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Friday, May 11, 2007

Consult 'Cyber-Safe Kids...'

There is no other tech-parenting manual you'll need besides Nancy Willard's Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens. Please click to this week's issue of my newsletter to find out why.

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How dissed superintendent handled it

It looks like students and a lot of adults in Saline, Michigan, have had some healthy debate this week about online vs. offline behavior and free speech. After high school students “used harsh language to ridicule Saline Area Schools Superintendent Beverley Geltner,” the Ann Arbor News reports, the superintendent met individually with the students and their parents, then held a meeting last night of about 100 students and parents to discuss the students’ postings. Nobody was suspended, Ms. Geltner said, but she held meetings “to address the ‘limited understanding’ that parents and young people have about the dangers of Internet postings,” the News reports in a separate article. At least one student learned that what he posted in Facebook wasn’t necessarily going to be seen only by the group. Geltner reportedly was both criticized and supported for the way she handled the incident, but if something was learned about behavior and repercussions on the social Web, and maybe a little about ethics and free speech, I think she handled it as well as possible. Note what a Philadelphia dean of students Mark Franek wrote in Educational Leadership: “Behaviors in cyberspace (yes, words are deeds) are downloadable, printable, and sometimes punishable by law. Students need to hear this message, starting in upper elementary school” (archived in Franek’s blog).

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State laws on age verification

Though people on both sides of the social Web’s age-verification debate have great intentions, opponents really seem to know more about what’s actually possible than proponents do. Proponents say things like, “if we can put a man on the moon, we can verify someone’s age,” the New York Times reports in an article about states proposing legislation requiring verification. Opponents or skeptics view it as overkill, what I’d call a baby+bathwater result (one opposing state legislator told the Times such a law is more like a sledgehammer where a “small mallet” would work better). ID verification companies say it’s not possible without a national database of children’s personal information (civil liberties and consumer privacy organizations would have some things to say about that – not to mention many parents). Child-safety advocates say it could potentially provide a false sense of security for parents and greater risk – if kids simply go to another site parents don’t know of that is less responsible to public opinion and parents’ requests than MySpace or other popular sites laws would cover. What the article doesn’t get into is all that’s in the bathwater these proposed laws are trying to address but don’t even begin to touch (see “Predators vs. cyberbullies” as well as “Verifying online kids’ ages”).

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

'Tourists' could respect 'natives' more

A commentary in The Guardian this week was music to my ears. Bronwyn Kunhardt, co-founder of the UK nonprofit Social Media Consensus, cites Pews Internet & American Life research to begin to quantify all the good things young people are doing on the social Web, where they are the premier social producers and creative networkers, aka the “natives.” Pew found that “55% of online teens have created a profile on a social network site such as MySpace or Facebook, compared to 20% of online adults. Of particular interest in this medium of self-presentation are the connections these kids seek to establish and augment: 39% of online teens share their own creations online. In other words, friends, and potential friends share artwork, photos, stories, or videos. This compares to the 22% of online adults who do this. Of the young people questioned 26% say they remix found and discovered online content into something they can characterise as their own creative expression. Only 9% of online adults do this.” And yet it’s the adults, the tourists who don’t full understand this space and only hear of its downsides, who are setting policy. Not good. So here’s the music in my ears: Kunhardt writes that “our role as responsible ‘tourists’ is to respect the natives and do what we can to understand their lives and their ‘habitat.’ Warnings about risk will always fall on deaf ears if we can't also articulate and celebrate the benefits.” We need at least to get going on researching and articulating those benefits (I tried to do the latter in my recent “Lifeline” article.)

Child-porn trading alleged in Second Life

If anybody needed confirmation that the online virtual world Second Life is not for kids, they got it this week. Law enforcement in Halle, Germany, is looking for Second Life players “who are reportedly buying sex with other players posing as children, as well as offering child pornography for sale,” The Guardian reports. A German investigative reporter who’s a member of Second Life told The Guardian “he had been ‘shocked to see’ the virtual child pornography meetings to which he was invited for 500 Linden dollars - around £1.50 [$2.99]. He said the same group of people subsequently put him in touch with traders in real child pornography.” Second Life’s parent, Linden Lab, in San Francisco, is working with police to find the offending players. Virtual child pornography is not a crime in the US, but in Germany it’s a crime “punishable by up to five years in prison,” The Guardian adds. Here’s the BBC’s coverage. According to just-released comScore research, 16% of Second Life users are German, making Germany “the largest country of origin in the ‘game’" of some 16 million players (followed by the US), The Register reports.

