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Friday, February 27, 2009

*Social* media literacy: The new Internet safety

In talks and sound bytes over the past year, I've been saying that - for the vast majority of online youth - digital citizenship is the new Internet safety. And indeed digital citizenship is HUGE, for the very reason that behaving aggressively online more than doubles the risk of being victimized (see "Good citizens in virtual worlds, too"). Still, that's really only the half of it. Media literacy is the other half. I haven't been saying that "digital citizenship + media literacy = online safety 2.0" because it's such a mouthful, and it's important to keep things simple and focused. But media literacy is huge too, because critical thinking about incoming ad messages, compliments, group think, etc. is protective against manipulation and harm.

Now it's time for a remix. Old media literacy is about what we consume, read, or download. We still need that - more than we ever have in this fast-paced age of information overload. But on the participatory Web of social producing and creative networking we also need social media literacy. I have spent some time in and been influenced by, the work of MIT media professor Henry Jenkins, colleagues and students, building on Jenkins's foundational 2006 white paper, "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture" (see also my coverage of it in '06).

If you watch the video on's home page or look at the basic skills of new media literacy, I think you too will see that digital citizenship is there - perhaps partly under "Negotiation" ("the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms") and partly under "Collective Intelligence" ("the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal"). But maybe it should be its own skill. Doesn't it make sense to fold it in there?

More importantly, I think the critical skill, "Judgment" ("the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources"), needs to be redefined. That's the old media literacy definition. Critical thinking on the participatory Web needs to be about what we upload, post, produce, and behave like as much as what we download, read, watch, and passively consume. If social media literacy involves that kind of critical judgment, as well as digital citizenship (a first stab at a definition might be: the ability to function, act, communicate, and collaborate in community appropriately, civilly, ethically, and productively), then I propose that....

Social media literacy = online safety 2.0

Or am I being too reductionist? Do you prefer:

Digital citizenship + social media literacy = online safety 2.0

Please weigh in, with a comment here or in the ConnectSafely forum or via email: anne(at)

Related links

  • I really like the Center for Media Literacy's vision for 21st-century literacy - "the ability to communicate competently in all media forms as well as to access, understand, analyze, evaluate and participate with powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture" - but, coming from an online-safety perspective, I think the definition needs to go beyond competency to include social media literacy, ethics, and's list of skills.

  • From the Byron Review, quoted the other day in a Telegraph blog's "Teenagers online": "Research is beginning to reveal that people act differently on the internet and can alter their moral code, in part because of the lack of gate-keepers and the absence in some cases of the visual cues from others that we all use to moderate our interactions with each other. This is potentially more complex for children and young people who are still trying to establish the social rules of the offline world and lack the critical evaluation skills to either be able to interpret incoming information or make appropriate judgments about how to behave online." Exactly!

  • Professor Jenkins's barriers to full participation in the participatory culture, which parents and teachers can help youth overcome: Besides simply not being able to participate because of lack of Internet access ("The Participation Gap"), they are "The Transparency Problem" ("the challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world") and "The Ethics Challenge" ("the breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants") - see "Participation: Key opp for our kids."

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  • Thursday, February 26, 2009

    Undercover Mom in ClubPenguin, Part 2: Let's get this party started!

    by Sharon Duke Estroff

    I have to admit I’m pretty darn cute. My avatar, ChillyLily437, that is. I’m plump, perky, and very pink. Only one more hurdle to jump before I can make my cybersocial debut on Club Penguin: an emailed permission slip from my parents.

    Rather than submitting my real email address (this is a stealth operation after all!), I open up an alias email and have the CP powers-that-be send the consent form there. Within milliseconds my new inbox is flashing with a message informing me of "my child's" Club Penguin registration, I’ve clicked the requisite activation link, and my undercover snowball is officially rolling.

    Mom Break: Okay, I promised myself I wasn’t going to put my mom hat back on until at least Day 3. I mean, what’s the good of going undercover if you keep taking off your disguise? But PLEASE! Does Club Penguin really think that this parent email permission click deal is a viable safety measure? I created an alias email account in, what, two seconds? Our digital native offspring could easily do the same. I’m not saying that my child or your child would use a fake parent email to gain access to Club Penguin or a similar social network site. Or that one of their friends would use a fake parent email to grant Club Penguin access to every kid at school. I’m just saying….

