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Friday, March 06, 2009

Teen's suicide over sexting

It's a tragedy no parent can imagine, and this teenage suicide was over nude photos she sent to her "boyfriend" last spring. Her mother, Cynthia Logan, went public on national television today so that other teens won't make the same mistake. The sexting incident involving her only child, then-18-year-old Jesse Logan. NBC reports that "she had sent nude pictures of herself to a boyfriend. When they broke up, he sent them to other high school girls. The girls were harassing her, calling her a slut and a whore. She was miserable and depressed, afraid even to go to school." Her mother told Today "she never knew the full extent of her daughter’s anguish until it was too late. Cynthia Logan only learned there was a problem at all when she started getting daily letters from her daughter’s school reporting that the young woman was skipping school." The tragedy illustrates the importance of getting and keeping young people talking with parents or other trusted adults about the online and on-phone part of their social lives too. A recent study at UCLA found that only 10% of youth report incidents of digital harassment and bullying (see "Online harassment: Not telling parents."

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Undercover Mom in ClubPenguin, Part 3: Anybody here speak English?!

By Sharon Duke Estroff

I’m beginning to understand why kids are so obsessed with Club Penguin. It’s a posh ski vacation via DSL connection. There’s snow tubing, ski lifts, and an ice hockey rink; a coffee shop, pizza joint, and discothèque; even a beach complete with surfboards, sun umbrellas and an outdoor fire pit (photo links below). And they’re all packed like sardines with friend-seeking penguins (upwards of 20 million of them, estimates UK-based virtual-worlds research firm K Zero). I feel so hip, so happening, so popular!

Next day: Not feeling quite so hip and popular today. Mainly because all my would-be penguin pals seem to be speaking a foreign language. Sure I recognize a few words, like “hi” and “igloo.” I’m even holding my own at deciphering the horrific misspellings (sorry, it’s the teacher in me). But ROTFL? NVM? What is this, penguinese?

Following some snooping around the Internet for an English-Penguinese translation guide, I’ve surmised that the mysterious lexicon is actually a series of cryptic acronyms and shorthand that kids use to communicate online. More Pig Latin than Greek, you might say. "ROTFL" is “rolling on the floor laughing” and "NVM" is “never mind.” Kids also use “emoticons” (e.g., the smiley face) to communicate their moods of the moment.

Mom Break: From a parental supervision standpoint, this is not good news. Not only are our kids hanging out in a parallel universe, they’re speaking in alien tongues while they’re at it. This generational fluency gap is bound to result in millions of parents not understanding what their kids and their friends are discussing. Worse yet, not every cyber-acronym is innocuous (i.e. "PRW," or "Parents Are Watching"). Granted, the Disney Company - which acquired Club Penguin in 2007 in a 700 million dollar deal - has filters in place to prevent shady shorthand from infiltrating the conversational landscape. But the reality remains that staying a cyberstep ahead of the Net generation can be tough - even for Mickey Mouse. I found one clever penguin inserting an extra letter in order to use language that's not allowed in Club Penguin: He asked someone, "Are you gay?"

Next week: "Cold Shoulders." Here are my intro to Undercover Mom and Part 1 and Part 2 of Sharon's series.

Undercover Mom's screenshots [Anne here: Sorry I can't embed them in this blog at the moment!]

  • ChillyLily437 on the Beach
  • Downtown Club Penguin
  • Penguinese spoken here
  • Textual workaround

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  • Facebook: 'Facelift,' lawsuit

    Seems like every week's a big week for Facebook! This week saw the beginning of functionality changes for users which will "over time enable user 'profiles' to serve more as individual Web pages that could convey messages far beyond the current 5,000-'friend' limit," the San Jose Mercury News reports. The Mercury News said changes will include: users being able to categorize their "friends" into "separate and sometimes overlapping subgroups, such as 'family,' 'close friends' and ''co-workers'," and users able to "more easily post links, photos or videos with their comments into the 'stream' of information to and from the Facebook site [parents, ask your kids to keep you posted on how this works and whether they're paying attention to privacy settings in the midst of this]." Meanwhile, Information Week reports that "a New York teenager has sued the social networking site and some of its users because of a Facebook chat group where she says she was ridiculed and disgraced." In such cases so far, the Communications Decency Act has protected social network sites and other Internet service providers from being held liable for content users post on their sites.

