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Page 68 5 Research, Policy, and Practice:Future Directions What research is needed to improve young people's online experiences, and what policies can help to make cyberspace safer for young people? Ellen Wartella, dean and professor of communication at the University of Texas at Austin, described a research agenda that would considerably broaden what is known about children and the Internet, while Betty Chemers, deputy administrator of the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), presented the policy consideration from a law enforcement perspective. RESEARCH AGENDA TOPICS Supporting informed policy decisions and better educational practices. Wartella identified several areas in which increased or improved research could greatly aid in making informed policy decisions and improve practices directed at educating parents and children about the Internet. These areas included research on networked environments, empirical studies of the impact of media content on young people, tracking studies, developmentally appropriate research, and studies to develop media literacy curricula as critical components in this research plan. Wartella also briefly discussed the role of federal, foundation, and industry funding of these types of research in advancing the body of knowledge in these fields.
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Page 69 Building the knowledge base on networked environments. According to Wartella, not enough research is being conducted on networked environments, and the knowledge base that could inform policy and practice is lagging well behind Internet growth and changes in the ways that young people use and access the Internet. Wartella also stated that there is a great need to regularly reconceptualize what constitutes networked environments and the media, and new research endeavors must be attentive to significant online changes. Current notions of the media as distinct platforms—such as television, radio, movies, print media—must be rethought now that material previously available on only one platform is accessible on the Internet. As new technologies offer additional means to access the Internet (e.g., cell phones and video games that connect to the Internet) and penetrate the population, it is likely that media platforms and communication forms will continue to collapse, and this has significant implications for research. For example, one implication of this collapsing of platforms is that the digital divide as it is currently defined—namely in terms of access to the Internet—will cease to be a relevant concept. Platforms like video games are found much more equally across socioeconomic and ethnic groups than are computers in the home, so games that access the Internet will greatly increase overall Internet access. However, a digital divide may continue to exist if there are great differences in the way young people use the Internet (e.g., for socializing and gaming or for research and homework help). Future research must consider the meaning of concepts like the digital divide to ensure that they are relevant to the current media and technological landscape. The collapsing of media platforms is also relevant to policies that seek to regulate media content. Current theories of regulation are delineated by media platform. For example, First Amendment protections for print media are very strong compared with those regulating television and the radio; as Wartella noted, this is largely because society views radio and television airwaves as being owned by the public. Furthermore, she observed that a larger theoretical and philosophical understanding of what media are and in what ways media platforms intersect with regulatory policies represents foundational questions that should underlie future explorations of this topic. Empirical studies on impact of media content. Future research on the media should also focus on the impact of content on young people, seeking to answer questions about how they learn about sexuality from the media, as well as how vulnerable or resistant they are to the messages con
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Page 70 veyed through inappropriate content. Such research should focus attention especially on the media exposure young people receive at home, as past research has emphasized the use of media for educational purposes in school environments. In addition, research should also examine the nature of role and identity playing that young people can experience in networked environment. Adopting a developmental approach. Applied and basic research that is developmental in nature must be a part of scholarly inquiry into the media. Wartella stressed that funding basic research, whose implication for policy and practice may not be immediately apparent at the time of the research, may well prove to be extremely important to policy. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 recommended that no child under the age of 2 be put in front of a screen (television, computer, or any other). Currently, there is no research to support this recommendation. Basic research on a topic such as the neuropsychological consequences of young children viewing a screen is essential to developing policy such as that recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This research could determine what effects screen exposure may have on very young children and at what age—be it younger or older than age 2—and what length of exposure is safe for this age group. In addition, basic research to evaluate the effectiveness of filters (e.g., how accurate are they in terms of screening inappropriate content while not blocking appropriate sites), as well as the extent to which children and parents use filters is also important. New tracking studies could be a source of developmental information. Developmental tracking studies represent another important source of information about children's media habits as well as their potential impact. Wartella identified the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a longitudinal survey of a representative sample of U.S. individuals and their families, as an opportunity to collect tracking data about children's media use. Data from this survey can be used for cross-sectional, longitudinal, and intergenerational analysis, all of which would greatly help to develop this field of knowledge. Tracking studies such as PSID provide data on such influences on children's development as peers, family income, and education. According to Wartella, the media is a powerful source of socialization in children's lives, and it is extremely problematic not to be collecting tracking data. Funding is a considerable impediment to gathering these data, and the support of both foundations and the federal government is needed for such projects. Developing media literacy curriculum. Wartella emphasized the need
