The holidays are coming. People will be taking family pictures, including ones of children. The Houston police would like to <warn parents against posting them online> , because pedophiles might look at them. From the examples given, they aren't talking only about half-naked shots, but mean to include shots of just kids being kids. (The simpler solution of checking your privacy settings isn't even mentioned.)

For the most part, the report just assumes that parents will feel horror at the idea of pedophiles enjoying pictures of their children. But it also does allude to one possible concrete danger.

The policeman (Detective Luis Menendez-Sierra): "...they're looking for details like a full name and a school's location. 'I know your mom, she asked me to come pick you up'"
The interviewer: "Has that ever happened?"
The policeman: "Yes, it's definitely happened."

It has happened, but in fact, it is extremely rare. The chance of a stranger abducting your child is very small in comparison to such dangers as getting killed while driving in cars. If the police warned people not to drive over the holidays, they would be addressing a danger to children hundreds of times greater than a stranger stalking a child based on a social media post. People accept the risk of driving because cars let them do things they value. Posting family photos on social media also lets people do things they value -- enriching their social life and connections.

With the danger of tangible consequences put into perspective, what's left is simply the horror people feel at the idea of pedophiles thinking sexual thoughts about their children. It's a horror at the general idea of what might be happening with some pedophile all alone at home, even though no one else will ever know whether it happened or not. For this you should limit your online social life.

A healthier reaction might be roughly <So what?> (I blogged about it <here> That tells the story of a serious photographer who posted photos of his young daughter, in some of which she is partly naked. He refused to let the possible private activities of other people get in the way of his art.

There is an interesting parallel with the requirement of women to cover up in conservative Islamic countries. I try to maintain respect the traditions of other cultures, but it is hard for me to avoid the gut-level reaction that this is horribly unjust. Men might think sexual thoughts about women that would distract them or lead them to do something inappropriate, and in response the onus is put on the women to seriously restrict how they dress. The experience of western countries makes clear that even if men do think sexual thoughts while looking at women sometimes (gasp!), we handle it pretty well. US feminists may urge men to do less looking of that kind, but they rightly feel women and girls should be able to dress however they want. There's no evidence that covering up would reduce sexual violence in any case.

While the current warning is directed at parents, there are also children themselves to consider. Asking them to restrict their posting isn't so far away from requiring them to cover up. Left to their own devices, some kids send even sexually explicit selfies to each other. Society's idea that this is not just to be frowned upon but a cause for criminal charges is outrageous.

With regard to terrorism, careful thinkers note that the danger looms far larger in the public mind than in reality. If people feel terrorized without good reason, they have let terrorists achieve one of their goals. There is no conspiracy of pedophiles to make people afraid. Pedophiles cover the same range as the rest of humanity on just about any trait you can think of. Some molest children and a great many do not. If there is some tiny deranged minority of people who want parents and children to feel afraid of what pedophiles might do when they are all alone, it's not composed of pedophiles themselves. Parents are hiding their children and restricting their activities for no good reason.

The news report shows clips of men's faces (presumably looking at images of children) who look devious and dangerous. Menendez-Sierra also tells an anecdote of the depravity of pedophiles. When serving a warrant to look for child pornography, "the person is sitting at their computer, and they haven't gotten up in maybe a month. They literally will use buckets and jars to urinate and defecate, because there's a likelihood that if they get up to use the restroom, they might miss the opportunity of an image that just popped up for a second or so." Since people have to sleep and know they will miss plenty of opportunities while they sleep, this doesn't make sense as a strategy. This is obsession and craziness. The detectives have no way of knowing the man hasn't gotten up in a month, and even if he told them that, they would be fools to believe him. There's no reason to think obsession and craziness is any more common in pedophiles than anyone else. Adult-attracted men often get obsessed with adult pornography. Menendez-Sierra is using an anecdote of repulsive behavior to tar an entire class of people -- pedophiles. We wouldn't tolerate it if he emphasized that the man in question was black or Hispanic.

Most pedophiles are decent people trying to get through life as best they can. They have a handicap of an attraction they did not choose and cannot change. They must keep secret a major part of their identity, knowing others would hate them if it was discovered. They face a life without the prospect of love or satisfying sex. Like all other men, they have a temptation to seek out pornography showing their sexual desires. Many pedophiles resist that temptation, and instead look at innocent pictures of children, privately. They might be objectifying the children in those images, which is <perfectly OK>

If your goal was to protect children rather than to feed an irrational hatred of pedophiles, you might encourage people to post pictures of their kids on social media instead of warning them against it. There is intriguing evidence that in societies where it had been very difficult to obtain pornography and it suddenly became very easy, <sex crimes went down> They certainly never went up noticeably. This includes child pornography. There's every reason to think that innocent pictures of children that pedophiles might find to be erotic would have the same effect. On balance, pedophiles who think private sexual thoughts about children based on images are less likely to molest children.

But in any case, you would have to feel that private pedophile sexual satisfaction is a terrible thing indeed to have it be worth restricting your activity on social media.

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