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Friday, December 19, 2008

YouTube's new help & reporting tool

YouTube has a new "Abuse & Safety" help section with simple, straightforward advice on what to do about anything from impersonation to hateful comments to violations of the site's Community Guidelines. YouTube says it wanted to make it easier for users not only to flag abusive content of any kind, but also to deal with stuff that comes up, WebProNews reports. In its coverage of this and other sites' efforts to ease reporting, the Wall Street Journal reports that YouTube says it "has 'a zero-tolerance policy for predatory behavior, stalking, threats and harassment' and reacts to most flags in less than an hour' ... [and] videos raising 'more complicated' issues may take longer." Perhaps one meaning of "more complicated" is imposter profile reports - YouTube says they need to come from the person being impersonated - it's not always easy for customer service staff to tell who's doing the reporting and whether it's sincere or a form of abuse itself. The Journal also explains how MySpace and Facebook have gotten more abuse-report-friendly.

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Patch those family 'puters

The latest critical security patch from Microsoft was all about the Explorer Web browser, and this is an important patch for the computers of avid Web users at your house. "That doesn't mean that Firefox and Chrome are exempt from other vulnerabilities, writes my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid in Yahoo's "Connected Parent," but if your family uses Explorer, here's the scoop on that: "The latest threat is a flaw in all versions of Internet Explorer that makes it possible for an attacker to take remote control of your PC, capture user names and passwords and log keystrokes," Larry reports. A week after the flaw became known, Microsoft released a fix, InformationWeek reported. It probably updated your PC automatically if you have automated updates turned on. "To be sure, you can manually scan your computer to see if its security fixes are up-to-date by visiting," Larry writes. "For this particular site, you must use Internet Explorer (other browsers such as Google's Chrome and Mozilla Firefox works with the vast majority of sites but not this one)."

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Student sues principal on free-speech grounds

Used to be, when a high school student had a beef with a teacher, she talked about it on the phone or maybe passed a note in class, no expletives deleted. Now it gets posted on MySpace or Facebook, hopefully with privacy tools turned on. But privacy apparently wasn't of interest to Katherine Evans, who was suspended for starting a Facebook group about her English teacher entitled "Ms. Sarah Phelps [her English teacher] is the worst teacher I've ever met!" [Three other students joined to defend the teacher; Evans deleted it a few days later.] Now a freshman at the University of Florida, she is suing the principal of her former high school for suspending her, the Miami Herald reports. Her lawsuit claims the principal violated her First Amendment rights, "including the free exchange of ideas and opinions in the public arena" (she's seeking removal of the suspension penalty from her academic record and no money damages beyond legal fees). Here's further coverage.

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Of mobile social networkers: Survey

This is a pretty digitally advanced group (active mobile social-networking users aged 16-52), and was surveying 15,000 of its own users, but the findings from this big early-adopting group are pretty interesting if you wonder about mobile social networkers habits: 95% of those in the US and 96% of UK ones "already use the mobile as the main means of communication with their beloved ones," and 42% never used a social site designed for computer screens," and 42% never used a social site designed for computer screens, reports itsmy parent GOFRESH, based in Munich, Germany. Other key findings: the average users is surfing 160 mobile Web pages a day, and heavy users "log in up to 10 times a day for up to 2.5 hours" to write and check messages, find out where their friends are and what they're doing "at this very moment," or upload photos and videos to their itsmy pages. More than 90% said that if they had "reasonably priced flat rates," higher network speeds, and faster phones with longer battery lives, they would increase their mobile Web use. But despite current high prices, "even the current economic situation does not stop most of them from using the mobile Web: "only 1/3 of all respondents tend to reduce their mobile online time to save money."

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is 'sexting' a teen trend?: Study

Just how pervasive is 'sexting,' the nude-photo-sharing by cellphone that seems to be happening a lot? I've seen reports of the practice in more than a dozen US states, New Hampshire the latest one (see this). A new study tried to get a handle on just how much this is happening, if not why. The survey, commissioned by the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and, found that "about a third of young adults 20-26 and 20% of teens say they've sent or posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves, mostly to be 'fun or flirtatious'," USATODAY reports, adding that "a third of teen boys and 40% of young men say they've seen nude or semi-nude images sent to someone else; about a quarter of teen girls and young adult women have. And 39% of teens and 59% of those ages 20-26 say they've sent suggestive text messages." All this in spite of the fact that nearly three-quarters of these young people (73%) "said they knew sending sexually suggestive content 'can have serious negative consequences'."

As for the why question, that 73% finding didn't surprise me - I suspect most teens know full well this is risky behavior. But since when did awareness of risk stop risky behavior among teens or in any way reduce the cachet it often has for them? Then there's the brain-development factor, explaining why risk assessment is a primary task of adolescence. Neurologists tell us the frontal cortex, the impulse-control, executive part of the brain, is in development till everybody's early-to-mid-20s. Generally speaking, their brains just aren't there yet, where fully understanding the implications of their actions is concerned (why caring adults need to be a part of the online, tech-enabled part of their lives).