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    Thursday, March 05, 2009

    Digital native-eye-view of parenting

    Vanessa Van Petten is not a teenager, but she plays one to great effect on YouTube (she's also not all that long past the teen years, so her credibility is high). With a fun, breathlessly paced song to Mom from her loving daughter, see Vanessa's kid's response to Anita Renfroe's Mom Song - also to the William Tell Overture. See also her blog,

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    Girls' (social) fashion 2.0 is pretty brilliant - but also a no-brainer retail for digital natives. It's not just brick & mortar retail for tween girls (it's online too). It's not just a t-shirt printing shop (it's hoodies, skirts, and dresses too, and it's design, production, and modeling). It's not just an individual design experience (it's a collective one too, online and offline, in fact it can be an on-demand girls' party). It definitely takes the Build-a-Bear, Webkinz, and ClubPenguin concepts to the next level (online, it's more social site than virtual world). A user is not just designing or using virtual and/or real objects or avatars; she's engaged in both or either virtual and/or real-world collaborative self-expression whose product she herself can wear to the "party" that the whole experience in effect becomes. Some may disdain all this as the commercialization of youth, but it would be hard to deny that creativity's involved - the kind that supports and energizes the highly collaborative m.o. of digital natives. The company itself sees its Hollywood retail store and Web site as "a dynamic new retail paradigm where girls can define and empower themselves through creativity and design," and - though Web designs do lead to a shopping cart and credit card input - at least the site lets girls create, collect, and share their designs without having to buy them. And it is a whole lot of fun - if economic reality, self-discipline, or parent allows - to be able to dress oneself, not just an avatar. So far there's just one Fashionology store - in Hollywood - another experience in creative networking or social producing. There - singly, with a friend or two, or as a whole group of birthday partygoers - girls can browse, design, produce, model, photograph and be photographed (see "Our Story").

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    Sexting in Canada too

    "Canadian teenagers are increasingly finding themselves in trouble after images of themselves get posted on the Internet," reports the CBC, citing reports from, Canada's equivalent to the US's "Respect Yourself" is the message of's new campaign to raise awareness of this problem. "In more than six years, 5% of 30,000 tips have been received from teenagers ... and many of those cases involved a young person who has either posted a picture of himself or herself on the Internet or forwarded a nude photo to a boyfriend and then regretted that after the photo has been shared with others," the online-child-exploitation hotline says. The toughest part of this is how hard it is to delete those photos. Even if responsible sites with customer-service departments delete them, there's no guarantee they weren't copied and posted elsewhere beforehand. [Another very kid-friendly education site for avid texters and photo-sharers is (see my coverage, "Stalking texters, sexting monsters."]

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    Wednesday, March 04, 2009

    Young practitioners of social media literacy!

    What do you get when you cross Greek mythology with a media literacy class on paid political advertising? Well, if you're media literacy teacher Marianne Malmstrom, you get 30-sec. video ads about kicking various lesser gods off Olympus that end with "I am Zeus, and I approve of this message" (see "The Dog Ate My Homework" project at the Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood, N.J.). This is media literacy education 2.0. It can take many forms, but this approach teaches critical thinking about media messages by having students create their own messages collaboratively, using social media - in this case, the Second Life virtual world. Malmstrom's students created avatars, wrote scripts, and "filmed" and edited machinima (like video screenshots, or "movies" of what's happening in a virtual world). Check out the first ad on that page (it's only 30-some seconds). Also don't miss this 5:46 video, "No Future Left Behind," created by multiple stars at Suffern Middle in Suffern, N.Y., with the help of tech and media teacher Peggy Sheehy. It's a keynote presentation for the Net Generation Education Project involving 10 schools. The students were asked about how education was preparing them for the future, and their collective answer is an appeal to us adults to allow them to learn in school the way they already are on the Internet, as social media practitioners and producers and as fluent "information hunter-gatherers," as MIT media professor Henry Jenkins put it. "Education really needs an upgrade," the first line of the students' video goes.