    So you may be thinking, "What’s the big deal? Club Penguin is not MySpace or Facebook, it’s a kid-oriented website for heaven’s sake." But that’s precisely my point. The target market for social network sites like Club Penguin is ages 6 to 14 (more realistically 6-12, as few teens would be caught dead on such a “babyish” cyber-hangout). These are not teens, but elementary-aged children who need consistent parental presence, supervision, and direction in their lives. The ease with which kids can sidestep Club Penguin’s parental consent process - one of the Web site's most basic safety measures - represents but the tip of a very precarious iceberg indeed.

    Next week: "Snow Day"; here are my intro to Undercover Mom and Part 1 of Sharon's series.

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    Oz to scrap mandatory filtering

    Public opposition to the Australian government's plan to mandate Internet filtering has been growing, but this week the plan "has effectively been scuttled," the Sydney Morning Herald reports. after a senator withdrew support for the scheme. "The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has consistently ignored advice from a host of technical experts saying the filters would slow the internet, block legitimate sites, be easily bypassed and fall short of capturing all of the nasty content available online." Among those opposed to his plan were consumers, lobby groups, ISPs, corporate IT people, Save the Children, the political opposition, and "even the conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who famously tried to censor the chef Gordon Ramsay's swearing on television." A national survey unveiled this week found that "only 5% of Australians want ISPs to be responsible for protecting children online and only 4% want Government to have this responsibility," the Morning Herald added. [For background, see "Oz filtering update," January 2.]

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    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Guide to Facebook privacy features

    What users do with their own and others' content is just as big a privacy concern on the social Web as what a responsible social network site does with it. Certainly terms of use need to be looked at, but so do your own privacy options, people! Even privacy features can't offer total control over what people do with your content, but they can help a lot - for example, they can keep it so that the photos in your MySpace or Facebook profiles (as long as they're not copy and pasted elsewhere) can't be searched with Google, Yahoo, and other search engines out on the Web. So take advantage of the degree of control privacy features give you. Here's a video tutorial for Facebook's users by my co-director Larry Magid, and here are little instructional videos for MySpace and Xanga too at But remember, as Larry put it in his CNET post, "regardless of how you configure your privacy settings, there is a reality of the social Web that can't be configured away. Any digital information that is posted can be copied, captured, cached, forwarded, and reposted by anyone who has access to it."

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    Twitter going mainstream

    Mainstream among young adults, mostly, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project (teens off the study's radar, but they microblog in other ways). Twitter, the most popular service for microblogging or status updating, and other such "have been avidly embraced by young adults," Pew says - nearly a fifth (19%) of US 18-to-24-year-olds and a full 20% of 25-to-34-year-olds now use such services to send "short updates about themselves, their lives, their whereabouts ... moods," personal, professional, national, and international news. Citizen journalism is a key component of microblogging online. But what seems to be the No. 1 attraction is that Twitter is "an inconspicuous way of staying in touch with the passions, obsessions of your friends, colleagues, and experts," as described by author and professor Howard Rheingold in this "Why does microblogging matter" slide show. Pew adds that Twitter use is "highly intertwined" with blogging and social networking, and its users are a very mobile bunch, accessing the social Net a lot from mobile wireless devices. And "mobile" is the operative word for teens, for whom texting = microblogging. Meanwhile, as for mobile social networking, the number of people who access MySpace by phone has quadrupled in the past year to 20 million, the service's CEO Chris de Wolfe said in a keynote at Europe's mobile industry trade show last week, InformationWeek reports. [See also "A (digital) return to village life?"]

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    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    Social networking 'infantilizing' users' brains?

