Kid-centered online communities may seem safer than many other potential hang outs, whether electronic or not–after all, the sites are often heavily monitored to ensure that less than well-intentioned adults can’t access them.
According to an article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, however, even such monitoring doesn’t protect the kids from another threat: each other. The kids’ virtual selves interact, maintain virtual bank accounts, and buy virtual furniture as they live their virtual lives. But they are also virtually scamming each other in as many ways as they can create.
A 2007 UCLA study explored cheating among tween game players and found that such behavior extended beyond the usual workarounds: It also includes rigging elections, selling products that don’t exist, and using scams to empty other users’ virtual bank accounts. And although sites increasingly monitor chats between users and can ban them temporarily or permanently for bad behavior, the article suggests that safety in these worlds is more difficult to maintain than it seems.