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Friday, September 19, 2008

'Cyberbullying' better defined

This is important, people, because we've heard the one-third-of-US-teens-have-been-cyberbullied figure a lot (I've shared it too), and it's not in the best interests of online youth for the now-subsiding predator panic to suddenly now turn into a cyberbully panic. It's not that the one-third figure, arrived at by two highly credible sources (Pew Internet & American Life and Profs. Patchin and Hinduja) is wrong, of course; it's that "cyberbullying" really needs to be more clearly defined. Are all those kids actually bullied?

"In many cases, the concept of 'bullying' or 'cyber-bullying' may be inappropriate for online interpersonal offenses," write researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center (CACRC) in the Journal of Adolescent Health. "We suggest using 'online harassment,' with disclaimers that it does not constitute bullying unless it is part of or related to offline bullying. This would include incidents perpetrated by peers that occur entirely online, but arise from school-related events or relationships and have school-related consequences for targets."

To understand more about online harassment and to what extent it could be bullying, the study's authors - Janis Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor - looked at "the characteristics of harassed youth, online harassment incidents, and distressing online harassment," based on whether the harasser was someone known in real life or online only.

The authors found that "9% of youth were harassed online in the past year," 43% of them by known peers and 57% by people they met online and did not know in person.... Most online harassment incidents did not appear to meet the standard definition of bullying used in school-based research and requiring aggression, repetition, and power imbalance."

So, note those key characteristics of bullying to look for:

1) related to "real life"
2) not just aggression, but repeated aggression
3) a power imbalance.

"Only 25% of incidents by known peers and 21% by online-only contacts involved both repeated incidents and either distress to targets or adult intervention," the authors found. Just looking at that first number, that's 25% of the 43% of the 9% - a pretty small number of actual cyberbullying victims.

So when we see data showing large numbers of such victims, it's good to be aware that they can include random and even mild incidents of harassment that don't really cause stress - and could just be someone in a bad mood one afternoon who feels like acting out. "Cyberbullying" deserves to be taken with a grain of salt. In any case, teaching young people citizenship of both the real-life and digital sorts will help mitigate any behavior that falls into that large category.

[The CACRC article was published a year ago last August - apologies that I missed this one, probably because of overseas travel at that time.]

Related links

  • From Forbes, the very well reported article, "How to Stop Cyber-Bullying"
  • "Why kids don't tell on cyberbullies"
  • "Online bullying should be a criminal offense," Canadian teachers say (I wonder if their US counterparts agree)
  • "Internet program teaches harms of bullying to elementary students" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • "Standing up to cyberbullies," Q&A with Mike Donlin, who "manages federal technology programs and cyberbullying education and prevention efforts" for the Seattle public schools
  • In School CIO magazine, a three-part series and primer on online harassment with the very unfortunate headline of "Terror in the Classroom" - Parts One, Two, and Three.
  • "P2P healing in cyberbullying case"
  • Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope, by teen authors Olivia Gardner, Emily Buder, and Sarah Buder
  • and the book Cyberbullying & Cyber Threats from the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use
  • from Patricia Agatston, Susan Limber, and Robin Kowalski, the authors of Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age
  • Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard, a new book from Profs. Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin (and a more recent blog post by them about defining "cyberbullying"

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  • 9 parts of digital citizenship

    These make complete sense ("complete" as in comprehensive, too). The nine elements grew out of a three-year PhD dissertation project by educator Mike Ribble at Kansas State University. Mike defines "digital citizenship" as "the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use." The nine elements are Digital Etiquette (I think I'd use the broader term "ethics," which includes standards of conduct); Digital Communication; Digital Literacy (sub-categories might be media literacy and behavioral critical thinking); Digital Access ("full electronic participation in society," Mike writes, but I'm not sure "electronic" is the best word); Digital Commerce; Digital Law ("electronic responsibility for actions and deeds" - I'd delete "electronic" and include taking responsibility for a basic understanding of digital law); Digital Rights & Responsibilities ("those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world"); Digital Health & Wellness ("physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world"); and Digital Security (self- and collaborative protection of one's data and equipment). [Ribble describes all of these in great depth on that page.] I think twice wherever anybody puts "electronic" or "digital" in front of "communication," "ethics," etc. because of the disappearing distinction between digital behavior and the real-life kind, certainly as young people experience it. Hey, ethics is ethics, right? [Thanks to Anne Bubnic of the California Technology Assistance Project for pointing this page out.]

