My Child Saw What On the Internet?!
Children often accidentally encounter online pornography.
By Zachary Britton, Executive Director of Kidshield.com
Children can accidentally come across pornography whenever they go online. Whether surfing the Web, reading newsgroups or using email, children can be exposed to extremely inappropriate material. This KidShield.com report shows how easily this can happen. To keep children safe, parents and teachers must be aware of the dangers and actively guide and guard their children's online forays.
Looking online for new games or toys, children will come across every sort of hard-core pornography imaginable (and some unimaginable). This occurs for several reasons:
Summary of Findings on Accidental Pornography on the Web
Complete methodology and full descriptions of the findings in the following table can be found in the next section. The ratio indicates the relative danger of accidentally coming across pornography when searching for information on innocuous topics such as games. Also note that actual results are often much worse. For example, a child using Alta Vista, a popular web search tool, to look for toys, will find that two of the first ten web sites listed are for hard-core pornographic toys. As mentioned earlier, online pornographers are sophisticated marketers.
Accidental pornography is also common with newsgroups. A child looking for information on Disneyland will come across everything from pictures of naked cartoon characters to XXX pictures.
And, finally, children often receive unsolicited pornographic email from smut peddlers who indiscriminately advertise their wares. These messages often have innocent subject lines such as "Re: yesterday's mail." Children have no way to know that the message they are about to read markets hard-core sexual activities.
The following information includes excerpts from Zachary Britton's book, SafetyNet: Guiding and Guarding Your Children on the Internet, and reports found on www.kidshield.com.
WARNING: The following material contains graphic pornographic text.
Accidental Pornography on the Web
In my nine years on the Internet, I have accidentally come across pornography numerous times. Most incidents came as a result of looking for information through search engines, although some came when I jumped from "clean" sites to others that turned out to be pornographic. The worst occurred when I was looking up employment Web sites and came across a link to a Web page with the title "Working Men." After jumping to the page, I was confronted with men "working" together without any clothes. I mitigated this unpleasant experience by quick use of the Stop button on my browser. But for children or those unfamiliar with browser controls, such episodes can have more scarring effects.
A general indicator for the amount of accidental pornography confronting online children can be determined by using the AltaVista search engine, http://altavista.digital.com. By first searching for web sites containing a given word, such as "game" and then searching for web sites that contain the first word and the word "sex," a ratio of pornographic search results can be calculated. This ratio should be considered an indicator rather than a definitive result for several reasons: 1) some pornographic sites might not contain the second search term (they might not mention "sex" yet still contain pornography). 2) The Web sites might mention the second term in a nonpornographic fashion (such as a clinical description of sex). And 3) many web sites are not contained in the AltaVista database. These searches were all conducted from March 20 - March 31, 1998 during off-peak hours (search results may be skewed during peak Internet hours due to server-side truncation of results).For example, suppose a search for "car" found 1000 web sites. Rather than look at each of these individual sites, we now look for "car" and "porn." If this second search found 100 web sites, we could calculate that approximately 10% (100 out of 1000) car web sites contain pornography.
Detailed Search for Toy Web Sites
A search for Web sites devoted to toys found many pornographic sites. The detailed results of toy searches on AltaVista and other top search engines are found below. Ratios of other common words can be found later in this section.
Search Engine: AltaVista (http://altavista.digital.com)
Search: +toys +sex
Number of Hits: 71,798
Percentage of "toys" Web sites that are probably pornographic: 5.9%
Actual results (to save space, complete site descriptions were omitted for nonpornographic results):
Search Engine: Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com)
Business and Economy: Companies: Sex: General Merchandise (this was the last hit displayed)
Sample of the material found in the above category:
Search Engine: Excite (http://www.excite.com)
The three pornographic sites were:
WebCrawler and Hotbot also have pornographic listings under toys (Hotbot was the worst, with 4 out of the first ten sites pointing to pornographic sites).
Other Pornographic Ratios
The following searches were conducted on AltaVista.
Percentage of Missionary Web Sites that are probably Pornographic: 8.7%
Unaccidental "Accidental" pornography
Not all accidental pornography is "accidental." When Pathfinder landed on Mars in July of 1997, million of people took to the Internet to look at the beautiful pictures the robot was sending back. NASA logged over 30 million hits per day. For many users, however, the pictures that appeared on their screen were not rocks from Mars but naked women advertising video-stripper services. As it turns our, a company that foresaw the interest that would be generated by NASA's Web site created another Web site with the same name but different extension (nasa.com instead of nasa.gov). Thus, when families just typed "nasa.com in the address bar of their browser, they saw an advertisement for a video-stripper company instead. Over a million people a day were subjected to this.
Accidental Pornography on NewsgroupsBecause of their relative anonymity, newsgroups contain much of the Internet's worst material. Subjects ranging from pedophilia to bestiality are categorized for easy reference. Pornography can be rampant even in newsgroups devoted to innocuous subjects. The following research was conducted on America Online because it has one of the "cleanest" newsgroup feeds of the major Internet Service Providers. For this report, I used the example of a child looking for information about Disneyland. The results would have been much worse if I had used the example of a child looking for pictures of other children.
To replicate the following findings: 1) Start America Online, 2) Select Internet, 3) Select Search all Newsgroups, and then enter the search word Disney.
This search was conduced on 3/21/98.
A Search for "Disney"A search for Disney will result in quite a few newsgroups ostensibly devoted to Disney cartoons, theme parks and related products. All of the active newsgroups (those with more than 20 messages posted in the last two weeks) that we reviewed contained pornography. Please note that Disney has no control over this material and is in no way responsible for this content.
For example, the newsgroup alt.fan.disney.afternoon contained the following postings:
Other Disney newsgroups contained messages such as:
Teens Weird Anal OralPerhaps the most egregious messages are those that have misleading subject headers. One such message, posted on March 15, 1998 to the alt.disney.secrets newsgroup, had a subject line that asked, "Like Pics like this?" A child opening this message would be confronted with a picture of a naked Pocahontas. Pornographic Email Unsolicited "junk" email inundates the Internet. Messages hawking everything from get-rich-quick schemes to XXX material land in email boxes of old and young alike. These email messages often have misleading subject headers, so the child is exposed to the smut without any warning. Solutions Given the current technical and political environment, the best solution at this time is for parents and teachers to work together to make the Internet safe for children. KidShield has developed a new tool, NetScrubber, that will make this task much easier. When someone comes across an inappropriate site, all they need do is jump to the NetScrubber site, www.netscrubber.com, and fill out a short form. The combined lists of these reports is then sent out to filterware companies and participating school districts. By filling out this form, your one bad experience can save many children from a traumatic encounter.
On an individual basis, parents and teachers must use all available tools to guard their children. Please see KidShield.com, www.kidshield.com, and SafetyNet, by Zachary Britton, for detailed online safety guidelines.
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