Archive for March 13th, 2010

13
Mar
10

Google ‘99.9 percent’ sure to shutter Google.cn

NEWS
Google ‘99.9 percent’ sure to shutter Google.cn

Saturday, March 13, 2010

••• Google, seemingly torn between Chinese censorship and Chinese opportunity, is now “99.9 percent” certain that it will shut down its Chinese search engine, Google.cn.

According to a Financial Times source “familiar with the company’s thinking,” the search giant, having reached an apparent impasse with the Chinese government officials, has drafted detailed plans to close the Chinese search business, though it remains optimistic about finding a way to maintain its overall operations in China.

For Google, which, amid an investigation into alleged Chinese hacking of prominent U.S. Web properties, expressed in January that it no longer intends to run a censored search engine in China, staying in China after shuttering Google.cn could involve enabling its Chinese sales, software development, and research operations to remain intact.

Throughout the first quarter of 2010, it has appeared very unlikely that the Chinese government would revise its Internet censorship laws for Google–or any other company wishing to operate in China, for that matter. Its public message–that these companies are subject to Chinese law, regardless of their internal ethical codes–has not wavered.

“If [Google] takes steps that violate Chinese laws, that would be unfriendly, that would be irresponsible, they would have to bear the consequences,” Li Yizhong, China’s minister for industry and information technology, said Friday, according to the Financial Times report.

Despite those stern words, Li encouraged Google, which he said has “taken 30 percent of the Chinese search market,” to continue its operations in the country, employing its people. To Google, he said, “If you don’t leave, China will welcome that; if you don’t leave, it will be beneficial for the development of the Internet in China.”

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13
Mar
10

Weekly Address: Education for a More Competitive America & Better Future

NEWS
Weekly Address: President Obama to Send Updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act Blueprint To Congress on Monday

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The President discusses his blueprint for an updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act to overhaul No Child Left Behind, the latest step from his Administration to encourage change and success in America’s schools at the local level.

Lost in the news of the week was a headline that ought to be a source of concern for every American. It said, “Many Nations Passing U.S. in Education.” Now, debates in Washington tend to be consumed with the politics of the moment: who’s up in the daily polls; whose party stands to gain in November. But what matters to you – what matters to our country – is not what happens in the next election, but what we do to lift up the next generation. And the fact is, there are few issues that speak more directly to our long term success as a nation than issues concerning the education we provide to our children.

Our prosperity in the 20th century was fueled by an education system that helped grow the middle class and unleash the talents of our people more fully and widely than at any time in our history. We built schools and focused on the teaching of math and science. We helped a generation of veterans go to college through the GI Bill. We led the globe in producing college graduates, and in turn we led in producing ground-breaking technologies and scientific discoveries that lifted living standards and set us apart as the world’s engine of innovation.

Of course, other nations recognize this, and are looking to gain an edge in the global marketplace by investing in better schools, supporting teachers, and committing to clear standards that will produce graduates with more skills. Our competitors understand that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Yet, too often we have failed to make inroads in reforming and strengthening our public education system – the debate mired in worn arguments hurled across entrenched divides.

As a result, over the last few decades, we’ve lost ground. One assessment shows American fifteen year olds no longer even near the top in math and science when compared to their peers around the world. As referenced in the news report I mentioned, we’ve now fallen behind most wealthy countries in our high school graduation rates. And while we once led the world in the proportion of college graduates we produced, today we no longer do.

Not only does that risk our leadership as a nation, it consigns millions of Americans to a lesser future. For we know that the level of education a person attains is increasingly a prerequisite for success and a predictor of the income that person will earn throughout his or her life. Beyond the economic statistics is a less tangible but no less painful reality: unless we take action – unless we step up – there are countless children who will never realize their full talent and potential.

I don’t accept that future for them. And I don’t accept that future for the United States of America. That’s why we’re engaged in a historic effort to redeem and improve our public schools: to raise the expectations for our students and for ourselves, to recognize and reward excellence, to improve performance in troubled schools, and to give our kids and our country the best chance to succeed in a changing world.

Under the leadership of an outstanding Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, we launched a Race to the Top, through which states compete for funding by committing to reform and raising standards, by rewarding good teaching, by supporting the development of better assessments to measure results, and by emphasizing math and science to help prepare children for college and careers.

And on Monday, my administration will send to Congress our blueprint for an updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act to overhaul No Child Left Behind. What this plan recognizes is that while the federal government can play a leading role in encouraging the reforms and high standards we need, the impetus for that change will come from states, and from local schools and school districts. So, yes, we set a high bar – but we also provide educators the flexibility to reach it.

