Thursday, August 2, 2007

29,000 Fewer Sex Offenders on MySpace

Sam Diaz reports in the Washington Post on the latest twists in the evolving struggle to rid cyberspace of sexual predators. MySpace and other social networking corporations, in an effort to stave off legislation that would make it harder for their key market of teenagers to participate without parental approval, have hired ex-police officers to lead corporate efforts at cleansing their webpages of sex offenders. According to story MySpace removed 29,000 registered sex offenders just last week (which makes you wonder how many of them must be on there).

With the opportunity that online social networking provides for anonymity and the popularity of such sites among pre-teens and teenagers it is little wonder that they attract people with a propensity to seek sexual activity with the very young. Those familiar with Governing through Crime will recognize that this represents an all too familiar pattern in which ever more aspects of life are opened up to scrutiny and action around the problem of crime.

Corporations hire cops to do what cops have always done, sleuth out bad guys. Sounding like a classic gumshoe, former NYPD member, now MySpace security expert, John Cardillo explains:

"Criminals are impulsive; predators are impulsive," said Cardillo, chief executive of Security Tech. "They trip up more than they think they do, if you know what to look for. And we do."

Attorney Generals and legislatures can develop new laws requiring sex offenders to make their emails available and segregating youth centered portions of the web from registered sex offenders.

Parents facilitated by social networking sites can develop new strategies to control their children in the name of keeping them safe from predators.

None of this is meant to suggest that social networking sites do not attract sex offenders (of course they do, why wouldn't they be attracted to sites full of pictures and details about the young subjects they crave). But it is interesting that among its other marvelous and useful functions, cyberspace now allows those who have already done everything possible to separate themselves from the deviant and dangerous by moving to a gated community, sending their kids to class- and race- segregated private schools, and insisting on 24/7 control over their kids can now have a nearly endless space in which to still feel vulnerable about crime and their kids.

Moreover, it seems clear that no one can actually get molested online. Unless you agree to go somewhere and meet one of these sexual offenders, you don't get hurt. Which underscores another repetitious feature of governing through crime, that the best strategies have to do with making potential victims smarter about their own behavior rather than seeking to exercise more control over the X minus 29,000 sexual offenders still on MySpace.


eck said...

It's really unfortunate when trash like the previous post from "knicksgirl0917" makes its way on to this blog. Kind of points to the fact that no matter what a person does, it's difficult to avoid those who will seek to take advantage of you. In this case it's pretty harmless, but I found it ironic given the topic of yesterday's post.

JSN said...

I have some comments on your op-ed piece.

In general I agree with the ABA policy that essentially states that incarceration should be reserved for persons who are a threat to public safety and those who are habitual offenders.

My problem with this policy is they do not define
"threat to public safety" and "habitual offender".
Another term that is not defined is "nonviolent offender".

Intended and unjustified use of physical force that results in death or trauma (including mental trauma) is something that society needs to control. Unintended use of physical force is a problem that should be examined in my view.
Should we imprison people for the unintended use of force?

The intended and unjustified distribution of chemical agents than can cause death or trauma also needs to be controlled but the key word in my view is "unjustified". Should we incarcerate people for the unjustified distribution of a chemical agent that is unlikely to cause trauma (marijuana)?

Under our present system illegal drugs are more likely to result in trauma because the purity and concentration are not known. If you don't use illegal drugs that is not a problem. I am not a Libertarian but I do wonder if it is cost effective to protect the safety of people who do not want their safety protected.

Michael Zhou said...

This is something that is related to governing through crime on cyber social networking sites.

Facebook has an application that tracks registered sex offenders in the state of Indiana, showing their location and name, and showing whether they are on Facebook or not.

Jonathan Simon said...

Yeah, I'm still trying to figure out how to remove parasitical posts like the first comment above (right now I'm blogging from Germany and the accompanying tools all show up in German).

The point about violence is well taken. Its often hard to define it precisely. I would opt for an insurance model that classifies the violence potential of various behaviors by actual actuarial indicators. Those engaging in criminal behaviors with a high risk of violence might find themselves under quite stringent surveillance and restrictions on their liberty.

When it comes to drugs I support what I call a robust civil governance model. All drugs should be made "legal" in the sense that competent consumers (no kids, mentally ill people etc.) should be able to obtain them legally, but under regulated conditions that would vary based on the risk posed by the drug. You should be able to buy marijuana at your local store (but your smoking of it would be regulated like a combination of cigarette and alcohol regulations). If you want to smoke crack I'd make you go downtown to a casino like institution that would charge you enough to provide extensive health and community protection controls (while still making a profit). No doubt there will always be a black market under such a regime but having taken the profitable sweet spot out of the market for these drugs we will make the criminal enforcement against such a black market a much smaller and more benign part of our society.

As for the social networking "safety tools" they are an interesting extension of governing through crime. In the end, nothing works more effectively than raising your kids to be responsible users of their own freedom, and of course the logics of governing through crime have made that very difficult.

santhi said...

About Spam as another online medium fostering fear of sex crime...

A well-meaning relative sent me a spam message "through a rapist's eyes." This attempts to tell women how to avoid being raped by doing things like avoiding certain hair styles.

Not only has this message been widely spammed, it is also on lots of websites and discussion boards.

There are so many problems with this, but I took the spam as an opportunity to send back my own message, to all the recipients of the original that I could trace:

From: Chrysanthi Leon []
Sent: Sunday, August 19, 2007 1:21 PM
Subject: RE: flawed info and premise--"Through a Rapist's Eyes"

This kind of information does not do what it purports--not only does it perpetuate a variety of "myths" which are not empirically validated, but it just increases the anxiety people in general and women in particular have about being victimized. For example, the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by people we know--the "stranger rapist" is rare. I'm sure the intentions were good in sending this out, but you'd be better off contributing to violence prevention work in your community.
See, for example,
(If anyone would like to discuss this further, I'd be glad to.)

best wishes,

Chrysanthi Leon, JD, PhD
Assistant Professor
Sociology and Criminal Justice
University of Delaware
313 Smith Hall