Online Child Sex Solicitation: Exploring the Feasibility of a Research 'Sting'
Social Science Research Network
A small scale test of the integrity of Internet Web 2.0 social network sites was undertaken over several weeks in 2007. The fictional identities of four female underage children where posted on three network sites and later introduced to relay chat forums in order to explore the impact of apparent vulnerability on potential selection of Internet victims. Only one of the three social network sites in the study recognised that the postings violated child protection policies and subsequently
... down the underage postings. Two basic identities were created: one that engendered a needy and vulnerable characterisation of a child while the other identity was created to represent a happy and attached child character. The number of contacts and suspicious contacts were monitored to test assumptions about child 'vulnerability' and risks of unwanted sexual solicitations. The characters created also included either an avatar and/or contact details. These variants of the experiment showed that the inclusion of an image or access details increased the likelihood of contacts, including suspicious contact regardless of 'vulnerability'. This small experiment noted that although vulnerable children with additional cues maybe at more risk all children who posted details about themselves on social network sites faced the risk of contact by predators. The need for further research and better means of regulating such sites was suggested.