“They’re flooding the internet”: A cross-national analysis of\ud newspaper representations of the ‘internet predator’ in Australia, Canada, the UK and USA
Although online child sexual abuse is an issue of international concern, little is known\ud about the news media’s role in its construction. In this study I draw upon a corpus of\ud 6,077 newspaper articles from Australia, Canada, the UK and USA – four member\ud countries of the Virtual Global Taskforce set up in 2003 to combat online child abuse.\ud Through a quantitative content analysis, I trace the trajectory of news coverage in\ud each country and identify the news hooks and key events through which the issue has\ud been framed during peak periods. This is complemented by a critical discourse\ud analysis, through which I interrogate discourses around spatiality, particularly those\ud pertaining to the paedophile’s migration from the ‘real world’ to ‘cyberspace’, and\ud from the ‘outside’ into the heart of ‘the home’. The quantitative element of my study\ud shows that: (1) although coverage began to emerge during the mid-1990s, it only\ud began to accelerate after the turn of the century; (2) online abuse has been defined\ud through episodic coverage, often around high-profile ‘grooming’ cases; (3) coverage in each country has largely followed a unique, nationally-specific narrative (shaped\ud by its own socio-political context); and (4) although coverage has gone through\ud periods of peaks and troughs, there are few signs that online abuse is slipping off the\ud news agenda. In my qualitative analysis, I present evidence that: (1) claims-makers\ud have drawn upon existing understandings of, and fears about, parks and playgrounds\ud to construct aspects of the internet as online ‘paedophile places’; (2) a discourse of\ud temporal proximity has been adopted to depict children as being ‘seconds’ or ‘clicks’\ud away from an internet predator; (3) this discourse of temporal proximity has been\ud used to localise a global problem and depict the internet predator as being even closer\ud to children than the traditional figure of ‘the paedophile’; and (4) the internet has been\ud framed as bringing fundamental changes to how sexual threats to children should be\ud understood. Through this analysis I argue that these discourses have been used to\ud legitimise tighter regulation of children’s lives and, although specific to the internet,\ud they perpetuate myths about paedophiles, childhood, the family and home that limit thinking about child sexual abuse on a much broader scale.
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