One cynical definition of news is anything that scares mothers. If that's true, this NYT story about teenagers who make money selling images of themselves online is a doozie.
The 13-year-old boy sat in his California home, eyes fixed on a computer screen. He had never run with the popular crowd and long ago had turned to the Internet for the friends he craved. But on this day, Justin Berry's fascination with cyberspace would change his life.
Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal: he would pay Justin $50 to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for three minutes. The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly and helped him open an account on PayPal.com, an online payment system.
“I figured, I took off my shirt at the pool for nothing,” he said recently. “So, I was kind of like, what's the difference?”
Justin removed his T-shirt. The men watching him oozed compliments.
So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam – undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex – for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Justin's dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children's closed bedroom doors.
The business has created youthful Internet pornography stars – with nicknames like Riotboyy, Miss Honey and Gigglez – whose images are traded online long after their sites have vanished. In this world, adolescents announce schedules of their next masturbation for customers who pay fees for the performance or monthly subscription charges. Eager customers can even buy “private shows,” in which teenagers sexually perform while following real-time instructions.
A six-month investigation by The New York Times into this corner of the Internet found that such sites had emerged largely without attracting the attention of law enforcement or youth protection organizations. While experts with these groups said they had witnessed a recent deluge of illicit, self-generated Webcam images, they had not known of the evolution of sites where minors sold images of themselves for money.