Media underestimate net's reach: lobby group

Mainstream mass media companies seem to forget that the internet is also a mass medium with a huge reach, says the Internet Safety Group.

Mainstream mass media companies seem to forget that the internet is also a mass medium with a huge reach, says the Internet Safety Group.

The internet is a reflection of society, good and bad, says the lobby group's director, Liz Butterfield.

“There is this funny sense many people have about the internet that it is a small, friendly community space. It is so easy to forget that the net has the same diversity as our society, a lot of great people and some criminals intent on misuse, and that it's global in scale.”

Her group last week criticised a Palmerston North-based radio station’s plan to put several young children under the eyes of web cameras and allow them to “play” on the internet in public view as part of a Little Brother event modelled on TV’s Big Brother.

The promotion has now been cancelled, though local newsgroup postings subsequently accused the ISG of “paedophile hysteria”.

Daily papers were rather selective in reporting her statements, she says. “The reality always is, given time and space constraints, the quotes chosen are those that sound the strongest and most emotive.

“I offered, as I always do, the context of coming to terms with the reality of the internet. Had the promoters stopped to think about the size of the potential audience?”

Did she consider the prospect of a potential molester approaching online a child under the eye of cameras and with radio station minders to be realistic?

“Have any paedophiles stalked children from images on the [internet]? Yes. [Would] any of the children in this programme [have been] likely to be stalked by a paedophile? Not very likely, [as] I stated in several interviews. But it is a risk.

“Should there be a ban on all children's images on the net? Of course not, but constant real-time surveillance of children on the net may be going too far...

“I would have felt differently about it if they were 16 or 18, but 10-year-olds would have little discretion about what they reveal, though I would guess those personal revelations are part of the 'entertainment'.”

The ISG last week launched a redesigned website with a larger fund of information, citing “a rapidly growing demand for public information on internet safety issues”. The new site also includes information on mobile-phone risks, and such online-exacerbated dangers as copyright breach and fraud, as well as information on internet infrastructure and privacy.

Another innovation is the appearance of guest editors. NetSafe has become a resource for academics, educators, businesses, students and journalists, she says.

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