News Item: Rosen, Amy, P. 6th March 2008
“Danger Lurks as Youths Head on to the Internet”, http://atlanticville.gmnews.com/news/2008/0306/Front_page/023.html
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A Presentation of the Issue
Talking to peers through internet chat rooms and instant messaging (IM) is the latest sensation among today’s adolescents and preteens, with 75% of teenagers using instant messaging and 48% of them accessing it on a daily basis (Rosen, 2008). These programs provide an ideal environment for people to talk to friends and meet people from around the world and share common interests. Statistics show that the average teenager has thirty people on their instant messaging contact list, ten of which they have never met offline (Mader, 2005). The average person spends 4.7 hours a week using these services (Mader, 2005).
The behaviour of people using these programs and websites can be less than respectable. Nearly four in ten (39%) teenagers have pretended to be someone else and 31% say something online that they wouldn’t have said in person (Rosen, 2008). Mostly this misconduct is due to the lack of parental supervision. 72% of parents are unaware that their children use IM programs (Mader, 2005); 42% of parents don’t check what their child types in chat rooms and IM (Davis; Grabert, 2005) and 95% of parents don’t know the meaning of common slang used by kids to warn when their parents are watching, e.g. POS (parent over shoulder) and P911 (parent alert) (Davis; Grabert, 2005).
However, the anonymity of these sites as well as the lack of parental supervision creates the perfect hunting ground for paedophiles. Of children who use the internet, 45% are asked for personal information by someone they don’t know, 30% consider meeting in person someone they don’t know and 14% actually meet in real life a person they met online, only 18% tell an adult about a person who contacted them online (Walsh, 2006). In 2005 13% of children aged 10-18 were sexually solicited online (someone attempted to persuade them to commit sexual acts) (Finkelhor; Mitchell; Wolak, 2006). Chat rooms and IMs have become little more than a place for mudslinging and a hunting ground for paedophiles; this could pose a real threat to the entertainment, arts and leisure industry.
B The IT Background of the Issue
Chat rooms began as a way for businesses to send messages to each other on their local network using BBS (bulletin board system) (Ries, 1997). This was limited however because each network only had a finite number of ports to connect computers to. In 1988 the IRC (internet relay chat) protocol was developed (Birbal, 2007). AOL (America Online) was the first company to utilize IRC to successfully market a chat room, where people from all over the world could meet and talk (Ries, 1997). Today the standard chat room website has a box where all the typed chat is displayed [fig.1 (i)], a place for the person to sign in or enter a screen name [fig.1 (ii)], grouped sections for a variety of topics/age groups [fig.1 (iii)] and a text box for the person to enter the text they are communicating [fig.1 (iv)]. In the future, chat rooms may well integrate some of the most loved traits of IM, such as VOIP (voice over internet protocol) and file sharing.
In 1996 the first instant messenger program ICQ (I seek you) was born (Birbal, 2007). ICQ was purchased by AOL but then fell apart when AIM (America Online instant messenger), Yahoo messenger and MSN messenger (now Windows Live messenger) were introduced. IMs generally have a contact list [fig.2 (i)], a window where typed text appears [fig.2 (ii)], a text box where the user types their messages [fig.2 (iii)], the option to start a VOIP session or video conference [fig.2 (iv)] and a list of people participating in the conversation [fig.2 (v)]. Today more than 24 million children are regularly online (Virtual...