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Page 71 for research on media literacy to determine if, how, and what types of skills may protect against some of the harmful messages contained in the media. This research should be used to develop effective programs and curricula and these programs should become a part of school curriculum. Wartella noted that unlike England, New Zealand, Australia, parts of Africa, and Canada, the United States is the only large English-speaking country that has no regular media literacy curriculum. In this respect, the United States lags behind other countries in developing effective media literacy curriculum and a research base to support the creation of these programs. Role of federal, foundation, and industry funding. Research supported by federal, foundation, and industry funding that is developmental in nature has the potential to produce information that would assist in developing effective policy, as well as the type of socially appropriate, beneficial, and educational media content that many workshop participants stated is lacking on the Internet currently. Wartella noted that Sesame Street—an icon of the educational potential of television—was developed largely through developmental research supported by the Markle Foundation. A similar approach could be taken to research on Internet content, with the intention of producing informed policy and outstanding programming for children. In addition to the potential of funding research projects that would translate readily into practices (e.g., media literacy) and educational products (e.g., Sesame Street-type programming for the Internet), Wartella stated that there is a great need for ongoing funding for research on children's media use. This need stems in large part from the importance of identifying emerging patterns of children's Internet use in order to stay abreast of new ways that young people may be influenced by the media. Federal funding is essential to this, according to Wartella, because it stimulates systematic research that becomes cumulative over time. INTERNET POLICY FROM A LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE While Wartella centered her comments on needed research and what policy and practice might extend from this research agenda, Betty Chemers discussed policy from the perspective of law enforcement. OJJDP approaches the regulation of Internet content by encouraging self-regulation by the industry; supporting nonprofit organizations in developing childfriendly, high-quality content and technological tools to help parents pro
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Page 72 tect children; encouraging public institutions offering Internet services to adopt acceptable use policies; and strongly supporting the enforcement of existing laws that prohibit the distribution of child pornography and the use of the Internet to entice or lure children into dangerous situations with the potential for abuse. As a part of the department's law enforcement of Internet crimes, 30 task forces were created to provide forensic, prevention, and investigative assistance to parents, educational institutions, prosecutors, and local law enforcement. A cyber tipline that is being coordinated through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was also developed so that Internet users can report suspicious online activity, and the department is also working with other countries to develop technologies and coordinate law enforcement efforts to protect minors rather than to increase government censorship of Internet material. Box 5-1 provides additional information on the CyberTipLine and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. At the time of the workshop, OJJDP was in the process of finishing a report to identify strategies to protect children online. According to Chemers, its recommendations were consistent with the Commission on Child Online Protections report to Congress (2000). Chemers highlighted several policy-oriented strategies that are particularly relevant in thinking about nontechnical strategies. The COPA report states that the most effective means of protecting children is through aggressive efforts for public education, consumer empowerment, increased resources for the enforcement of existing laws, and greater use of existing technologies (see Box 5-2 for a summary of that report's recommendations). In addition to these approaches, important steps to pursue in protecting young people online include browsers featuring a prominently displayed parental control button, increased industry self-regulation and voluntary standards or labeling that help to restrict minors' access to pornography, and age verification technology. Further research involving third party testing of the effectiveness of filtering and blocking technologies would also be important as these technologies can be costly to implement on a wide-scale basis. A related joint activity of OJJDP and the Federal Trade Commission involves an analysis of whether the movie, music, recording, and computer and video game industries are marketing and advertising products with violent content to young people. This analysis concluded that these industries do indeed promote to young people content that the industries have themselves identified as warranting parental caution, and their advertisements are
