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Little Red Riding Hood Revisited

By Maggie Turner

January 31, 2000

Little Red Riding Hood Revsited

Three computers, one mature woman, and two teenage girls occupy the room. The two teenage girls are chatting away on a chat line, the mature woman is writing email and surfing the web; she is also listening and watching. The chat lines worry her a lot. People are not necessarily who they say they are in a chat room. The teenagers take everything at face value. The teenagers have no direct experience with really bad people. Some of the people in the chat room could very well be really bad people disguised as handsome teenage boys. Some of the boys will provide a web site address with alleged pictures of themselves; sometimes they are even with a pretty girlfriend in the pictures.

Where are you from? That is the most common question the teenage girls are asked. What school do you go to? This is another common question. Typically teenagers are invited to pm (private message) a user, here they are often asked for a/s/l (age, sex, location); it is the sort of thing teenagers talk about, to other teenagers. The problem is, in a chat room; they may not be talking to other teenagers. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that some of the people hanging about in teenage chat rooms are older predators.

I am the mature woman; the girls are "The Teenager" and her friend. I have decided that I will intermittently read all chat that the girls are involved in. Their only option, if they want to avoid this, is to turn off the computer. All teenagers under the age of sixteen have to have a note from their parents giving them permission to use the chat lines on the computers here. I am keeping a file. I'm keeping an eye on them. I have put a poster above the computers. Each teenager is required to read the poster before the power button is pushed. The poster tells them things like "never tell anyone your real name" and "never call a phone number someone gives you on the internet". The poster also says "Remember: People are not necessarily who they say they are. The cute 17-year-old hunk you are talking to could actually be someone like this: and right there on the page of the poster is the name and picture of a rapist, from the 12 most wanted list of criminals.

Yes, I want to scare them. This is not a neighborhood dance. The people in the chat room do not live in their neighborhood or even in their city. They are talking to strangers. Although I could prevent them from accessing the chat lines on the computers here, I couldn not prevent it everywhere, all the time. At this point I have decided to be with them when they visit the chat rooms, to read what the strangers have to say, to comment on possible responses, to point to the picture of the rapist when a stranger asks them, nicely, where they are from. It might not work, this surveillance I am engaged in. It is not relaxing; it is not fun. I think that regular servicing will have to be scheduled necessitating the computers go offline, downtime for Mom. Sometimes I hate the Internet.


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