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Teen bloggers at risk of cyber stalking

Blogs provide a creative outlet for youngsters, but Internet is an easy hiding place for online predators.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2006 12:33 IST

Teen bloggers sometimes forget their audience is much wider than just their friends. Blogs provide a creative outlet and an online forum for young people, but the Internet also is an easy hiding place for online predators.

A recent study conducted on weblogs created by teen bloggers aged 13 to 17 revealed that teens willingly revealed their actual names, age and offline locations, putting them at risk for cyberstalking and cyberbullying. The study was conducted by David Huffaker, a Northwestern University researcher working in the technology and social behavior program with Northwestern Professor Justine Cassell on 68 randomly selected weblogs produced by teenagers.

From a developmental perspective, Huffaker says, blogs play a positive role by offering teens a place to construct narratives and share stories. "These activities are important to identity exploration which is one of the principal tasks of adolescence," he said. "What's more, the mechanics of these online diaries, with their opportunities to link to and get feedback from peers, also aid teenagers in creating and maintaining social ties."

On the positive side, blogs give teens an opportunity to share their stories and feelings. "They provide a venue in which they can reflect upon their experiences," says Huffaker. "The ability to create a community online also bodes well for future social development."

Huffaker found that the positive effects of blogging on verbal and digital literacy and social interaction to be accompanied by some negative effects."The danger of sexual predation by adult strangers and of bullying by peers are sometimes unfortunate products of the teen blogging phenomenon, he says.

Unlike the tattered, leatherbound teen diary of old, online teen diaries can be read not only by members of the family "sneaking a look" but also by strangers with questionable intentions.

Huffaker cites a study in which 2,500 children aged 10 to 17 years of age reported being harassed or threatened online. In another study, one in five teenage Internet users said they'd been approached or received a sexual solicitation within their last year of Internet use. One in 33 reported being aggressively solicited by predators who asked to meet them, called them on the phone, or sent them letters, money or gifts.

Such incidents often go unreported to parents, school administrators or other authorities, according to the surveyed teens. However the negatives of blogging can be thwarted by blog software packages which has the option to make one's online diary "friends-only" by making it password protected

First Published: Feb 22, 2006 12:33 IST