Under these guidelines, schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded, and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down. For the majority of schools that fall in between – schools that do well but could do better – we will encourage continuous improvement to help keep our young people on track for a bright future: prepared for the jobs of the 21st century. And because the most important factor in a child’s success is the person standing at the front of the classroom, we will better prepare teachers, support teachers, and encourage teachers to stay in the field. In short, we’ll treat the people who educate our sons and daughters like the professionals they are.

Through this plan we are setting an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career – no matter who you are or where you come from. Achieving this goal will be difficult. It will take time. And it will require the skills, talents, and dedication of many: principals, teachers, parents, students. But this effort is essential for our children and for our country. And while there will always be those cynics who claim it can’t be done, at our best, we know that America has always risen to the challenges that we’ve faced. This challenge is no different.

As a nation, we are engaged in many important endeavors: improving the economy, reforming the health care system, encouraging innovation in energy and other growth industries of the 21st century. But our success in these efforts – and our success in the future as a people – will ultimately depend on what happens long before an entrepreneur opens his doors, or a nurse walks the rounds, or a scientist steps into her laboratory. Our future is determined each and every day, when our children enter the classroom, ready to learn and brimming with promise.

It’s that promise we must help them fulfill. Thank you.

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13
Mar
10

Nancy Pelosi: Confident House will pass health care

NEWS
Nancy Pelosi: Confident House will pass health care

Saturday, March 13, 2010

San Francisco, Calif. – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Saturday she’s confident the House will pass health care legislation and dismissed Republican criticism that she did not have enough votes for the measure.

“We’re very excited about where we are and will not be deterred by estimates that have no basis in fact,” she said during a dedication of the renamed Lim P. Lee Post Office in San Francisco. The post office was renamed after the nation’s first Chinese-American postmaster.

Pelosi declined to say when House members would vote on a health care bill, or how many votes that she had secured. Although she added that lawmakers were “on the verge of making history.”

She also dismissed criticism by House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio that she did not have sufficient votes.

“I’m never dependent on Congressman Boehner’s count. I never have,” she said to a smattering of laughter from the crowd.

House Democratic leaders are pressing for a vote on their bill as early as this coming week.

The legislation would provide health care to tens of millions who currently lack it. It would require almost everyone to obtain coverage and subsidize the cost of premiums for poor and middle-income Americans.

It would also ban insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

The health care bill appeared to be on the verge of passing in early January before Democrats lost a special election in Massachusetts to fill the seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy and with it, their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

In the weeks since, the White House and Democrats have embarked on a rescue strategy that would require the House to pass legislation that cleared the Senate in December before both houses approve a second bill that makes changes to the first.

But some anti-abortion Democrats in the House have balked at the bill, and it’s not clear they will vote for final passage. The bill needs 216 votes to clear the House.

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13
Mar
10

Senator Scott Brown delivers weekly Republican address

NEWS
Senator Scott Brown delivers weekly Republican address

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) released the following weekly Republican address.

“Hello, I’m United States Senator Scott Brown from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“When the people of my state elected me in January, they sent more than a senator to Washington – they sent a message. Across party lines, the voters told politicians in Washington to get its priorities right.

“And from my travels and conversation with people throughout this country, they told me that they want their President and Congress to focus on creating jobs and reviving America’s economy. Instead, for more than a year now, we have seen a bitter, destructive, and endless drive to completely transform America’s health care system.

“In January of last year, unemployment hit 7.2 percent and our economy was hurting badly. But, early in President Obama’s term, he and the Democratic leadership of Congress made takeover of health care their first priority.

“Today, times are even tougher across our nation when it comes to our economy. Nearly one in ten Americans are still out of work. And still, the President and Congress are focused on ramming through their health-care bill, whatever it takes, whatever the cost.

“Maybe you remember what President Obama promised in his State of the Union address. He said he was going to finally focus on jobs and the economy for the remainder of this year. I applauded him for that. Well, here it is, it’s almost spring. And what is he out there talking about again? That same 2,700-page, multi-trillion dollar health care legislation.

“So, an entire year has gone to waste. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and many more jobs are in danger. Even now, the President still hasn’t gotten the message.

“Somehow, the greater the public opposition to the health care bill, the more determined they seem to force it on us anyway. Their attitude shows Washington at its very worst – the presumption that they know best, and they’re going to get their way whether the American people like it or not.

