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Friday, December 12, 2008

Anti-cyberbullying teachable moment

There has been a lot of news coverage about the legal issues surrounding the Megan Meier case, but not many useful takeaways for parents and kids. Here are some great talking points for family discussion from Nancy Willard, author of Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens and director of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use....

  • "Megan was allowed to establish a friendship link with someone who was not known in person by her or her friends. Especially when starting an account on a social-networking site, teens should link only to friends. Later, they may expand to acquaintances or friends of friends - someone known in person by a person they know. This way, they know that no false persona has been established. When they are much older [maybe 18+], perhaps strangers.

  • "Whenever they establish a friendship link - especially to someone they do not know well - they should take the time to carefully review the person's profile to see if anything posted causes concerns. What are this person's friends like? What images has this person posted? How does this person communicate in public and private? And how does all of this reflect on this person's values? They might also want to keep in mind that others will be judging them based on their friends, images, and communications.

  • "They need to be very alert to signs that someone is trying to manipulate them. The key signs of this are overly friendly messages, including comments like, 'Wow, you're hot,' "I am really glad I met you" and the like. [See "How social influencing works."]

  • "Teens also should be very careful if anyone appears to be trying to establish a special relationship - when there is really no 'real world' basis for that relationship.

  • "Teens are going through a very vulnerable time and really want to find acceptance. So they are vulnerable to fantasy online love. They send messages back and forth indicating how much they love the other person - just because they want to receive these same messages and it's fun to think you have this great love relationship - just like in the movies. They need to understand how to distinguish between fantasy love and real relationships that are healthy and viable.

  • "If someone starts to communicate in a hurtful manner, the appropriate response is to leave the site, end the communication, and/or block the person. Filing a complaint [as in using social sites' "Report abuse" buttons] may also be an option. If someone makes you mad online, keep your hands off the keyboard - because you will just make things worse [emphasis mine]."

    So the key take-away, I think, is that the younger the child the more important it is to keep online socializing as grounded as possible in real life. As teens mature, their brains are developing, particularly the impulse-control "executive" part that understands consequences, so they generally get better at navigating the complexities of their social networks - the developing social norms, tools, signals, and relationships. It's a lot to figure out, and they deserve not just advice but, more importantly, the steady back-up that a parent or other caring adult mentor can offer: perspective that is always running in the background and ready to come forward at teachable moments - hopefully in a loving, nonconfrontational way that keeps communication lines open.

    [Readers, your own additions, responses, tips, and experiences are most welcome in our ConnectSafely forum or via email to anne[at] With you permission, I like to publish them for the benefit of all.]

    Readers, your own additions, responses, tips, and experiences are most welcome in our ConnectSafely forum or via email to anne[at] With you permission, I like to publish them for the benefit of all.

    Related links

  • All the details. Kim Zetter of Wired provided some of the most steady, in-depth reporting on the Drew case. Here's her blog and her participation in NPR's "Talk of the Nation" in a segment headlined "Is Creating a Fake Online Profile a Criminal Act?"
  • Not the right law. "MySpace Suicide Prosecutors Used Wrong Law," by my co-director at
  • Terms of Use. "Cyberbullying verdict turns rule-breakers into criminals" in the Toronto Globe & Mail
  • Cyberbullying authority. "Age & identity misrepresentation on the Internet," by cyberbullying book author Sameer Hinduja, who was interviewed by the New York Times for its story on the Meier case
  • "Questions raised by Megan Meier case"
  • "Tips to help stop cyberbullying"

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  • Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Online safety czar called for

    The Family Online Safety Institute, the only such US organization with offices on both sides of the Atlantic, this week called on President-Elect Obama to promote "a national strategy on how to best educate children, tweens, teens and their parents on online ethics, safety and cybercitizenship," citing the "excellent example of the UK government" in developing industry best practices, funding research, and setting up the UK Council on Child Internet Safety (for disclosure, I'm on FOSI's Advisory Board). In a report FOSI released at its annual conference this week, CEO Stephen Balkam, makes four recommendations: that the Obama administration 1) hold an annual White House Online Safety Summit, 2) create a US Council for Internet Safety (the FCC's National Telecommunications & Information Administration is right now putting together something similar, a "working group" called for by a just-signed broadband Internet law), 3) create a $100 million online-safety program to fund research and educational and awareness campaigns, and 4) create a National Safety Officer position in the office of the US's new chief technology officer. Here's the Washington Post's coverage.

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    Korean crackdown on malicious Net use

    South Korea has cracked down on malicious Internet use, Agence France Presse reports. "South Korean police have rounded up more than 2,000 people for spreading malicious rumours on the Internet during a month-long crackdown sparked by an actress's suicide," AFP reports. Eleven people "have been formally arrested and detained for serious legal breaches." It adds that Korea's National Police Agency's cyber-terror prevention centre is asking prosecutors to charge "another 2,019 with various offences," and the crackdown will continue, AFP adds, referring to the centre's chief investigator. Charges include libel (about 59% of those arrested), breaching laws on contempt, blackmail, and cyberstalking.

