Category Archives: Child Protection

Has Wikipedia Been Running with the Wrong Crowd?

In response to my last post, Captain Obvious came swooping in to point out what had been hiding in plain sight. While I was focussing on the potential dangers of predators lurking in the darkest shadows of the Wikipedia community, I failed to see the very real danger right in front of me: Wikipedia itself.

Could all the free, multilingual, educational content Wikipedia provides, paired with underdeveloped judgement, put children at risk? As a former bored, judgement-impaired, pubescent boy, I knew exactly what how to find out. I searched on “Sniffing glue“. And here’s what I found:

 

Kids Huffing Glue

 

WTF? There is absolutely nothing OK about this picture. These are children. I understand that there is a problem with children huffing on the streets in certain parts of the world. It needs to be acknowledged and addressed. But I will thank you as a father for not spreading that problem around by showing smiling, relaxed, seemingly “mature” kids sticking faces in a bag and casually flipping off the photographer. If this article on such a dangerous act was incomplete without a visual aid, couldn’t you at least have looked for a picture of an adult to kick things off? Maybe a picture that reflects the incredibly destructive aspect of huffing would be more appropriate. And, while we’re at it, we should probably dig up something that doesn’t make huffing look cool to kids. Maybe this?

 

Gold Paint Adult Huffer

 

What follows amounts to a manual on huffing all kinds of extremely dangerous gases. If my son looked this up, he wouldn’t just figure out the best technique to sniff glue, he’s also be turned on to:

The Smorgasbord

Grab a bag and take your pick.

  • Gasoline
  • Kerosene
  • Propane
  • Butane
  • Toluene
  • Xylene
  • Acetone
  • Hydrofluorocarbons
  • Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Alkyl Nitrites
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Diethyl Ether
  • Enflurane
  • Methylene Chloride
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Benzene

 

 

After going over this smorgasbord of inhalants, the article covers a few pro-tips for abusing them:

Inhalant users inhale vapors or aerosol propellant gases using plastic bags held over the mouth or by breathing from an open container of solvents, such as gasoline or paint thinner. Nitrous oxide gases from whipped cream aerosol cans, aerosol hairspray or non-stick frying spray are sprayed into plastic bags. When inhaling non-stick cooking spray or other aerosol products, some users may filter the aerosolized particles out with a rag. Some gases, such as propane and butane gases, are inhaled directly from the canister. Once these solvents or gases are inhaled, the extensive capillary surface of the lungs rapidly absorb the solvent or gas, and blood levels peak rapidly. The intoxication effects occur so quickly that the effects of inhalation can resemble the intensity of effects produced by intravenous injection of other psychoactive drugs.

The article wraps up its description of the whole experience by mentioning that all of these substances are at best dangerous and at worst fatal. Cross your fingers that your child look below the fold before they stick their face in a bag.

Safety concerns aside, it’s a pretty good article. For a responsible parent, it might provide some desperately needed answers to the problems created by a child’s abuse of inhalants. For an irresponsible child, it could create the problems themselves.

There’s only one thing we can be sure about. Whatever happens, Wikipedians won’t be taking responsibility for it.

I think it’s time we did.

,Wil

Tagged ,

Does Wikipedia Protect its Children?

It’s been said that a community is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members. When it comes to online activities, none are more vulnerable than our children. The thought that there are thousands- if not millions- of predators lurking in the dark corners of the internet makes a parent lose sleep at night. Many parents even separate their children from the greatest educational resource known to man at all costs.

But it’s a futile effort. The internet pervades modern society. Kids are increasingly encouraged to use it at school, for example. And no site is used as an educational aid more often than Wikipedia. For summarized knowledge, sources, supplementary materials, and, all too often, plagiarism, Wikipedia is the go-to resource our children are using to do better in school.

It begs the question: how well does Wikipedia protect its Children? Let’s start with what they are reading on Wikipedia. We all know that every bit of information on Wikipedia is accessible without an account. But it will be a surprise to many of us that Wikipedia can be edited without an account. And those edits are not vetted by editors- adult or otherwise- so vandalism is a fact of life on Wikipedia. Often foul language and fouler ideas are inserted along with false “facts” on the pages of Wikipedia. Most of this vandalism is caught within a few hours, but some isn’t detected for months- or even years.

Most acts of vandalism are perpetrated anonymously with so called IP edits. So can parents at least trust logged in users to take act responsibly towards their children? We should start with how much Wikipedia knows about their editors. The answer might surprise you: practically nothing. In fact, it is one of the few major internet sites that doesn’t require email verification to establish an account. That’s right parents, your children can create an account using their own name or an alias, and they are off to the races. You’d be hard pressed to find a more permissive site in the top 100- or even top 1000- most frequented online destinations. According to itself, Wikipedia running a very competitive #6 in the global race for the most online traffic.

Surely we can rely on Wikipedia to have established solid child protection policies against potential predators on their site, you must be thinking. Guess again. The official child protection policy arguably says more about protecting editors accused of impropriety with minors than children themselves. A committee of volunteers called ArbCom, whose members often don’t consider themselves qualified for such a task, take on triage for all reports of questionable conduct towards children. There word “parent” doesn’t even occur in this document, much less any commitment to notify authorities or parents if ArbCom finds that there is a reasonable accusation of impropriety. The worst consequences for a predator is an indefinite block from Wikipedia, which means that now the editor must go through the hassle of establishing another completely unverified account to continue preying on children at Wikipedia. It is interesting to note that this is the same consequence that any editor who brings up such accusations publicly will face. And, as a side note, this wouldn’t even be policy, had founder Jimmy Wales not unilaterally marked it so. This controversial action rocked the Wikipedia community.

Don’t get me wrong; accusations of child predation carry a heavy stigma, and editors’ reputations must be protected, but I believe this should be left to the authorities who are qualified to handle such claims discreetly. Even this wouldn’t suffice to make educational outreach to minors ethically or morally, and possibly legally acceptable. I believe that it will require nothing less than a new project aimed towards minors that uses Wikipedia as a source for vetted information. Such a project should require much more information from editors who have any interactions with potential minors. Anything less would amount to putting the most vulnerable- and beloved- members of our society in jeopardy.

As Wikipedians, we can, should, and must do better.

,Wil

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