Unwanted Attention More Common in Chat Rooms and IM than Social Networking Sites


A study just published in the journal Pediatrics reports that young people are more likely to be exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations in instant messaging (IM) and chat rooms than through social networking sites.

The online survey, done in 2006, questioned 1,588 youths aged 10 to 15 years who had used the Internet in the previous six months. By design, respondents were split nearly evenly by gender. Researchers Michele Ybarra with Internet Solutions for Kids, and Kimberly Mitchell, with the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, concluded that broad claims of risk associated with social networking sites aren't justified and that legislation requiring schools and libraries to restrict youth access to them may be misplaced.

According to the study, 15 percent of respondents reported being the target of unwanted sexual solicitation in the previous year. About 43 percent were targeted through IM versus 32 percent in chat rooms and 27 percent in social networking sites. A third of all participants reported receiving some form of harassment, either rude or mean comments or rumors online.

The researchers suggest that, "Time and money spent on proposed legislation and legal action aimed at these sites may have a greater impact if they are focused on other areas of prevention, such as funding for online youth outreach programs, school antibullying programs, and online mental health services."

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About the author: Dian Schaffhauser covers high tech, business and higher education for a number of publications. Contact her at [email protected].

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About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.