    The social-networking backlash is taking a new form as we move past the predator panic's peak. A fresh sign of digital-non-native uneasiness about the social Web concerns its neurological and psychological impact. Oxford University neuroscientist and Baroness Susan Greenfield made headlines today with her comment that social network sites are "infantilizing the brain," reminding her "of the way that 'small babies need constant reassurance that they exist'," as quoted in The Guardian, The Daily Mail, a New York Times blog, and many other news outlets. Among other things, these social-media critics seem to think that "real life" and online socializing are entirely mutually exclusive, when research shows that - among teens, at least - online socializing is very grounded in their offline social lives. Times blogger Robert Mackey is more analytical than the British reports, thankfully, pointing out what appears to be a very superficial understanding of how social sites are being used. I'd dearly love to hear Dr. Greenfield and Dr. Aric Sigman (whose comments appeared in the BBC's "Online networking 'harms health'" last week) debate social media researchers Mimi Ito at Stanford University and danah boyd - or Canadian author of Born Digital, Dan Tapscott, who says, yes, digital natives' brains are being wired differently, but that's a positive (see Yahoo Canada). Cross-disciplinary study of what's happening in a medium whose uses and users are as diverse as humanity itself would be good! [I loved the readers' comments under the Times blog, one of which was: "Let’s give this an honest headline, shall we? 'Two Neuroscientists Hypothesize Social Networking Bad, Offer No Data'"! Your comments would be most welcome too - in this blog, in our ConnectSafely forum, or via email - anne(at)!]

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    Growing civility on the Web?

    That's what Lee Rainie, director of the Washington-based Pew Internet & American Life Project, is seeing on the Web, he told the Boston Globe: Social norms that mitigate offensive behavior are developing. "There is a quiet but growing movement to forge a truce in what [Rainie] calls 'an arms race of name-calling' on the Web." Despite "the buckets of venom [that] still flow across the Web every day," as the Globe put it, and "whereas a few years ago online insults would lead to an escalation in a war of words, the evolution of the Web has led to an informal code of conduct in online communities such as or in social-networking sites like Facebook. People who sling invective online are dubbed 'trolls'," the Globe quotes one online communications specialist as saying, "and are either ignored or told to get lost," according to Simmons College's Amanda Voodre. She told the Globe that younger Net users are seeing through those stabs at provocation, which defeats the whole purpose of a whole range of juvenile behaviors, from flaming to harassing to bullying. It's partly a matter of just "getting it" - digital natives being seasoned enough in online communications that they just roll their eyeballs at comments from predators and jerks - and partly good media-literacy education, which teaches critical thinking about what's uploaded as well as downloaded (for example, see "How social influencing works").

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    Stark contrast: 2 social-media stories out of Oz

    Livewire, a social network site for youth with disabilities and chronic illnesses, just launched in Australia to help them have a more normal sense of friendship (less fixated on their disabilities) than they may be able to have offline, Reuters reports. Aiming to serve the some 450,000 Australians aged 10-21 "currently living with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability ... Livewire recruits members from referrals through it's parent organization, the Starlight Children's Foundation, and through hospitals that treat disabilities or chronic cases." Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald quotes a Melbourne youth worker as saying cyberbullying in Australia had reached "epidemic proportions." He called on the government to change laws to give police more powers and "said in recent weeks a 17-year-old high school student jumped to his death off the West Gate Bridge after reading death threats online." It's possible we need to focus more on civil behavior and citizenship education offline and early detection online than on crime and prosecution. At least in the US, police have always had the authority to deal with physical threats in any venue.

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    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Recruiting soldiers with videogames?

    Some may find this disturbing (I do, because it somehow seems more intrusive than just producing yet another shooter videogame called America's Army): One way the US Army is recruiting young people is by putting sophisticated videogaming stations - essentially war-game arcades - in shopping malls. The Open Education blog puts a thoughtful twist on this, linking to NBC News's report from one of these recruiting stations at Philadelphia's Franklin Mills Mall. But before any young person buys into this sophisticated form of advertising, I wish he or she could first see Canadian photographer Louie Palu's portraits of US soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. These amazing faces captured by Palu - one of The Aftermath Project's 2009 grant winners - reflect his focus "on the emotional and psychological issues faced by soldiers who return from war and the long-term effects they deal with as they try to reintegrate into their families and society" (The Aftermath Project is "a non-profit organization committed to telling the other half of the story of conflict").

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    Court rejects CA's videogame law

    California's became the latest state videogame law to be deemed unconstitutional in a federal court. The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that "a California law restricting the sales and rental of violent video games to minors and imposing labeling requirements is too restrictive and violates free speech guarantees," Reuters reported. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the court declared the law unconstitutional "because even the most graphic on-screen mayhem is free speech, and there's no convincing evidence it causes psychological damage to young people." Though one of the bill's sponsors, State Sen. Leland Yee, urged officials to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, Reuters reported that the three-judge panel's unanimous opinion "could have a far-reaching impact on efforts by other states to establish mandatory video game labeling requirements."

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