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Page 73 BOX 5-1 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipLine In 1984 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) was founded to serve as a focal point in providing assistance to parents, children, law enforcement, schools, and the community in recovering missing children and raising public awareness about ways to help prevent child abduction, molestation, and sexual exploitation. One area that has been of growing concern for NCMEC is children's safety online. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that roughly 14 million children use the Internet—2 million children use the Internet at both home and school while about 7 million children access the Internet only at school (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1999a, 1999b). Although the majority of children use the Internet safely, concern that the Internet could be used as a tool to exploit children spurred Congress to provide funding and support for the CyberTipLine. In conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the NCMEC initiated the development of the CyberTipLine in 1998 to provide a vehicle to report and reduce incidences of child sexual exploitation. The CyberTipLine collects information on the following types of incidents involving children and the Internet: Possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, Child sexual molestation (extrafamilial child sexual abuse), Online enticement of children for sexual acts, Child prostitution, and Child-sex tourism. The NCMEC's Exploited Child Unit manages the CyberTipLine. This unit processes and analyzes incident reports and then submits report information to law enforcement officials for further investigation. According to NCMEC, since its inception through August 2000, the CyberTipLine has received over 24,000 incident reports. About 19,000 of these reports involved child pornography. The NCMEC reports receiving over 20,000 leads, many of which resulted in arrests. Reports of child sexual exploitation can be filed online at < www.CyberTipLine.com> or by calling the toll free number, 1-800-843-5678. Information on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children can be found at < www.missingkids.com>.
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Page 74 BOX 5-2 Commission on Child Online Protection In October 1998 Congress established the Commission on Online Child Protection to study methods to reduce access by minors to sexually explicit material on the Internet. These technologies and methods were evaluated on the basis of accessibility, cost, effectiveness, impact on First Amendment values, and implications for law enforcement. The commission concluded that no single approach would effectively screen children from this material, but that a combination of increased public awareness, accessible consumer technologies and methods, increased enforcement of existing laws, and industry self-regulation could have a significant effect. The commission published the following abbreviated version of its recommendations in the executive summary of its report: Public Education: (1) Government and the private sector should undertake a major education campaign to promote public awareness of technologies and methods available to protect children online. (2) Government and industry should effectively promote acceptable use policies. Consumer Empowerment Efforts: (1) Resources should be allocated for the independent evaluation of child protection technologies and to provide reports to the public about the capabilities of these technologies. (2) Industry should take steps to improve child protection mechanisms, and make them more accessible online. (3) A broad, national, private-sector conversation should be encour- intended to attract children and teenagers. Recommendations from this report include the expansion of industry codes prohibiting targeted marketing to children and the inclusion of sanctions for violations; an extension of industry self-regulation to the retail level, such as the development of advisory labels that would discourage sales to children under a certain age; developing guidelines for the electronic transfer of movies, music, and games; and finally, increased industry efforts to raise parental awareness of the ratings and labeling systems currently available. Chemers stated that although this report focused on computer games, music, and movies, its recommendations are certainly relevant to any discussion of Internet content.
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Page 75 aged on the development of next-generation systems for labeling, rating, and identifying content reflecting the convergence of old and new media. (4) Government should encourage the use of technology in efforts to make children's experience of the Internet safe and useful. Law Enforcement: (1) Government at all levels should fund, with significant new money, aggressive programs to investigate, prosecute, and report violations of federal and state obscenity laws, including efforts that emphasize the protection of children from accessing materials illegal under current state and federal obscenity law. (2) State and federal law enforcement should make available a list, without images, of Usenet newsgroup, IP addresses, World Wide Web sites, or other Internet sources that have been found to contain child pornography or where convictions have been obtained involving obscene material. (3) Federal agencies, pursuant to further congressional rulemaking authority as needed, should consider greater enforcement and possibly rulemaking to discourage deceptive or unfair practices that entice children to view obscene materials, including the practices of “mousetrapping” and deceptive metatagging. (4) Government should provide new money to address international aspects of Internet crime, including both obscenity and child pornography. Industry Action: (1) The ISP industry should voluntarily undertake “best practices” to protect minors. (2) The online commercial adult industry should voluntarily take steps to restrict minors' ready access to adult content.
Representative terms from entire chapter: