Popular Children’s Online Forum Fails to Protect Children from Predators

Popular Children’s Online Forum Fails to Protect Children from Predators

By Jeannine Kellogg

[WARNING:  The content provided below comes directly from user forums on Scholastic.com’s “Kids Sites” and are highly explicit in nature and should not be shared with children.]

A couple of weeks ago, Movieguide.org published this article which included examples of content posted by predatory adults who participated, daily, on Scholastic’s online chat rooms. Scholastic’s two chat rooms were labelled “SafeChat” but were anything but safe. Following the posting of this article, Scholastic shut down their not-safe chat rooms.

Links to Scholastic’s chat rooms were easily found by users on all their “Kids Sites” which are targeted at children 12 years and under. Web pages for each of Scholastic’s major book brands linked directly to their chat rooms. The chats were flooded by predatory adults who daily posted explicit and inappropriate content of a sexual, harassing, cruel, or violent nature. A small sampling of that troubling chat content was posted in that article.

Gratefully, the Scholastic chat room links have been shut down: The Wings of Fire chat link is now redirected to Wings of Fire home page. The other “General” link still directs users to the chat room however users can no longer post. While I cannot confirm that the deactivation was the result of my article, concerned parents are relieved that the predatory chat activity has been shut down. However, the Scholastic Kids Sites Moderator announced that Scholastic will be launching a new user-generated product of some kind. Let’s hope they don’t.

Unfortunately, Scholastic continues to operate their user forums which are also branded with their major book series. These forums, like the chat rooms, are designed for kids to post their own content. The predatory users still have accounts on Scholastic’s Online Community and they have merely moved their daily activity to the forums.

Obviously, predators do not announce their intentions such that you can clearly notice them and denounce their predations. They do not log on and say, “Hi, I’m an adult professing to be a child. And I want to manipulate your child into my dark world where I’ll friend them then crush their innocence and make an absolute mockery of your wish to protect them. I will arrange to chat with them privately then I will “ship” them off with myself or others. I am here to take advantage of your child’s vulnerability so that I can meet them in a bedroom in the real world and crush them in person.” It’s naïve to think that predatory online activity would be immediately obvious.

The online world of child pornographers is a sick and twisted world in which they often use a hidden language so that they can remain undercover and out of the eye of those who would otherwise lock them in a cell. Predators lurk. They slip into your child’s world under the guise of a friend and as someone who intends to help. They have honed their skills to manipulate and harm. Parents can hope that their kids are okay online. But predators slither into your world like odorless smoke seeps under a door while you’re sleeping.

Child pornographers and traffickers operate essentially unfettered within facebook, google, snapchat, twitter, Instagram, youtube, video games – everywhere your child plays and your family communicates. And make no mistake, they are out to destroy the foundations of our community by harming the most vulnerable: our children.

The following examples are shared so that parents understand that even on a site like Scholastic, predators have slithered in and taken over. A brand that is in every school and is trusted by parents, teachers, and librarians has left the gate open. This disturbing content has been allowed for a number of years. Scholastic contacted me this week to say that they reviewed my below examples and taken some but not all of them down. They state: “Moderation is a critical piece of our online communities, and we employ a combination of full-time Scholastic employees who are experts on the topic as well as sophisticated technology partners.”

The users shown below can remain active on the forums.

The following examples are what your child will find on Scholastic’s forums. When you first look at the site, you will not necessarily be alarmed. And that is the predators’ intent. Parents are busy, distracted, and often barely keeping their head above water. Predators know this and take advantage of it as they communicate using a clouded and twisted language.

At the New York Book Expo, a Roblox employee explained to me that Roblox, the video game company, has as many people and financial resources dedicated to your child’s safety as they have programmers and game developers. He gave me a pamphlet with solid content addressing the issues of child online safety, and stated that the predators are extremely sophisticated, technically and logistically. He said, with great seriousness, that no one can let down their guard. I had an elevated respect for Roblox after talking with him. He said that as soon as you figure out how the predators are circumventing your controls so that you can block them, they camouflage with new methods and slip in another way. It’s a never-ending fight. And that’s how parents need to think of it. Safety online: there is no such thing right now. And we all must be engaged in the battle.

Below are the examples taken directly from Scholastic forums for their popular kids’ book series: 39 Clues, Spirit Animals, Wings of Fire, Goosebumps, I Survived, American Girl, Hilde, and Horizon.

Please note before reading further: The Scholastic forum content is disturbing and explicit and should not be shared with children. It seems the Scholastic moderators believe that this chatter is merely fantasy and is thus safely and harmlessly couched within fictional “role-play” and imaginary character development. But users assume the characters as themselves, and having followed the content posted on the chats and forums, it is astoundingly clear that the chatter is all too real. Users not only engage in sexualized role-playing, they talk about cutting themselves, depression, suicide, communicating offline, texting each other, meeting offline, getting weapons and attacking people, and so on. There are no lines between fantasy and reality for these users. The fantasy they play is a reality with your child as the price.

Scholastic’s forums use the following terms:

  • “Almond” is slang in the dark world of predators for male genitals.
  • “Walnut” is a virgin girl’s genitals when she is very young.
  • “Cinnamon Roll” is slang for an innocent child, pure.

A Scholastic user has a signature line that mentions another user’s name and says, “If I’m the walnut, you are the almond.”

Kawaii is a term in the sexualized world of anime role-playing to describe a cute person, a little darling.  The following example is one of literally hundreds in which users describe their sexual activities written in slang.

Scholastic employees who moderate the site know that “shipping”, in the context of user forums and anime, refers to pairing up characters/people for a relationship. The users are clearly pairing people, not fictional characters. In the world of a predator, fantasy and reality are blended. Keep in mind that Scholastic’s Kids Sites are targeted at children 12 and under.

There are many disturbing examples of “shipping” on Scholastic. The following I found while looking through their forums in just one afternoon.

There is a post, titled “What is shipping?” in which one user refers to pushing a child into a box and transporting them to a location of the user’s choice. Or throwing them on a boat.

This next shipping example mentions that on the SAMB (which stands for Scholastic’s Spirit Animals Message Board), “we usually strap them together with shipping tape and begin preparing the wedding”. This statement is followed by the user saying that he/she “runs off to the shipping tape store”.

Here the user makes it clear that “shipping” is not platonic. If you want platonic, that’s called “friendshipping”. There are hundreds of references to shipping on Scholastic. I haven’t seen any references to “friendshipping.”

The following user describes the need for one Cinnamon Roll to leave (the forum) so that a new generation of cute, little shippable kids can come and keep the users happy.

Scholastic users discuss their “One True Pairing”, which is shortened to OTP, an acronym that Scholastic user forums moderators know. One user says that his/her One True Pairing is, sadly, a “cold child” and a “trash edgy kiddo“.

And another pairing of young children: an edgy darkness ghost boy with a sunshine child.

And the pairing of adults: a compulsive liar, a former criminal, and a maniac.

And the pairing of a “shady dude who’s constantly coughing up blood” and a “salty practical girl”. There are far too many references to apple pie which is taken from an explicit scene in the movie American Pie. I have not seen that movie but when discussing the content of Scholastic users, I shared the references with someone who had seen the movie. That person confirmed that, yes, the reference is to that vulgar scene involving a man’s genitals.

In addition, Scholastic forums reference tsundere cinnamon rolls. Tsundere is a term (in anime/Japanese character development) in which the child is defensive and violent at first but then turns affectionate and sweet later on. This is an extremely toxic element of child pornography. The child fights then supposedly turns docile and sweet at the hands of a predator. There is nothing but violence in child pornography. A predator’s fantasy of the fighting child etc. is abhorrent. This is playing out on Scholastic Forums.

Users use “white ink” text to make some of their writing less easy to flag. In the following example, the content is not sexually explicit. However, the user is trying to reach another user named Christy and confirm whether or she is dead.

Another user refers to “I slice a guy in half and I stand in front of two boys“…

Scholastic forums are full of references to the taking the innocence of, and buying Cinnamon Rolls. Again, a Cinnamon Roll is slang for an innocent and pure child.

There are many other code words that Scholastic forum users communicate with to not only circumvent Scholastic’s automated filters but also easily sail by the Scholastic moderators. It is important to note, however, that Scholastic moderators, by their own admission, say that sexual talk on the site is acceptable and the shipping of kids is acceptable, as long as it is done with user’s consent. I have saved screenshots of that as well. Legally speaking, and something Scholastic’s legal team should consider, the intended users of Scholastic “Kids Sites” all fall under the age of consent. Many concerned adults would hope that the Scholastic legal team might find this to be murky waters at best. Especially because kids are being shipped in real life at the hands of groomers who lurk online.

In fact, in this example, one of the users is hoping for a user named Katerina to come back and “manipulate some poor gullible cinnamon rolls“. Note that just above that comment one of the users apparently got caught and was arrested. Again, Scholastic may call this all fantasy “role play”. Will parents agree?

Here are more examples:

  1. The buying of Cinnamon Rolls for a Dreamers Christmas Party

      2. A reference to a Cinnamon Roll who doesn’t deserve the pain

     3. A description of someone being smol and cinnamon roll-y. Scholastic users refer to Smol Cinnamon Rolls – this is a reference to extremely small and cute, sexually. “Mods” are Scholastic       Moderators. Users frequently beg the moderators to have a blind-eye to their nefarious content.

4. User writes that a sweet and impulsive Cinnamon Roll should go be with their BF

5. The user hugs Russia and says that her “character” Natasha is like a Cinnamon Roll but will kill you.

6. This one speaks, tragically, for itself: “Deal with it Cinnamon Roll, it’s going to happen and Jesse and I will watch happily”

7. Shipping: Someone has a very SMOL CHILD you will like

8. Someone stating they are attracted to “cheeky lil Cinnamon Rolls”. While couched inside “fictional crushes”, there is nothing fictional about the game being played out on Scholastic.

9. Shipfics are fiction written entirely about “shipping”. In this case, the user admits that the fiction is reality. The user gets “HARDCORE” and then wants to murder who hurts these kids. The user admits the people “are real” and the user blushes at the pictures.

10. User refers to her own Cinnamon Roll and says “you can can maim her and almost kill her

11. The user writes in white ink “do not hurt the Cinnamon Roll”. You have to highlight the signature lines and blank space to find the white ink text.

12. Example of the mentioning of a murder of a Cinnamon Roll

13. Someone talking about the distinction of being a Cinnamon Roll versus acting like one. Sadly, the victims of child pornography understand this post.

On this Wings of Fire post, the user created a thread titled “Welcome to the Mind [bleep]!” The user is referring to the song Welcome to the Mind Fxxk.

The above crossed-out text is the user’s: “the title is from a song you shouldn’t look up”. On the same thread, another user says, “Hot apple pie and cold milk is an A+ combo, speaking from experience, that is very very fantastic.”

Scholastic or the user has taken down the crossed-out text in the above example. However, the thread is still active on the forum. Here are the lyrics that your kids will find if they choose to google the song.

Welcome to the Mind Fxxk Lyrics.

 

Hold up a second miss who’s walking over there,

Showing off your body with no shred of decency

Thinking you look good in that little indecisive head of yours

Playing naïve!?

Don’t spout that bullshit

Wait up mister, what the hell’s your play?

Having fun talkin’ about younger chicks you’ve f*cked,

But pink promising them you’ll make them happy.

And you’ve already broken it!?

F*ck you, you little prick.

“Wanna leave separately? Don’t wanna cause suspicion?”

Drenched in sarcasm you lie to yourself.

Piled up so many lies it makes you wanna puke. Pathetic.

Everyone eventually end up in the deepest pits of hell.

(Dragged down there)

Ah, the touching, buried, happiness I’ve obtained has been stolen.

The hero of justice is weeping.

We hugged, we fought, we split up.

I wonder how much easier life would be, if I just forgot those times.

Welcome to the mind F*ck

Worn out scarred skin has reached its breaking point.

Do you feel this pain too darling?

Don’t tell me you’re being a stubborn idiot again?

You’ve still got a long way to go before you learn!

 

And the song continues with such content. Here is the image from the video your child will find.

 

Scholastic says they ban some users for unacceptable behavior. The bans are usually temporary, sometimes just an hour or so. The predatory users stay active. If they are banned permanently, they just rename themselves and open a new profile. The bans are useless. In fact, users often just make fun of them. Here are two examples.

This thread mocks the Scholastic moderators and includes, “I am fairly sure there are no active moderators on here.”

 

A post in which a user doesn’t want to be found by the Scholastic moderators, “Don’t let them get me.”

 

Here is one remark by a frequently banned user: “Well, I’ve been permanently banned a couple times, and in total they added up to about seven months. Plus a bunch of week-long and day-long bans. The most recent one was fifteen minutes…”

 

Do you want Scholastic users to “get edgy” at night with the children in your life? To chat with someone who “can’t tame these lions inside”?

 

Or if your child asks, “What is shipping?” Do you want users to explain shipping then request to meet up with your child? “Ship me with you!”

 

If not, please contact Scholastic and tell them to shut down their user forums immediately.

And lest you think, like Scholastic, that users are just in a game of harmless fantasy, forum users to communicate with each other offline:

Many more examples can be provided. We can retain compassion for adults who experienced trauma as a child: many perpetrators were once victims themselves. Maybe that’s why Scholastic forum users will often refer to their own depression, mental torment, isolation, cutting, and suicide. Yet when an unhealed person turns from victim to a dangerous predator who actively harms children in horrific ways, the full extent of the law should bear down upon them.

We, as concerned adults, can fight back effectively. We do not have to be helpless in fighting against those who wish to dismantle the foundations of our world through the harming of our children. The online world should not be an unfettered open horizon for the strategic aggressions of the darkest corners of our world. We can and must fight this by raising awareness, holding the media companies accountable, and pulling in law enforcement when necessary.

If you would like to contact Scholastic, you can do so here or here or here.

 

You can have confidence that you, no matter your situation, have an important role in this battle. We need to be willing to face darkness to defeat it. As you witness examples in your world, you can raise awareness as you talk about it with parents, neighbors, friends, and colleagues. Communicate the issues and demand changes in the content, policies, and practices of media companies, entertainment companies, schools, libraries, and others. Our concern and care for our children is a powerful force. Our first line of defense does not have to be ineffective online filters and arguments about screen time with our kids. The battle can be won at a higher level. We can demand far more comprehensive changes at companies whose employees are sometimes asleep while the toxic smoke is seeping in. Your dedicated effort will be a generous and deeply hopeful gift to our most precious treasure, our children.

 

Links referenced in this article:

https://wingsoffire.scholastic.com/chat (This link is no longer active.)

https://plus.scholastic.com/chat (Users can no longer be active in the chat room.)

Wings of Fire post: https://wingsoffire.scholastic.com/forums/topics/344250

These forums are active currently:

  1. 39 Clues:
    1. https://doublecross.scholastic.com/forums
  2. Spirit Animals Forum:
    1. https://spiritanimals.scholastic.com/forums
  3. Wings of Fire:
    1. https://wingsoffire.scholastic.com/forums
  4. Goosebumps:
    1. https://goosebumps.scholastic.com/forums
  5. I Survived:
    1. https://isurvived.scholastic.com/forums
  6. American Girl
    1. https://americangirl.scholastic.com/forums
  7. Hilde
    1. https://hilde.scholastic.com/forums
  8. Horizon:
    1. https://horizonapi.scholastic.com/forums

Users can find all the Scholastic forums via Scholastic’s “Kids Sites” homepage:

https://www.scholastic.com/kids/home/

From that page, if the user chooses the “Community” link, they end up here.

https://www.scholastic.com/kids/community.html

Links to all the forums are also available at this site. Note: Some forum links lead to de-activated sites. Hopefully the de-activated links are an indication that Scholastic is in the process of shutting down user forums.

https://plus.scholastic.com/forums

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