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Parents using game ratings

Contrary to what has been reported, parents are pretty smart about videogame ratings these days. They’re increasingly relying on them “to guide their decisions about what titles to allow their children to play,” TechNewsWorld reports. “In fact, 73% of parents said they make a point of checking the Entertainment Software Rating Board's rating every time they consider either a game rental or a purchase.” In other finds by a recent study the ESRB commissioned, 60% of parents with kids under 17 never allow their kids to play M-rated games; 91% take a game's rating into consideration when deciding to purchase a game, 52% call it “a very important” part of the purchase decision, and 17% call it “the most important” part.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hacker post h.s. threats in MySpace

Someone claiming to be a Petaluma (Calif.) High School student “hacked into several students' MySpace accounts at about 10 p.m. Tuesday” and posted threats that he or she would bring a gun to school today and shoot people, reports. The person also made references to the Virginia Tech shootings. The school, which told police that several hundred students received the threatening message, notified parents with a recorded phone message last night, but about 35% of the students were in class today. “In addition to the Petaluma Police Department's school resource officer there were five to seven additional officers on campus,” according to the TV report, but police said they found nothing suspicious today, and classes are scheduled as usual for tomorrow and Friday. MySpace works closely with law enforcement, with a toll-free number for police requests, so the hacker’s identity could well have been worked out by the time I post this (Wed. evening).

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Web 2.0 is teen space: Study

The term “Web 2.0” gets tossed around a lot, and I often use “social Web” or “user-driven Web” to give parents a little clearer picture of it. The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently decided to get a better fix on this new phase of the Web, as it’s so often called: who uses it and how they use it in the context of how they use the Internet and Net-connected devices in general. Pew’s just-released findings – in “A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users” - only further confirmed what a lot of us suspected. The user-driven Web is the youth-driven Web. Only 19% of adult Internet users in the US say they’ve shared something online that they’ve created themselves (artwork, photos, stories, videos), which is what Web 2.0 is all about. “The typology clearly shows how modern information technology is the province of youth,” Pew found (p. 49). Meanwhile, market researcher Yankee Group just released its finding that "72% of US teens are actively logging onto social networking Web sites." Here’s CNET’s coverage of the Pew study.

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PC patch-up time

Yesterday was "patch Tuesday," Microsoft's monthly security-patch day when all family-PC owners should be sure their computers have the latest security updates. This month, "at least 19 separate security holes in its Windows operating system and other software, including two vulnerabilities that criminals are actively exploiting to take control of Windows PCs," Washington Post computer-security writer Brian Krebs reports. Brian adds that Microsoft says all seven of the bundles these patches come in are "critical." Windows PC owners can find more info at Microsoft's security page.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Canada's reax to Web 2.0...

...are just as largely ignorant as US ones, it's a little comforting to know. The latest response in Canada, in this case to Facebook, was an announcement from the Ontario government last week "that it was banning access to the site for thousands of bureaucrats and elected officials," law professor Michael Geist writes in the Toronto Star. "While the merits of Facebook are open to debate – some love it, others hate it, and many simply do not understand what the fuss is about – there should be no debating the fact that many of these policy responses are unnecessary, knee-jerk reactions to an emerging social phenomenon that is poorly understood." Since Facebook started allowing regional, not just college, university, and high school networks of users, it has grown from 8 million users last summer to about 21 million now, according to Professor Geist, with Toronto as the service's largest regional network in the world. Canada's recent "backlash," Geist says, seems to be centered around "derogatory" comments in Facebook profiles (often called "cyberbullying") and "workplace productivity." But mindless banning has its own negative impact, he suggests: "The attempts to block Facebook or punish users for stating their opinions fails to appreciate that social network sites are simply the Internet generation's equivalent of the town hall, the school cafeteria, or the workplace water cooler – the place where people come together to exchange both ideas and idle gossip." I wish I was seeing this view in more news reports around the world.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Top-ranked social sites

It’s no surprise that MySpace and Facebook were the first- and second-ranked social-networking sites on’s list for March ’07 – in terms of both site visitors and “attention” (Compete’s word for percentage of their online time people spend on a particular site). What was interesting was that Bebo was No. 9 in terms of visitors and No. 3 in terms of the amount of attention it gets from its users. “Bebo, a relatively new player in the space, has more than tripled in both unique visitors and attention from March 2006 to March 2007,” the Compete blog reports. By attracting and engaging quality traffic, the site leaps from 9th ranked in Unique Visitors to third in Attention.” Tagged, targeting mostly teens and with more than 30 million members, is No. 5 in both categories. Interestingly, BlackPlanet, targeting African Americans and with 16 million+ members, is No. 4 in Attention and not quite in the Top 10 in terms of unique visitors. Google’s Orkut, which is huge in Brazil and ranks 8th in Attention, is only 22nd in terms of site visitors.

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Prevention on the social Web

A tragic teen double-suicide case in Australia underscores the importance of loved ones and caregivers monitoring what at-risk youth say in their online profiles and blogs. Two 16-year-old girls in the Melbourne area apparently killed themselves in a suicide pact, posting "their own death notice – a farewell message to their online friends" in MySpace, The Star in Malaysia reports. The Star reporter seems to be making the assumption that "the idea of suicide emerged from the Internet," but I don't think the posting of a farewell message in a social site profile necessarily indicates this was where the girls' suicidal tendencies got started. Profiles and blogs are, however, the first places parents should check for what kids are really thinking if the latter are acting strangely at home. "The likelihood of a 'depressed, disaffected and disaffiliated' young person communicating with a soulmate online is a sure thing," The Star cites an Australian professor as saying. And there is certainly the possibility that at-risk people are getting the wrong kind of reinforcement online, such as sympathy or even promotion of destructive behavior from other people with mental health issues.

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