“And, when politicians start thinking like that, they don’t let anything get in their way – not public opinion, not the rules of fair play, not even their own promises.

“They pledged transparency. Instead, we have a health care bill tainted by secrecy, concealed cost, and full of backroom deals – and that’s just not right. They should do better. The American people expect more.

“They pledged a true bipartisan effort. Instead, they have resorted to bending the rules, and they now intend to seize control of health care in America on a strict party-line vote.

“In speech after speech on his health care plan, the President has tried to convince us that what he is proposing will be good for America. But, how can it be good for America if it raises taxes by a half trillion dollars and costs a trillion dollars or more to implement? In addition, how can it be good if it takes another half a trillion dollars away from seniors on Medicare, and still includes all the backroom deals you have been hearing about for months?

“Well, for the past year or more, the new establishment in Washington has tried again and again to sell this plan to the American people. But the Americans aren’t buying it, and for good reason. And now, what’s going on is a last, desperate power play. They actually tell us that passing the bill is necessary, if only to prove that something can get done in Washington.

“Well, I haven’t been here very long, but, I can tell you this much already: Nothing has distracted the attention and energy of the nation’s capital more than this disastrous detour. And, the surest way to return to the people’s business is to listen to the people themselves: We need to drop this whole scheme of federally controlled health care, start over, and work together on real reforms at the state level that will contain costs and won’t leave America trillions of dollars deeper in debt.

“This, above all, was the message that the people of my state sent to the President and the Congress in the election over a month ago.

“You know some of my Democratic colleagues, you know, are being leaned on mighty hard right now. Speaker Pelosi and others are handing down their marching orders, telling them to vote for this bill no matter what. Rarely have elected leaders been so intent on defying the public will. For many members of Congress, the time for choosing is near – do what the party leadership demands, or do what the people have asked you to do. If my colleagues don’t mind some advice from a newcomer, I’d suggest going with the will of the people.

“After all, from the very beginning of this debate, the American people have called it correctly. In every part of the country, Republicans and Democrats have agreed on serious, straightforward, commonsense health care reform. They expect us in Washington to do the same – working together, acting fairly and by the rules, and staying focused on the need to make the American economy as strong as it can be. That is the business that brought me here on an unexpected journey to Washington. And, it’s the responsibility of everyone sent here to serve our country. We can do better – and I challenge my colleagues and the President to do just that.

“I’m Senator Scott Brown and thank you very much for listening.”

Related: GOP warns of ‘bitter’ push to pass health bill GO
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13
Mar
10

GOP warns of ‘bitter’ push to pass health bill

NEWS
GOP warns of ‘bitter’ push to pass health bill

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Newly arrived Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts accused President Barack Obama and Democrats on Saturday of a “bitter, destructive and endless” drive to pass health overhaul legislation that Brown warned would be disastrous.

“An entire year has gone to waste,” Brown said in the weekly GOP radio and Internet address. “Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and many more jobs are in danger. Even now, the president still hasn’t gotten the message.

“Somehow, the greater the public opposition to the health care bill, the more determined they seem to force it on us anyway.”

Brown himself can claim responsibility for the Democrats’ failure to pass health overhaul legislation to date. They were on the verge of doing so before Brown claimed the late Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat in a special election upset in January, depriving Democrats of their filibuster-proof supermajority and throwing the health care effort into limbo.

It has been gradually revived, and Democrats are now pushing for final passage before Easter under complex Senate rules that would allow them to sidestep a Republican filibuster. Republicans in the House and Senate are unanimously opposed to the sweeping legislation, which would extend coverage to some 30 million uninsured Americans with a new mandate for nearly everyone to carry insurance.

The House minority leader, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in an interview for broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that if House Democrats had the votes to pass the health care bill they would have acted by now.

“They don’t have the votes,” Boehner said.

Brown, as a state senator in Massachusetts, voted in favor of the universal-coverage law in that state. The bill he supported in Massachusetts has a number of features in common with the Democrats’ legislation, including a mandate for nearly everyone to be covered.

But he campaigned on a promise to be the Republicans’ crucial 41st vote against Obama’s health plan, and said Saturday that his victory amounted to a message from voters that Washington should “get its priorities right.”

“We need to drop this whole scheme of federally controlled health care, start over, and work together on real reforms at the state level that will contain costs and won’t leave America trillions of dollars deeper in debt,” Brown said.