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    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    Web service for masking phone nos.

    This is an interesting tech tool pointing to a growing safety need, but it poses a problem where online kids are concerned. I'm referring to the age-old problem of technology: that along with its many positives, there are downsides, and everybody gets more out of the positives when alert to the downsides too. So here's the new service:, which allows people using online chat to "take it to the next level," so to speak - move from text chat on the Web to voice chat on the phone without giving out their phone numbers. How it works: 2 people in a chat room go to and register (give the site their phone numbers instead of each other). If they're already registered, they just agree in the chatroom on a common word (like a temporary password, "talk2ya"), then go to BeeMask, both type that word into the box, and "when the second Beeword is entered, a phone call is connected between your real-life phones," according to the site's FAQ . Great for two adults who just want to talk but aren't quite ready to give out phone numbers - a safety feature, in fact. Not so great if someone with bad intentions thinks a child might be more easily compelled to give out further info in a voice conversation.

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    Cellphone-thief 'torture'

    Instead of "big brother" technology, we might want to call this "annoying little brother" technology, where you can spy on and torture anyone who makes off with your cellphone. The only problem is, your kids might want to get their phones stolen so they could play mind games with the thief, it seems, as I read this description of "Maverick Secure Mobile," to be available first on Nokia phones, a New York Times blog reports. Here's how it works: After the phone's stolen and all the boring encryption and data transfer to the phone of a family member, the fun/torture can go like this: You'll be able to see all the calls and text messages the thief makes and/or you’re your phone and listen in on his conversations. "Then, when you get really exasperated, you can make the phone play a blaring siren. Just when he is about to toss your screaming phone in the trash, you can send him a text message with your name, location and, if you want, a reward for returning the phone." The software, now in beta, will be available first on Nokia phones.

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    Ever more mobile social Web

    Like our children now, we in the future may have so many people in our phone address books that we'll need help remembering where we met them. At least that's what Yahoo's new social app for phones seems to illustrate, as just-unveiled oneConnect expands its market from young early adopters to us. "The centerpiece is a tab called Pulse, where it integrates Facebook, Twitter and other networks on to the same page. That's where you can see the latest status updates and photos uploaded, and with one click you can get to that person's address card. On the address card, it lists how you know that person, through Facebook or MySpace, for example," the Washington Post reports. For now, it's only for the iPhone. That was just one of the social features announced at the latest CTIA trade show. Verizon Wireless unveiled SocialLife, allowing users "to view messages, approve or deny friend requests, post comments or photos, and update status or profiles on their mobile phones," the Post reported separately. SocialLife, at $1.49/month, "works with MySpace, AsianAve, BlackPlanet, FaithBase, GLEE, LiveJournal, MiGente, Photobucket, Rabble and MTV Tr3s. SocialLife costs $1.49 a month." Verizon Wireless also has a deal with Facebook called "Ringback Buddies," with which Facebook users can browse, buy and manage their ringtones from within Facebook and view their friends' favorite music (and buy it) to play when those friends call. Finally, an email company, Visto, announced its "living address book." Basically it puts all your social networks into one place on your phone. "The service includes Yahoo!, AOL, Google Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and Photobucket, and sends out notifications of new pictures, posts, and other events from your favorite contacts."

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    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    Cellphones for social status: Teen survey

    A nationwide survey of US teens found that they feel "cell phones have become a vital part of their identities," CNET reports, citing the survey of 2,000 13-to-19-year-olds by Harris Interactive and sponsored by CTIA, US cellphone carriers' trade association. "They also believe that they can gauge a peer's popularity or status by the phone he or she uses." Phones outrank jewelry, watches, and shoes as social-status signs, teens said. About 80% of teens carry a cell phone, double the percentage in 2004, and "almost half" having one is 'key' to their social lives. Other key findings: Respondents said they spend almost the same amount of time texting as talking, and 47% said their social life "would end or be worsened" if they could no longer text; 57% "credit mobility for improving their quality of life; 52% view phones as a new form of entertainment; 80% say their phone provides a sense of security while on the go, confirming the cellphone has become their mobile safety net when needing a ride (79%), getting important information (51%), or just helping out someone in trouble (35%). As for social mapping: "Ironically, while only one in five (18%) teens care to pinpoint the location of their family and friends via their cell phone, 36% hate the idea of a cell phone feature allowing others to know their exact location." Here's the study press release.

