Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Friday, May 30, 2008

Police on gaming community risks

I don't like the excessive reporting about "predators" online that go way beyond alerting parents to spreading the kind of fears that cause overreaction and shut down parent-child communication (the latter can put kids at greater risk because they go underground at a time when grownup street smarts are needed more than ever). But this is a predation story worth parents' awareness. "FBI officials said they are now investigating a number of cases in southern Ohio in which sexual predators have used online gaming systems to find victims," WAPT TV in Cincinnati reports. "What makes the new technology especially dangerous, agents said, is that players can talk to one another using headsets." Last year a 30-year-old woman was arrested by the FBI for using Xbox Live to exchange nude photos with a teenager in another state, and in 2006 I blogged about a
26-year-old man in California who was accused of grooming a boy in the same gaming community. To learn about one small group that's there for young gamers in Xbox Live, see "Support for young gamers." See also a 2005 item "A mom writes: Trash talk in online games."

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Police department's MySpace profile

It's not the first time I've seen news stories about law enforcement on the social Web (see links below), but the Washington Post reports it's the first time police in the DC area have established a MySpace profile. The Arlington, Va., Police Department is "hoping that children who use MySpace will add the department to their lists of 'top friends' to discourage sexual predators from contacting them." A retired detective suggested the profile and some "George Washington University criminal justice students working as interns for the police department put the page together and will monitor and update it. On its first day, the Arlington police MySpace page signed up 12 'friends,' mostly other police departments." For other, earlier, examples, see "Law enforcement on the social Web," "Police on MySpace," and
"Teens arrested for uploaded video."

Labels: , , ,

'Hate 2.0'

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, recently testified before Congress that there has been a "stark rise in the number of hate and terror sites and Web postings," a New York Times blog reports. Its annual report says the Center has identified about 8,000 such sites in the past year, up 30% over last year, the blog adds. Contributing to the problem is the rise of the social Web on which people post hateful videos, comments, etc. The Center "attributes a third of the 30% spike to blogs and discussion groups that support terrorism. The rest is the material of age-old hatreds: 40% anti-Semitic, 20% anti-black, 15% anti-immigrant and the rest a hodge-podge of anti-religious, anti-government sentiment." To counteract all this, the Wiesenthal Center is asking Web users to participate in a sort of Web neighborhood watch program by emailing links to hate sites, videos, and groups to

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Twitter not upholding Terms of Use: Why important?

Last week I wrote that two cases put the spotlight on sites' Terms of Service, and - whatever legal scholars say (I'll get to that in a minute) - this is a good thing. It's good because it sheds light on one part of the social Web that needs public awareness.

Now a timely illustration. Long-time Twitter fan and blogger Ariel Waldman has shined her own spotlight on how Twitter, another social Web service, isn't enforcing its Terms of Service and to what effect. [For more on the service, see "Do you Twitter?"]

"Overall, Twitter is a great platform to connect with friends and co-workers," Ariel writes. But, she adds, "considering the social-network sphere as it exists today, most people would assume that Twitter would be prepared to react and take action against TOS [Terms of Service] violations...."

The reason why she brings up the site's TOS is because a fellow Twitter user harassed her for months starting in June 2007. The harassment escalated, she says, with the user putting her full name in abusive posts in a public forum. "I would periodically report cases of continuing harassment (some of which spread between Flickr and Twitter). Twitter would take no action while Flickr would immediately ban and remove all traces of the harassment."

This past March, as it continued, she says she wrote to Twitter, including Web pages with examples of the abuse, and asking that the user be removed. Citing Twitter's 4th Term of Service - "You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users” - she told them, "Honestly, I believe this harassment has gotten way out of hand for too long. I am writing to you ... to remove this user for consistent long-term harassment."

Twitter's response after three days, she says, was: “Unfortunately, although [this user’s] behavior is admittedly mean, [s/he] isn’t necessarily doing anything against our terms of service.... We can’t remove [this user’s] profile or ban [this user’s] IP address; [they’re] not doing anything illegal.” For some reason this respondent was confusing what's illegal with what violates the site's TOS or community rules.

Ariel writes that she copied Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on her reply, which said:

“I don’t believe this is a case of illegal activity - this is a clear case of harassment which is outlined in your TOS...."

Dorsey asked for a phone conversation with her (see her blog post for her notes on the call, March 19), at the end of which he asked what action on Twitter's part would make her happy. She answered as before, she writes: that the harasser be banned or at least warned.

"Jack didn’t get back to me until I emailed him on April 9 with eight new instances of abuse that included my full name and email address...." The CEO then did respond, Ariel writes, with this email:

“Ariel, apologies for the delay here. We’ve reviewed the matter and decided it’s not in our best interest to get involved. We’ve tasked our lawyers with a full review and update of our TOS. Thank you for your patience and understanding and good luck with resolving the problem. Best, Jack.” [See the bottom of Ariel's post for nearly 300 comments from readers.]