Related: Senator Scott Brown delivers weekly Republican address GO

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13
Mar
10

Obama’s reluctant populism irks left

NEWS
Obama’s reluctant populism irks left

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sometimes in the fight for health reform or tighter rules on Wall Street, President Barack Obama unleashes his podium-pounding, “Yes, we can” side.

And sometimes, critics say, Obama’s just a part-time populist.

The differences in tone can be jarring — and infuriating to his liberal supporters. Obama in December fired shots at “fat cat bankers,” then told bankers at the White House the next day he didn’t mean to vilify anyone or dictate their pay.

He denounced the “twisted logic” of big Wall Street bonuses, then suggested recently he doesn’t begrudge the mega-buck payouts.

Ten days ago, Obama confronted health insurance CEOs during a White House meeting with a letter from a woman whose premiums went up 40 percent.

It had the makings of a signature moment in the health care fight — the president standing up for average Americans — yet just before Obama arrived, reporters were escorted out of the room. So there was no footage of the exchange and no record of the insurance executives’ reaction.

The White House simply released a photograph of the president reading the letter, and press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, “I’ll let the insurance executives speak for themselves.”

It’s not the first time Obama’s supporters have wanted to see more heat and less cool, and the economic crisis and the anti-establishment mood of the country have left Obama trying to channel and harness public anxiety and anger. But his engagement at times has been tepid, and he often comes off as halting — at one moment a fiery populist and at another a pragmatic consensus-seeker.

“Populism isn’t something that you pick and choose to emphasize when it’s helpful to moving your legislative agenda. It’s something that you try to live every day in the way that you talk about issues and the way that you relate to people,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who is chairman of the Populist Caucus.

“I think the president has a long way to go. He keeps sending mixed messages where he’ll do something that appears to be populist, like condemning the actions of Wall Street, and then he’ll be sitting down with corporate executives and planning strategy.”

Obama the politician matched the moment back in November 2008, when voters weary of President George W. Bush flocked to his promise of change.

Now the times have changed, and they’re looking to Obama to feel as angry as they are about the failing economy and the sense that Wall Street is out of whack and that Washington seems incapable of doing anything about it. That mood, plus a strong disdain of Obama, has fueled the conservative tea party movement, but it’s not strictly partisan. A lot of voters are mad, and many want a sense the president is mad too.

That kind of populism demands a stark view of the world, a clear-cut villain, good guys vs. bad guys, or big guys vs. little guys. Obama comes across as far more cerebral, a figure who embraces nuance, who is hesitant to single out a boogeyman. But populism and nuance don’t mix — and for Obama, that seems to muffle his message, when a satisfying shotgun blast might do.

“In a lot of ways his instincts about how to solve the problems may have been right, but they weren’t stylistically what people wanted, which was somebody to go beat the hell out of the banks and insurance companies,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “So I think him emerging with a fire right now against the insurance companies is much more in sync with where the people are than the consensus-builder he tried to be the first year or so.”

Obama, too, is a card-carrying member of the elite meritocracy (Harvard, a lawyer, a former senator), so it’s not like banking CEOs are the enemy to him. In fact, the comment where he said he doesn’t “begrudge” big bonuses came in response to a question about JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, a longtime friend and Democratic donor.

For the White House, it’s a balancing act, and Obama has tried to channel growing voter anger in a way that compliments his natural style, as a politician who takes the long view and would rather talk to the so-called enemy than shout at him, Gibbs said in an interview.

“The president has always thought of himself, when he was in the state Senate and the U.S. Senate, as somebody who could take on big issues by bringing different viewpoints together to make progress. And sometimes if you’re on either extreme of this, I think you tend to be less involved in the solutions, because you’re simply out there just driving your own point,” Gibbs said.

“The times require, and I think, quite frankly, people want, more than somebody who will sympathize with their frustration,” he added. “Somebody who can sympathize with your anger by visibly showing their anger will only get you so far.”

On the meeting with insurers, Gibbs said opening up the moment was unnecessary and would have run counter to Obama’s preferred approach, which is to foster “honest discussions” with stakeholders without them worrying “that each and every meeting is about a press event.”

“I think we made our point,” Gibbs said.

The problem for Obama is his posture can leave the impression that he’s out of touch.

Ed Rollins, a Republican consultant and senior fellow at the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, describes Obama as cerebral with “a little demagogue in him from time to time.” Traditional populists, Rollins notes, “don’t care what they rail against and have not always been handicapped by a cerebral approach.”

