Stair & Reynolds, 2014). In simpler terms, gaming chatrooms, Google, Facebook, Instagram and other variations of social media sites are good examples of information systems.
The existence of an appropriate information system or IS enables people to share information and transmit messages. If a particular IS combines its attributes with the Internet, the applications are countless. More importantly, people can communicate with voice messages, share personal information in a cost-efficient manner. Also, distance is no longer a limiting factor, because digital information travels at the speed of light (Stair & Reynolds, 2014).
It is imperative to point out that social media sites and gaming chatrooms enable people to communicate without the need for a face-to-face interaction. Communication is possible even without uttering a single word, because the system enables the transmission of text messages or an SMS-type of sending greetings, ideas, or personal information.
It is possible to access social media sites and gaming chatrooms from anywhere in the world as long as an Internet connection is available. Since face-to-face interaction
is not required in a typical communication process people can pretend to be someone they are not. Thus, online predators have a convenient way to lure their targets. Before the advent of the Internet, Facebook, chatrooms, Vine, and Instagram, sex offenders frequent parks and school premises to select targets. However, in the present time, they can victimize children and teenagers without the need to share the same physical space. Safeguarding children and minors from online predators became a more difficult challenge when mobile devices and game consoles allowed users to communicate with one another via the Internet.
Most parents and guardians are unaware that game consoles and mobile devices enable children and minors to communicate with strangers. They are unaware about the fact that sex offenders are patient and determined in their desire to gain the confidence of their victims. It imperative to ratify laws that will make it more difficult for online predators to communicate with their prospective targets.
It is not an easy task to legislate a legal framework that will prevent sex offenders and unscrupulous individuals from using the Internet. Two major factors severely limit law enforcement agencies from preventing the activities and apprehending online predators. First, policymakers do not have a clear understanding of how information systems work. Second, sexual offenders and online predators’ freedom of expression and other related rights are protected under the law.
The impact of these twin factors was manifested in a state legislature, when New York Governor David Paterson signed into law the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act or e-Stop in May of 2008 (Saleh, Grudzinskas, & Judge, 2014). In this piece of legislature, the State of New York compels sex offenders to register all of their Internet accounts and other Internet-related identifiers with New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services (Saleh, Grudzinskas, & Judge, 2014).
There are two problematic areas in the said law. First, it seems like lawmakers have no clear understanding of how an IS or an Internet works. It is relatively easy for sex offenders to change Internet accounts, email accounts and other forms of Internet identifiers. Second, the law violated the rights of the individuals to communicate and express their opinion (New York Civil Liberties Union, 2016).
More importantly, the law severely limits the income-generating capability of certain individuals. Lawmakers must realize that the Internet and social media sites are no longer restricted to a few activities. In the present time, the Internet and social media sites are critical information highways that enable people to increase their capability to find jobs and to increase their earning potential. It is not fair to deny people this right and privilege. To defeat online predators, parents, guardians, and teachers must not only rely on the work of legislators. In this context, the best defense is the best offense, because they need to work together and educate children regarding the potential threats that emanate from the unsupervised use of the Internet and social media sites.
Sex offenders and online predators found a way to exploit the far-reaching capability of information systems when it comes to drawing people closer in a virtual environment. Ease of communication, cost-efficiency, and other positive attributes makes it easier for unscrupulous people to use social media sites and gaming chatrooms for nefarious reasons. The problem is not in the absence of potent laws, but it is the need to balance the need to protect children and minors and the need to honor people’s constitutional rights. Also, tougher laws are useless against people with criminal intent, because the nature of the Internet and social media sites enable them to change their identities as a chameleon changes its colors. It is best to solve the problem from another angle, and that is to increase the involvement of parents, guardians, and teachers in monitoring the online activities of children and minors under their care.
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ABC News. (2015). Online with a predator. Web.
National Sex Offender Public Website (2016). Raising awareness about sexual abuse. Web.
New York Civil Liberties Union. (2016). Legislative memo: The electronic security and targeting of online predators act. Web.
Saleh, F., Grudzinskas, A., & Judge, A. (2014). Adolescent sexual behavior in the digital age. New York: Oxford University Press. Web.
Schneiderman, E. (2015). Initiatives. Web.
Stair, R., & Reynolds, G. (2014). Fundamentals of Information Systems. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. Web.