The new study by Harvard's Internet Safety Technical Task Force doesn't come straight out and say that Chris Hansen (right) -- MSNBC's moral equivalent to Nancy Grace -- is completely full of shit, but it does say that America's children are not nearly as at risk from the so-called internet predators as Hansen might have you think.
You're going to have a hard time finding people willing to defend the men caught here, but this study says what most intelligent people have been saying since the first time they saw this horrible (yet incredibly compelling) television program: If NBC, their subcontractors Perverted Justice, or the police forces working these stings had any interest in protecting actual young people, they'd be surfing the web for real teenagers doing risky things (like chatting with predatory adults) and notifying each child's parents.
A summary of the study after the jump.
Most of the law enforcement research on Internet exploitation used for the study predated the rise of social networks. Most of the cases involved post-pubescent males who knew they were meeting an adult for the purposes of sex. Not included in the dialogue of online safety is the increase in minors reporting sexual solicitation by other minors, something being reported with increasing frequency.
Bullying and harassment are the most frequent threats kids face online.
The Internet does increase the availability of harmful or sexual material, but it doesn't necessarily increase the likelihood that a minor will see it. Those most likely to see it are the ones looking for it in the first place.
Minors aren't equally at risk online. Kids who are most at risk are engaging in risky behaviors and have problems at home. Family dynamics and psychosocial makeup are better predictors for exposure to harmful elements than, say, whether they use Facebook or MySpace.
Overall, the researchers say this is just the beginning. Too little is known about the actual risks and the role minors themselves play in contributing to a dangerous Internet environment.
Or, you know, if you believe Chris Hansen, just never allow any child to touch a keyboard, ever.