Still, there are flashes of a tougher stance. On the road in Philadelphia on Monday, he took on insurance companies with a harsher tone than he has struck during the entire yearlong health care debate. He criticized them some two dozen times and said they’re all about “making big profits.”

By the end of the speech the president was hunched over the microphone and jabbing his finger in the air, as he encouraged the cheering crowd to “stand with me and fight with me!”

“That’s the most fiery I’ve seen him since the early campaign,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who was traveling with the president.

But two days later in St. Louis, Obama’s delivered a mild-tempered speech, focusing on fraud and waste to a more muted crowd. The evening itself, which also included two fundraising events, offered a snapshot of Obama’s ups and downs.

“I think he got, by all accounts, a little bit more fired up later in the night,” Gibbs said, acknowledging that Obama’s tone had shifted from Monday to Wednesday.

The reason for Obama’s populist fits and starts, surmised Ross Perot campaign manager Clay Mulford, is because he’s working with bankers and insurance companies as he knits together his proposals — making it harder to demonize them.

“I think you see the inconsistency because they’re in on the game,” Mulford said.

Obama’s passionate critique of the process of politics in Washington — something he’s hit hard in the past week — is a more winnable argument, Mulford said, than his railing against Big Business or Big Government.

Obama still has managed to convey empathy. A Pew poll in January found that 64 percent of respondents think Obama is “someone who cares about people like me” — a number that did not decline much in the latter part of 2009, said Michael Dimock, associate director for polling at Pew Research Center.

“I think back to the campaign, and you even saw it then: He could give these really fired-up speeches and get the crowds stomping their feet, and then he’d go into the debate and he was just Mr. Cool again,” said Dimock.

After a rough first year, the White House has tried to tune in more closely. Obama now does monthly White House to Main Street stops to discuss the economy. He is pushing a jobs bill intended to benefit the middle class and small businesses.

But as in the campaign, his aides believe he should not adjust to match the country’s mood every time it changes.

“If you do that, you’re going to end up becoming three or four different things over the course of three or four different years because of whether or not the strain holds the whole time,” Gibbs said. “I think if you’re always in fifth gear and you’re always running hot, you can’t really nuance that. Something can’t really get you exercised because you’re always really exercised.”

That stance continues not to sit well with liberals.

“It’s not something you turn on or turn off depending on the day to try to make a point,” Braley said. “That’s the difference that I’m waiting to see in how the president approaches these critical issues.”

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13
Mar
10

U.K. pressures Facebook to install ‘panic button’ to protect kids

NEWS
U.K. pressures Facebook to install ‘panic button’ to protect kids

Saturday, March 13, 2010

••• British officials say they’re pressuring Facebook to make a “panic button” available on its Web pages following the death of a teenager at the hands of a man she met on the popular social networking site.

British child protection authorities have been lobbying Facebook and other social networking sites to install a one-click button which can allow children to get immediate police help if they suspect they’re at risk.

Calls for Facebook to install the button intensified following the kidnap, rape and murder of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall. Her killer, Peter Chapman, used a bogus Facebook identity to befriend her online.

Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of Britain’s governing Labour Party, said Thursday ministers were lobbying Facebook to adopt the button.
Why are we asking this now?

On Monday, Peter Chapman, 33, was sentenced to a minimum of 35 years in prison for the murder of Darlington teenager Ashleigh Hall. Chapman, a convicted sex offender, was “very active” on a stolen black Acer laptop in the period leading up to the murder; it later transpired that he had used the social networking website Facebook in order to choose his victim. While websites such as Facebook usually play a passive, benign role in crimes that headlines might suggest are entirely attributable to them, this is one case where the death of a young woman was indeed caused by the ease of constructing a false Facebook identity, coupled with a tragic ignorance of the signs we should all look for, and the rules we should all follow.

What did Chapman do?

In autumn last year he signed up to Facebook under a false identity. By using the name Peter Cartwright and a photograph of an attractive, bare-chested young man, he successfully posed as a 19-year old and began to exchange messages with Ashleigh. Within the space of a month they had arranged a weekend rendezvous; Chapman explained in a message that the father of “Peter Cartwright” would be picking her up in his car. Ashleigh’s body was found the following Monday.

What is it about these sites that’s creating such a problem?

