The day after I wrote my article on the potential dangers of social networks, I was contacted by the producer of a BBC radio station – they were looking to run a feature discussing the potential safety risks of online communities and wanted to hear my view. I shared my thoughts and opinions with the producer over the telephone, and afterwards was asked if I would be willing to get involved in the radio show the following morning. The feature sounded interesting, so I jumped at the chance.
Online communities are an easy target
The media loves to portray online communities as dangerous – the more horror stories they can dig up, the bigger the reaction they can stoke from the public. The fact is, online communities are probably the safest possible way of meeting new people – if you feel uncomfortable in any conversation or with any member, you simply close your browser and that person is gone. You are able to converse with people without revealing any of your personal information – you don’t even need to share your real name. What possible safer environment can there be in which to meet strangers?
Prior to the radio show, I was expecting the BBC to take an ‘anti-online community’ stance, as most of the media do. However, I was pleasantly surprised over how balanced the feature was, and how willing the presenter was to offer a balanced viewpoint. The radio show included Will Gardner, deputy chief executive officer of Childnet International, Alex Burmaster, an Internet analyst for Nielsen Online, and myself – Martin Reed of Just Chat.
The radio show
I recorded the contributions of Will, Alex and myself for you to listen to. I think the information provided is useful and of interest to anyone involved in developing online communities. Enjoy!
Will Gardner – Childnet International
Will argues that the Internet is a reflection of the society we live in – he states that whilst there is bad stuff out there that we need to recognise, there is also a lot of good stuff which we should guide children towards. Will feels that online communities encourage creativity and can be positive and says that children need to know how to act safely and responsibly online and that parents need to get involved with their children’s Internet usage.
Will states that parents need to show an interest in what their children are doing online so that if there is a problem, the child can feel happy speaking to the parent.
Alex Burmaster – Nielsen Online
Alex states that approximately 20 million people in the UK visit some form of social network every month. He defines a social network as a community where people can make new friends and enrich the relationships they have with current friends.
Alex says that the audience for online communities is growing at twice the rate of overall Internet growth and that there is no sign of this growth slowing down. He argues that it’s very difficult to police the Internet but that the major social networks are very socially responsible using vast resources to make their sites as safe as possible.
He says that just as parents want to be aware of who their children are socialising with offline, the same kind of awareness should be applied online. Alex argues that the negative stories and aspects of online communities are extremely rare, and that social networks are overall a very safe way of interacting with other people.
Martin Reed – Just Chat
Note – MSN actually closed its chat rooms in 2003 due to alleged concerns over child safety. In my interview, I mentioned they were closed for cost reasons in 2000/2001. My apologies.
I speak about online communities from the perspective of a community developer. I talk about how online community rules can be enforced and how communities can be moderated. I talk about the Just Chat site rules, what the website is about and how easy/challenging it is to establish an online community. I also talk about the costs and money making opportunities of online communities.
I state that people need to take the same precautions online that they do in the offline world, but at the same time that community websites have a moral obligation to educate their members and warn them of the potential dangers.
What do you think of the issues discussed in this radio show? Do you think a balanced argument was presented? Do you think online communities are dangerous? How do you think they could be made safer? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.