So. Habbo Hotel. Bit of a screw up there somewhere, isn't there. As Channel 4 exclusively revealed today, there's trouble at mill, trouble of the nastiness kind.
Firstly, I want to take issue with something that I know right now. Channel 4 telling me that chances are my child is one of the 250 million global users of Habbo Hotel is a very different statement when the fact that only 300,000 of those are UK based accounts, a fact I made a point of checking with Jon Snow on Twitter. Yeah, he replies, I'm as shocked as you are (it's probably a researcher).
So really, it's highly unlikely your child is using Habbo Hotel. It's far more likely that they're using Facebook as these recent figures from Social Media Today show which state 20.6% of its entire user base is 13-17 years old (2011). I have of course date stamped that figure because as we all suspect, that figure is probably dropping, at least in the UK. They're all going somewhere else and I somehow doubt it's Habbo Hotel.
But that's not stopped Channel 4 from dragging an Internet Safety Adviser, John Carr to be horrified on camera and to state that if he were the parent of an 11 year old girl using Habbo Hotel, he'd want there to be a moral outrage.
And somewhat unpredictably, I'm going to say that I think there should be a moral outrage as well. But for very different reasons.
Why are parents not warning their children of the dangers of online chat rooms?
Because the ones who are tech savvy do and the ones who are not tech savvy can't warn about something they have no knowledge or experience of.
Why aren't teachers warning children about the dangers of online chat rooms?
Perhaps they are. Perhaps they are not. I suspect, as is the case with most strands of ICT education (and yes its a broad church that ICT badge and I've discussed that to death elsewhere) it is an inconsistent and hit and miss delivery which again depends on the tech awareness of the teacher doing the delivering.
If education and empowering is happening to a satisfactory level there remains one glaring question in all of this and it does not place blame with Habbo Hotel although the sheer lack of moderation (and outsourcing it is not an excuse I am prepared to accept from anyone encouraging young people to meet digitally) deserves them a damn good kicking which one of their investors is already in the process of delivering to them.
Anyway, the glaring question.
If as an 11 year old girl you are logging into Habbo Hotel and as the Production Manager of the Channel 4 News found when she pretended to be just that, the first thing you are greeted with is 'I'm groping your breasts now' why the hell are you not hitting the x in the corner of the window?
Answer the question of why young women very obviously are not, as the arrests and convictions of at least two pedophiles who used Habbo Hotel demonstrate, and you've cracked it and will hold the key to preventing any of this reoccurring again and again and again across yet another social network.
As a final thought - people seem remarkably comfortable none of this is happening on Facebook. The problem of course is that it's not all completely in the open like Habbo Hotel and you don't need to be a part of the network in order to gain access to those conversations because guess what? All the internet security advice which did get passed on - which in some areas was reduced to 'lock your Facebook account down' - has been listened to. And as a result we now have no idea what is happening behind those privacy locked down profiles. So maybe yes, only 300,000 UK users are using Habbo. But are we absolutely sure that the problem stops there? And if we're not, what exactly are we going to do to improve education for young people when it comes to their own internet safety?