There are also the realities of technology and sexual content. In her coverage of the survey, Jacqui Cheng of ArsTechnica suggests this is the next phase of the long-standing phenomenon of inappropriate content in email - "since the age of 12, my inbox has been filled with inappropriate photos of people, whether I wanted to see them or not," she writes. That sounds a little extreme to me, but sex-related spam has been around almost as long as email and does seem to be at least part of the wallpaper of online life. In the journal Pediatrics, researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center wrote in 2005 that "exposure to online porn might have reached the point where it can be characterized as normative among youth Internet users, especially teenage boys. Medical practitioners, educators, other youth workers, and parents should assume that most boys of high school age that use the Internet have some degree of exposure to online pornography, as do girls."

Back to teen-produced content, NBC's Today Show covered the sexting survey in light of a story concerning video-sharing on the Web even though nudity was not involved....

Fast-food & other pranks: Why?

Risque behavior recorded in video-sharing or social-networking sites is not about the Web or technology so much as it's about age-old teenage pranks and dares. The latest high-profile example involved three bikini-clad girls who - apparently influenced by a YouTube video of a similar "exploit" at Burger King - "bathed" in a KFC dishwashing tub as re-recorded by NBC's Today Show. The difference here, of course - and where new technologies do have a role - is how extremely public these antics can become.

"Well, first let's look at the why," writes a mobile-communications blogger, pointing to another factor in all this self-exposure: our sexualized culture. "These girls have grown up on-screen, be it in home movies or MySpace profiles." Here's the most interesting part of the post: "Their lives are lived in the story - the telling and the showing. They also think that their value lies in their bodies. This is part of pop culture. Heck, it's almost an honor for actresses to pose for Maxim, Playboy and the like. But also keep in mind that girls probably don’t intend for these to go public (though they will, of course…)." Several thought-provoking points, there, including that last one about some video "actors" thinking they're just playing to their own circle of friends, not potentially everyone on the Internet and for virtually all time (there's more reflection on this at YPulse).

There's an inherent, important contradiction there, too - just acting out for one's friends but with the potential for overnight YouTube fame lurking in the back of one's mind. Being sex objects in a sexualized culture is only one possible element. Reality TV's insta-fame has been suggested as a likely factor, too. "Kids are getting all these messages saying, 'Expose, expose, expose'," social-media and digital-youth researcher danah boyd told me when I was researching our 2006 book, MySpace Unraveled. "If you don't, your friends will expose you. We're all living in a superpublic environment, getting the message that you have more power if you expose yourself than if someone else exposes you." A master of managing her superpublic is Taylor Smith, 18, described by the New York Times as "the most remarkable country music breakthrough artist of the decade." Is her very smart, open PR strategy what some teens are emulating (or vice versa!)?

For more about this pressure on teens to self-expose as always-on, one-person PR firms, see "Not actually 'extreme teens'."

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tech & the student athlete

In proportion to their notoriety, star athletes (and aspiring ones) run the risk of a different kind of celebrity on the social Web. Established student athletes have probably already learned this, hopefully not the hard way. "Post a photo of yourself on your own or someone else's Facebook page holding a beer at a party or engaging in some other objectionable behavior and you could find yourself a star on" (if that isn't a badge of honor for some kids), reports. "Not to mention suspended or kicked off your team, even expelled from school. Post a racist or profane message that embarrasses yourself, your team and your university, and you could face similar punishment." One coach likens posting photos on profiles to getting a tattoo - post it and it becomes part of it. Sure, profile owners can delete photos, but there's no guarantee somebody else hasn't copied, pasted, or sent them elsewhere.

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9th graders' Lively protest

"It's free expression in a dignified, a powerful and a passionate manner," a School Library Journal blogger reports, referring to Digiteens' protest against the impending shut-down of Lively avatar chat by its parent, Google. The Digiteens are Camilla, Ga., 9th-graders whose goal, they say in their protest blog, "to teach digital citizenship to students via an easy to use 3D virtual world that is easily accessible to people who do not have a lot of bandwidth or good computers and allow schools to create [online chat] rooms at minimal or no expense." The protest has gotten some viral support around the world (see these from the Philippines and Hong Kong). The project received some, to me, surprising flak in the comments section of this ReadWriteWeb post about it, to which the Digiteens' teacher, Vicki Davis, responded in her own blog.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Cellphone to be No. 1 access tool: Study

By 2020, the mobile phone will be the main tool for connecting to the Internet for most of the world's people, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project's latest "Internet Evolution" study. "The study asked a group of 'Internet leaders, activists and analysts' to forecast what they expect to be the major technology advances of the next decade," the Washington Post reports. Two other interesting predictions concerned social tolerance and virtual reality, and the experts polled seem to have felt just as uncertain as the rest of us about what impact connective technology will have on human relations and social tolerance: "The transparency of people and organizations will increase, but that will not necessarily yield more personal integrity, social tolerance, or forgiveness." Their prediction about virtual reality lines up with teens' approach to tech for some time: "divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations."

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