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    Teen entrepreneur: Low entry fee

    Parents could share this with teens at their house - for their inspiration or insights into a way into the job market. One of 18-year-old Jessica Mah's reasons for starting - true to its name, an internship-listings site - was "to show my friends (and the world) that it doesn't take more than a $200 to throw a Website together," she's quoted in TechCrunch as saying. It's a little raw, TechCrunch reports, but this newest project of the teen blogger and University of California, Berkeley, junior, has opened its "doors." I appreciated the context TechCrunch gives this story: "There are alternatives, such as After But a site that just does internship listings could work. What would be better would be a site that combines listings with ratings. Maybe Mah should try to pair up with" See the article for comes examples of internships.

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    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Online video: More amazing growth data

    The growth of US Web video-viewing is pretty phenomenal. We viewed 13.5 billion online videos this past October! Not "million" - "billion"! That's a 45% increase over October 2007, according to comScore's latest figures. ComScore measures by the companies that own the sites - so Google topped the list (its YouTube represented 98% of its video-viewing traffic) at 5.4 billion videos viewed (39.7% share). The rest of the top 10 video sites were more clumped together in traffic numbers, the only surprise being's rapid rise to the No. 6 position. Here are the US's 10 biggest video-viewing providers, going down from Google: Fox Interactive Media (mostly MySpace) at about 520 million (3.8%); Yahoo Sites 363 million (2.7%); Viacom Digital 305 million (2.3%); Microsoft Sites 286 million (2.1%); Hulu 235 million (1.7%); Turner Network 228 million (1.7%); Disney Online 127 million (0.9%); AOL 123 million (0.9%); and ESPN 105 million (0.8%). BTW, amateur video producers with the most viewers at YouTube are now "earning six-figure incomes from the Web site," the New York Times reports, because of the ads YouTube puts with them (it has a revenue-share program). See the Times for examples.

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    The Net & suicide: Another view

    In light of the recent Lori Drew verdict and 19-year-old Abraham Biggs's tragic suicide, it might be helpful to read the story about how the Internet was responsible for a suicide not happening. In a commentary on National Public Radio, Ayelet Waldman, who, as Mr. Biggs did, suffers from bipolar disorder, explains how her Internet community saved her - after writing a blog post while "in the throes of the worst depression of my life." She suggests that we all can "take a certain comfort in the way that very technology [implicated in the Biggs tragedy] has given us new opportunities to reach out, to connect. Both of these are true."


    Tuesday, December 09, 2008

    'Child-proofing' for Firefox browser

    This is an interesting development for families with elementary-school-age kids: Kidzui built right into the Firefox browser - built-in parental control in a new form. "Once installed and activated by a parent, [the Kidzui browser extension] locks the child (or anyone else for that matter) out of accessing non-Kidzui approved sites, or other areas of the computer, by taking up the entire screen," CNET's Webware blog reports. That last phrase means kids can't even get to other applications on the computer like Word or instant messaging without inputting "a password, which is chosen by the parent" - the only way out of KidZui. It's up to parents, of course, to decide if older kids can have the password. The add-on is free, like the basic version of Kidzui too, but also supports the $40/year edition with extras such as kid social-networking features (e.g., having a profile and "Zui" avatar) and extra parental-control tools. For more on Kidzui, see my October post on new sites and services for young people.

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    Viral happiness

    Instead of misery, happiness loves company, according to a new study. Documenting "how happiness spreads through social networks," NPR reports, researchers at Harvard and University of California, San Diego, have "found that when a person becomes happy, a friend living close by has a 25% higher chance of becoming happy themselves. A spouse experiences an 8% increased chance and for next-door neighbors, it's 34%." Obviously the study, published in BMJ, a British medical journal, wasn't about online social networking per se, but physical proximity doesn't have to be a factor. "When one person becomes happy, the social network effect can spread up to 3 degrees - reaching friends of friends." What that means, according to one of the study's authors, cited in the New York Times, is that "if your friend’s friend’s friend becomes happy, that has a bigger impact on you being happy than putting an extra $5,000 in your pocket." It's a good time to know that! A health blogger at US News & World Report speculates about what can happen with the online version of social networking.

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    Monday, December 08, 2008

    Videogames not just child's play

    Videogames certainly aren't just for kids. That's the key take-away from a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, finding that more than half of US adults play videogames. [Another Pew survey I covered in September found that 97% of US 12-to-17-year-olds do.] People 65+ are no slouches where videogaming's concerned: Nearly a third of people 65 and up play games everyday, Pew found, while only 20% of all younger players do so everyday. Younger players prefer gaming consoles (e.g., PlayStation or Xbox), older ones prefer computers, which are the most popular gaming devices - 73% of adult gamers play with computers to play games, compared with 53% consoles, 35% cellphones, and 25% portable gaming devices. Here's coverage in a Washington Post blog, and the San Jose Mercury News has a shopper's guide to the latest videogames.

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    Oz: Landmark child-porn ruling

    In a landmark ruling, an Australian Supreme Court judge ruled that an online cartoon depicting The Simpsons engaging in sex acts constitutes child pornography, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. "Justice Michael Adams upheld a magistrate's decision convicting a man of possessing child pornography after the cartoons ... were found on his computer." The BBC reports that Justice Adams "said the purpose of anti-child pornography legislation was to stop sexual exploitation and child abuse where images of 'real' children were depicted. But in a landmark ruling he decided that the mere fact that they were not realistic representations of human beings did not mean that they could not be considered people." It added that the judge said the Simpsons cartoon could "fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children." and therefore upheld the conviction for child pornography.

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