America Online provides parental controls that allow families to block kids’ access to its roughly 17,000 chat rooms. Thus pity SkooterBobby, a screen persona the Voice created to test the system. As an early teen, SkooterBobby isn’t allowed to have a true user profile, but he’s determined to get online thrills.
At every turn, SkooterBobby hits AOL’s iron veil of modesty—blank listings of chat rooms, censored newsgroups, crippled alternate Web browsers. Dejected, SkooterBobby checks the Weather Channel, which is linked to by AOL’s homepage, and behold! A chat room! Not a moment later, the boy’s in. . . .
The room steams in a heat wave of adolescent horniness—or the leering of pedophiles. It’s hard to tell. SkooterBobby announces himself as a “13m in nyc looking for the hottis.”
Quick as lightning comes the reply from a user we’ll call “FriarsGreeting,” who claims to be a 15-year-old girl. SkooterBobby, always the gentleman, asks her about herself. Instant Messaging is blocked for SkooterBobby, so the resulting condensed dialogue—it ain’t Tristan and Isolde—takes place over e-mail:
FRIARSGREETING okay, i like soccer, softball, basketball, and other stuff. oh and boys. um. . i was wondering if u’d be my boyfriend? tell me about urself.
SKOOTERBOBBY i’m 13. well, i like girls so no prob if u want me : ) : ) i like trying trix on my skooter not like a lame one. i moved up to a dirtsurfer. i’m pretty tight on it. i live in nyc so it’s really cool and all. i used to live on STRONG island but this is cooler. i’m gonna go to stuy high next year if i pass a few more tests. ask me nething else. what do you look like? is it ok that i’m 13 and ur 15?
FG it’s alright and ill be glad to be urs. besides, as a young one, u just may receive a surprise. . . . if ur interested i can teach u cyber, if u no what it is please answer me. if not its computer sex, kinda fast if u ask me. oh, and its cool that u do the skooter!
SB you mean like dirty talk? isn’t it weird? what do you want to say?
FG it is kinda weird. u say things like, well u know, um, ur a little sex machine and stuff like that. my very ex boyfriend taught me. he died in a car accident. well, u get the idea. start.
SB ur older. i think u shuld start. and u did it b4. u got a profile? what does it say? i cant read them.
FG i dont no what it says for some reason.
[FriarGreeting logs off for a few minutes.]
SB what happened?
FG i had to let u go because my brother had to use the phone for a whaile. just wanted to say i love u and i’m looking foward to chattin with u again. bye, and love u as always.
SB you are so nice. but you never taught me how to cyber. but its cool.
FG when cybering, say things like, ur a very sexy young man, and stuff like that. well, if u get the idea, email me with what cyber stuff u have to say to me. love u as always.
SB hi! i guess i like being called sexy. what do u like to be told? u have more expirience.
FG i like to be called every meaning of sex in a boy’s mind. things like: sexy, horny, cute, lovergirl, ect. sexy, sex. . . .