First, they’re extraordinarily popular with young people. Facebook is second only to Google in terms of overall popularity online, and the amount of time we spend on such websites to socialise, exchange messages, post links to interesting websites, play games and arrange real-life meet-ups is increasing rapidly. Marketing research company Nielsen reported last summer that 17 per cent of all time spent online is on social networking websites – and that figure is pushed up considerably by teenagers. Second, we’re gullible. The ease with which we can be flattered into opening messages and entering into dialogue with people we don’t know is staggering; it’s known as “social engineering” and has been rampant online since the first major web virus spread around the globe behind the email subject title “I LOVE YOU”.

Is this issue restricted to children?

Certainly not. Each week sees countless examples of adults being hoodwinked online, too. Indeed, the older generation’s lack of familiarity with modern technology can put them at an even higher risk of being duped into handing over money, revealing secrets or making ill-advised arrangements to meet strangers. The most famous recent example was when Fidel Castro’s 40-year old son had his explicit email messages reprinted in newspapers worldwide; the person he thought was “gorgeous” 27-year old Columbian sports journalist Claudia Valencia was actually a 46-year old man called Luis Dominguez.

Is Facebook a particular source of concern?

Facebook is one of the few social networking sites that require you to use your real name when you sign up. “It ultimately creates a safer and more trusted environment for all of our users,” says a Facebook spokesman. “We require people to be who they are.” However, it remains very easy to pretend to be someone else – as demonstrated by Peter Chapman with tragic consequences – and Facebook’s “real name” culture might even mean that we’re less likely to spot fakery. MySpace and Bebo, by contrast, are a free-for-all with no restrictions on pseudonymity – but it’s important to realise that there are many sound, privacy-related reasons for not revealing one’s true identity online. Indeed, many children are very aware of and comfortable with the idea of managing multiple online identities.

Can we ever be 100 per cent sure who we’re talking to online?

No. But while this fact could easily prompt paranoia, it’s more useful to adopt a healthy scepticism about online relationships and to classify them very differently to real-life ones.

What could be done to prevent a repeat of the Ashleigh Hall tragedy?

The Home Secretary Alan Johnson said yesterday that both the UK and the US were working on ways to detect the presence of convicted sex offenders on the internet, but legislating effectively in the online space is incredibly difficult. An NSPCC-supported plan to extend the sex offenders’ register to include their online identities and email addresses was deemed a breach of offenders’ rights under European law in December 2008, and while it remains a government commitment, the ease with which Chapman created his online alter ego demonstrates how toothless such a law would prove. In the US, the state of Illinois saw a new law take effect on 1 January which bars known sex offenders from social networking websites, but the definition is so broad as to potentially exclude them from risk-free online zones such as job-hunting websites, Amazon and even Google. In addition, tracking offenders’ internet use from an increasing number of access points (cafes, libraries, mobile phones, Wi-Fi hotspots and much else besides) just isn’t practical.

What more could these sites do to protect children?

Given that millions of teenagers use Facebook, MySpace and Bebo as virtual platforms to socialise, raising the minimum age permitted to join (currently 13 for Facebook and Bebo, 14 for MySpace) would be a drastic and unworkable measure – and, indeed, wouldn’t have helped 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), an arm of UK policing dedicated to child protection, is campaigning for social networking websites to incorporate a clearly visible button which would allow children to report suspicious behaviour; MSN Live Messenger and Bebo are two of many to already feature it, but Facebook is not yet on board – a fact described by Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne as a “glaring failure”. But the human weakness in detecting suspicious behaviour can render even that button redundant – making education the most crucial measure.

What rules should be followed?

CEOP’s website at thinkuknow.co.uk is an excellent resource for children, featuring information on how to have fun, how to stay in control and where to report anything that seems unusual. There’s also a primer for parents about social networking and other internet activities that their children might be indulging in. But three golden rules for children: don’t post material that you wouldn’t want your parents to see; keep your personal information private; and keep your internet friends as internet friends – because online identities may not always correspond to those in real life.

Is there any way of completely eliminating the risks?

Only by avoiding use of the internet altogether, but in the 21st century this is becoming an increasingly impractical option. Engagement and familiarity with the internet’s delights and menaces are a far better way for us all to stay safe.

Are sites such as Facebook as dangerous as they are made out to be?

Yes

• The internet is an unregulated space that convicted sex offenders have unfettered access to

• The ease with which we can adopt online pseudonyms can make the online landscape very confusing

• Children who have not had sufficient education about online safety may find themselves at risk

No

• The media enjoys demonising Facebook and likes to play upon existing fears of the internet

• Social networking websites are an increasingly important social tool and should be encouraged

• The vast majority of children have no more trouble in their online social lives than they do in the playground

• Source(s): U.K. Press

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