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    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Facebook plugs security hole

    The security issue was people being able to view some members' private photos using the mobile version of Facebook and the Firefox browser, CNET reports. "Basically, someone who knew the serial number of a Facebook user, which is easy to get, and knew a trick for rejiggering the URL, could see private photos of that user," according to CNET. Facebook says it fixed the flaw within hours of being notified. It also plans soon to launch a program to verify the security of third-party applications (those mini applications users download to add games, slideshows, playlists, and other features to their profiles) - an update, apparently, over the statement from a Canadian consumer privacy group in the Toronto Globe & Mail that Facebook wasn't "doing enough to screen third-party developers to ensure they're not phishing for information or trying to commit identity."

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    US teens' gaming highly social: Study

    Digital gaming is virtually universal and very social among US teens, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found in a study it released today. "Fully 97% of teens [99% of boys and 94% of girls] ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable, or console games," Pew reports. As for the social aspect of digital gaming, 65% of teens play with other people in the room; 27% with people online; and 82% play games alone, but 71% of those also play with other people. "The gaming experience is rich and varied, with a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement," Pew says in its press release.

    In other key findings, 80% play five or more types of games and 40% eight or more (e.g., racing, action, shooter, rhythm, puzzles). The respondents' top 5 games were, respectively, Guitar Hero, Halo 3, Madden NFL, Solitaire, and Dance Dance Revolution. "The average rating for teens’ favorite games is just above a Teen rating," and nearly "a third of teens play games that are listed as appropriate only for people older than they are," but the average game rating for all the teens surveyed was an E10+ rating." Ninety percent of parents say they always or sometimes know what games their kids play. As for civic engagement, this was an interesting observation by the authors: "Teens who take part in social interaction related to the game, such as commenting on websites or contributing to discussion boards, are more engaged civically and politically." "Computer games drive social ties" was the BBC's headline and "Can games make your kid a better citizen?" was MSNBC's.

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    Monday, September 15, 2008

    YouTube bans violence-inciting videos

    YouTube has changed its content guidelines and now bans videos that involve "inciting others to violence," the Washington Post reports. Last May Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) "issued a bipartisan report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs staff that described how al-Qaeda created and managed its online media," then wrote a letter to YouTube's parent Google "demanding that the company 'immediately remove content produced by Islamic terrorist organizations from YouTube'." YouTube only removed some of them but "refused to take down most of the videos on the senator's list, saying they did not violate the Web site's guidelines against graphic violence or hate speech." A policy review reportedly ensued, with YouTube telling the Post that the senator had "made some good points." Meanwhile, in The Guardian, a commentator calls for better self-regulation by social Web sites, saying that waiting for users to flag material that's offensive or violates site terms isn't enough. "The right direction is for there to be intelligent, independently-set but industry-agreed, standard practices, procedures and guidelines for companies to adhere to. The alternative is individual organisations at best doing what they feel is right; at worst doing as little as they can to avoid denting their margins."

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    Hateful game gets global press

    From the news coverage I've seen, it's not worth the media attention it has gotten (and here I am giving it some, tho' hopefully with a little perspective). I'm referring to an extremely offensive downloadable arcade-style game called "Muslim Massacre," reportedly created by a 22-year-old Australian man, Eric Vaughn, "known online as 'Sigvatr'" (see in Oz). "The game begins with audio from George Bush speeches, edited together to sound like a condemnation of Muslims." This story, which may say more about how Americans are viewed from other countries, has been picked up worldwide - probably Vaughn's marketing plan. The Guardian's headline in the UK is, "More evidence that satire doesn't transmit over the interwebs," and the subhead: "A game in which your 'task' is to 'wipe the Muslim race from the face of the Earth' has, predictably, got people wound up" (interesting use of the word "race"). On this side of the Pond, reports that the game "has caused international outrage." PC World's "Game On" columnist Matt Peckham says it's not worthy of the label "parody" which some online commenters are giving it; "it's just tasteless," probably also not worth being dignified by a ban.

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