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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The latest technopanic

No comparative study has been done, but - having recently traveled around the world for 10 months and talked with people involved with children's online safety in a number of countries - I can tell you more than impressionistically that no country has experienced an extended technopanic about predators on the social Web quite the way the US has. The facts about online predation have been misrepresented in the US news media and by politicians purporting to champion child protection while fanning fears that not only draw attention away from rational consideration of both the problem and solutions but also potentially put youth at greater risk. How? Fear causes the kind of overreaction that breaks down parent-child communication at a time when it's most needed - when kids can easily go "underground" in various ways, further from the informed, non-confrontational parental support that really can help them have positive online experiences.

Fear and hype also delay rational discussion out in the public arena. We are way behind the UK in even holding meetings on social-networking-industry best practices, much less drawn up a list (as the UK Home Office has). I would love to see a comparative multi-country study on child-protection measures, but there is other, more important social-media research to be done too.

So what's a "technopanic"? It's "a moral panic over contemporary technology," as Alice Marwick at New York University ably describes it in "To catch a predator? The MySpace moral panic." Several points in Marwick's conclusion deserve highlighting: 1) "While online predators do not represent an epidemic or socially significant problem, child pornography and child abuse are important social issues that require attention. However, they are not caused by minors using MySpace, and preventing children from using social-networking sites will do nothing to end these problems"; 2) Inaccurate "negative coverage of technology frightens parents, prevents teenagers from learning responsible use, and fuels panics, resulting in misguided or unconstitutional legislation"; and 3) "Prohibiting teens from using MySpace will not prevent them from using the site, and instead will dissuade them from talking about any problems that occur. Taking a nuanced, informed, and gradual approach to the social integration of new technologies will do more to lessen harm and improve responsible user practice than a panicked, emotional response." [See also a video report in eSchoolNews: "Online safety: Dispelling common myths."]

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Parents' videogame concerns

"Parents are more concerned about their children’s exposure to video games than alcohol, violence and pornography," according to in-site polls at The site gathered responses from "nearly 3,000 respondents in two separate polls," its press release said. One of the polls asked parents "what they’d be most concerned about their 17-year-old child indulging in while at a sleepover." They said they'd be more concerned about "their child smoking marijuana (49%) and playing the video game Grand Theft Auto (19%) than [about] watching pornography (16%) and drinking beer (14%). In this case unfamiliarity breeds contempt: The site's press release offers some perspective on this from Cheryl Olsson, author of Grand Theft Childhood, as saying that "To some parents, video games are full of unknowable dangers. While researching for Grand Theft Childhood, parents we spoke with in focus groups often bemoaned the fact that they didn’t know how to use game controls - and felt unequipped to supervise or limit video game play. Of course, parents don’t want their children drinking alcohol, but that’s a more familiar risk." Here's coverage in the Los Angeles Times and a commentary on the study in Red Herring.

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For media students & young video producers

Two weeks ago I mentioned Stanford Prof. Laurence Lessig's comment about the impact on young people from knowing that remixing media, a way of life for them, is technically illegal. "That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting," he said in a speech. Now American University's Center for Social Media has advice for video makers in the form of a Code of Best Practices for Fair Use. And here's the test for when it is and isn't "fair and legal to use other people's copyrighted work to make your own.... Take this tour of remix culture classics [it's a great remix video they've put together], and use the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video to make your own decisions." Great fodder for a media literacy or law class!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

UK data on youth meeting strangers online

"One in five British children has met a stranger they first encountered online," the BBC reports, citing a survey from British identity-verification company Garlik. "As many as one in four 8-to-12 yea- olds ignore age restrictions to use social-networking sites." Bebo and Facebook have a minimum-age requirement of 13 and MySpace of 14. In its coverage, The Telegraph zoomed in on what parents are doing about it: "The research shows parents are taking matters into their own hands with three-quarters snooping on their children online. One in four parents admit to secretly logging on to their child’s social networking page, while the same number have also set up their own page to spy on their kids." This got a lot of coverage in the UK. Here, too, is The Guardian.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Social networking's very global growth

While social networking may've reached the saturation point in North America, at just 9% growth among people 15+ over the past year, worldwide it has grown 25%, according to June traffic figures from comScore. Social networking's growth was highest in Africa and the Middle East at 66% from June 2007 to June 2008; Europe was next at 35%, and Latin America a close third at 33% (Facebook grew 1,055% in Latin America, 6/07-6/08). ComScore put the global social-networking total at 580.5 million visitors, compared to the world's total number of Internet users, 860.5 million (11% growth over June '07). The numbers for individual social-network sites were interesting too: The world's top 7 sites, in terms of June 2008 unique visitors, are Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, Friendster, Orkut, Bebo, and Skyrock Network, respectively. Facebook grew 153% globally to 132.1 million visitors; MySpace grew just 3% (to 117.6 million), and 3rd-ranked Hi5 had the second-highest growth rate of 100% to 56.4 million visitors. The six largest social sites, including Google's Orkut, are all US-based, though Orkut is much more popular outside the US (it's huge in Brazil) and Friendster in Southeast Asia. No. 7, the music-and-blogging community Skyrock Network, is No. 1 in France and based in France (it had 21 million visitors in June). Here's the Machinist ( columnist) on one possible explanation for social sites' popularity: persuasive technology.

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Congess eyeing online privacy

Seasoned bloggers, social networkers, and mobile-phone Twitterers pretty much know their lives are very public, but they're also concerned about their privacy, the New York Times points out. "Those same questions of data collection and privacy policies are attracting the attention of Congress, too," the Times reports, so lawmakers are doing some information-gathering: "On Aug. 1, four top members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent letters ordering 33 cable and Internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Comcast and Cox Communications, to provide details about their privacy standards. That followed House and Senate hearings last month about privacy and behavioral targeting, in which advertisers show ads to consumers based on their travels around the Web. One apparent result, the Wall Street Journal reports, is that "Yahoo Inc. said it will allow users to stop receiving targeted ads based on factors like what Web pages they visit or other ads they click on." The Journal added that "Google, Microsoft and a number of Yahoo's competitors already allow customers to opt out" of such ads.

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CA's cyberbullying legislation

A California law that's "close to passing" would spell suspension or expulsion for students who bully online or on phones, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. "The measure by Assemblyman Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Torrance, passed the Senate Monday on a 21-11 vote. It goes back to the Assembly for consideration of Senate amendments and will be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger if passed." The page in the Chronicle links to the full text of the legislation.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Smart phones in New York

Pretty soon it'll be like this everywhere, not just New York City, with people walking nominally forward, relying for navigation largely on other senses besides eyes: "As night settled in," says the New York Times editorial writer about watching passers by from a sidewalk restaurant, "I could see the glow of the screens shining upward on the faces of their owners.... Were they Twittering? Following their GPS? Checking their stocks? Reading their email? Texting a friend? Playing Cash Bandicoot? [huh?]...." Writer Verlyn Klinkenborg cites one unnamed source as saying that, by 2011, there will be 5 billion people using these cellphone-cum-computers on the planet. Whoa. A slightly modified scene from The Matrix comes to mind - all these meandering smart-phone users whose real lives are in a other places in addition to where they are on sidewalk. It's like teen social lives today, occurring simultaneously in a whole bunch of places: where they are physically, on the Web, on their cellphone, and maybe in World of Warcraft, Teen Second Life, or Xbox Live.

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