When she wrote about all this in Twitter's out-sourced customer support forum at, she did get two more responses from the company, one of which said in part: "Twitter is a communication utility, not a mediator of content." In response to that, Ariel later writes, "A decent portion of Twitter users see the service as a community (similar to Flickr), while Twitter chooses to view themselves as a “communication utility” (similar to AT&T)."

An interesting distinction. Courts actually have put social-networking sites in the same category as phone companies in their interpretations of the Communications Decency Act. And it is true that only the people involved can fully resolve an argument between them, regardless of whether it happens on the phone or in a social-networking site (for one reason, because no matter how many times a site's customer-service department might bar a harasser or take down defaming profiles, more comments or profiles can pop up under a new screenname).

However, let's look at this a little more closely:

1. Even phone companies get involved if customers report being stalked or threatened.

2. Ariel was not asking Twitter to change the harasser's behavior or resolve his apparent problem with her; she was asking that Twitter warn or ban him for violating the site's TOS with public harassment that included her full name and email address.

3. Interestingly, society as a whole - not just users, but parents and attorneys general too - has increasingly viewed and treated social sites as communities that need to be accountable and abide by and enforce their rules of operation as a baseline best practice - even though the US's social-networking industry hasn't yet started a discussion of social site best practices (for the UK's discussion see my posts on the Byron Review and the British Home Office's guidance for social-networking best practices).

Do you think Ariel's view reflects what we have come to expect of social sites, at least where minors are concerned? [I'd welcome your thoughts via or posted in the ConnectSafely forum.] I wonder what the reaction would've been if Ariel and her harasser were teens and the site under discussion were MySpace.

Now for the part about what legal scholars are saying

About the Drew indictment, that is. University of Pennsylvania law professor Andrea Matwyshyn told a Wired blogger of her concern that, "if successfully prosecuted, the case [against 49-year-old Lori Drew about her involvement in the Megan Meier case] could set a bad precedent for turning breach-of-contract civil cases into criminal ones."

That does indeed have scary implications and needs consideration. But that doesn't change my view, blogged last week, that in Drew's indictment, "existing law is being unprecedentedly applied in a way that puts the public focus on sites' terms of service as, basically, a set of user safety regs that need to be observed by all as a protection to all." I feel strongly that two things will get us all closer to a safer social Web: 1) greater understanding, scrutiny, and enforcement of site terms of service and 2) better education for all participants about accountable behavior online. So, it's not good to set bad precedents, but it is good to try applying law in a way that strengthens the role of Terms of Use in the online-safety mix.

Related links

  • The UK Home Office's "Good practice guidance for the providers of social
    networking and other user interactive services 2008"

  • My blog post on the Home Office's best-practices guidance
  • It's half-a-year old, but here's an interview with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
  • "Popular blogger ignites uproar over Twitter harassment" in

    Thanks to tech educator Anne Bubnic of the California Technology Assistance Project for pointing out Ariel Waldman's post.

    Labels: , , ,

  • Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    'Culture of responsibility' for the social Web

    This deserves notice: "What we need in response to this and other equally alarming cases is a new culture of responsibility where government, industry, schools, parents and the kids themselves share differing and overlapping responsibilities for what happens online so that Megan's untimely death is not repeated, nor the emergence of a cyber lynch mob ever needed again," wrote Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, in the Huffington Post. He was referring to what the most intelligent response to the Megan Meier tragedy (see "Indictment in Megan Meier case" here) would be. I agree wholeheartedly. It's the next phase of online-safety advocacy: calling for and contributing to a concerted collective effort toward an online culture of responsibility - a sense of citizenship online as well as off - starting with the first references to it at home and school. [See also "Imposter profiles: No easy solution."]

    Labels: , , ,

    Monday, May 26, 2008

    Targeted Web ads & critical thinking

    "Behavioral targeting," believe it or not, could be a great topic for family discussion. Sounds like a big, nasty sociological term, but it's really about critical thinking, or knowing how others might be trying to manipulate us. When teens are wise to that, they know how to protect themselves from manipulation. Anyway, behavioral targeting is quite likely happening to Web users at your house, and the Federal Trade Commission is actually looking into it, the Washington Post reports. Here's what it is, very basically: Internet companies tracking people's Web search behavior and visits to special-interest Web sites in order to target them with ads (read the article to see exactly how with people planning weddings). Here are the two sides of the debate: "while public interest groups argue that compiling profiles of largely unsuspecting Internet users ought to be illegal, online advertisers and publishers respond that their ad targeting tactics protect privacy and may be essential to support the free content on the Web." Indeed, there is money in it, as highly targeted audiences (aka those mostly likely to make purchases) are very valuable to sellers. [See also "How social influencing works."]

    Labels: ,