At the risk of being a bit of a pedant I do likes words to have a fixed meaning, or at least meanings that don’t change over time in an arbitrary fashion. It happens quite a lot and the Internet hasn’t helped because with a lively and dynamic youth culture added to cosmopolitan cities full of new and exciting cultural influences the trend is increasing.
Don’t get me wrong here, I love a rich and diverse vocabulary that allows us all to interact with the subtle nuances that a simpler language allows. We don’t want to end up speaking New Speak as envisaged by George Orwell. But when a word is used in new ways it leads to confusion. Take “bad” that used to mean, well bad. When I found out that it could also mean “very, very good” I thought WTF! That’s the antonym of bad. But we all adapt and add this to our repertoire of linguistic styles, adjusting how we speak and using these co-opted words appropriately in different situations.
There is a problem though. When a word develops a subtly different meaning, it can lead to confusion. It did with me today.
A few years ago the term Sexting meant using a mobile phone to hook up with people nearby for casual sex. This possibly apocryphal practice was widely reported in the tabloid and some serious newspapers at the time. Look at it as a pre-smart phone version of Grindr for straights.
Now apparently it means something a bit different. People are sending each other semi-nude and nude pictures of each other via their phones. Between consenting adults and particularly those in a relationship I can’t see a problem but you would have to be insane to send an image of yourself to someone you had never met outside a BBM session or social networking. Blackmail or just pure embarrassment from finding an intimate picture of you all over the Web is the potential price you’d have to pay for an ill-judged sext image.
For parents it’s a nightmare. With kids on mobile phones constantly there are people who will take advantage of their innocence. Despite what many kids think they are not as street wise as they might be and when someone shows an interest in you, particularly during adolescence and puberty the decision you make are not always the best ones. We all know this, we’ve all been there.
It’s just now the technology makes it easy encourage a child to send a picture of themselves from anywhere in the world. Whereas child abusers used to have to be in the proximity of the kids now they can do it remotely which means they are more difficult to catch because they might not be in the same country.
Digital cameras and web cams made this sort of abuse easier, smart phones and social networking increased scope and speed with which this can draw a kid into the clutches of a paedophile. And of course the phone is often locked/passworded so parents can’t easily check their kids activity if they feel abuse has occurred.
Then of course there’s bullying, and peer pressure and all the other rubbish we all experienced at school. Once part of learning how to interact with society, it’s now carried out on line with fewer inhibitions because of the perceived anonymity the web allows and a disassociation inherent in all online communications.
There have always been abusers and therefore there have always been those who are abused. Technology simply gives people who choose to intimidate and take advantage of people the opportunity to do it in different ways and I’m sure over time we’ll learn how to address this new form of exploitation of the young and foolish effectively and sensitively. Until then let’s all make sure we understand one another, talk about this problem in clear language and protect the vulnerable from those who would prey on them.
If you want to report potential child abuse online you can go here in the UK, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) http://ceop.police.uk/