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    The Dunbar no. & online social networks

    A few years ago, extrapolating from her study of primates, Oxford Unviersity-based anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that "the size of the human brain allows stable networks of about 148," The Economist reports. That's usually rounded off to 150 and called "the Dunbar number." The Economist interviewed Facebook's "in-house sociologist," Cameron Marlow, whose findings pretty much match up with the Dunbar number - an average of around 120 "friends," but ranging from a handful to thousands. I've long suspected that people whose friend lists are at the upper end of the spectrum are marketing more than being friends or, in the case of young adolescents, working through the "popularity contest" that school social scenes can represent. Here's the thing, though: Marlow told The Economist that the average person with 120 Facebook friends responds to the comments of (keeps in close touch with) only 7-10 friends (men at the low end of that range) - their "core network." Beyond that are the "casual contacts that people track more passively." The Economist ends with the observation that "humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever." Not that everybody uses social network sites to advertise themselves, but I do think the second half of that observation is exactly right. [See also the UK's on "how social networking might change the world."]

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    Tuesday, March 03, 2009

    Xbox Live hackers, Koobface worm

    This is something for Xbox Live gamers to think about, especially if they also have computers connected to the home network. If the Xbox Live users at your house are particularly feisty or contentious, they could get booted out of games by hackers who have figured out how to get the offending gamer's IP address. They then use that address to launch a kind of denial-of-service attack that blocks your gamer's access to the game, the BBC reports. It could also affect other Internet connections on the network. "Microsoft is 'investigating' the use of the tools and said those caught using them would be banned from Xbox Live. One preventive measure is try to get Xbox Live users at your house to "play nice." If they do and they still get booted, those are really malicious hackers. Definitely contact Xbox Live customer support! Another security issue this week is the reemergence of the Koobface worm in Facebook and MySpace. Brian Krebs of the Washington Post cites TrendMicro as explaining that what happens is, social networkers get an invitation from a friend or contact, inviting them "to click on a link and view a video at a counterfeit YouTube site." Then they're told they "need to install an Adobe Flash plug-in to view the video," but what they really download, if they fall for it, is a Trojan horse program that lets attackers take over their computer.

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    *Social* classifieds: Safer

    Combine social networking and classifieds and online buying and selling really start to make sense. Why? Because you can get a much better feel for who you're dealing with. You can peruse the profile of the person who responded to your ad. Even better, you can go to your network of friends and acquaintances first when you're ready to unload that laptop or car, no screening required. And you can donate the proceeds to a charity of your choice in a few clicks. I'm mentioning all this because Oodle, which started providing online classifieds to MySpace last summer, today launches Facebook Marketplace (disclosure: Oodle is a sponsor of NetFamilyNews, but even if it weren't I'd tell you that selling stuff to the wider circle of friends and acquaintances that social networking allows makes sense and is safer than other forms of classifieds online and offline). Where charitable selling on Facebook is concerned, members "can go to Marketplace, post a listing and select ‘Sell for a Cause.’ Once posted, the listing will be distributed to their friends through news feeds allowing the seller to tap their social network for fundraising." This classified advertising's free. Here's the San Jose Mercury News's coverage, and here's Oodle's own Safety & Fraud Center.

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    Monday, March 02, 2009

    Terms of use: Social Web bill of rights?

    It's a big headache, Facebook's experiment in folding users' input into updating its terms of use, but so is democracy! And by definition - as a user-driven or -produced medium - Web 2.0 is more democratic than any that preceded it. Revising terms of service in this participatory way actually makes them relevant. I wonder why it has taken so long to get here, actually (maybe partly because all eyes were directed to predators by politicians and the news media, with the relentless message that it's entirely up to these social-media companies, like their mass-media predecessors, to control the content they "broadcast"). Now, as my co-director Larry Magid wrote in CNET, Facebook's "officials seem to be trying to figure out what it means to run a company where users, not professionals, provide most of the content. In some senses, Facebook is a media company but unlike newspapers, TV networks and even most blogs, its contributors aren't employees or contractors. It's those 175 million members." Terms of use can no longer viably be written entirely by corporate lawyers "for other lawyers, in the hope that their lengthy recitation of claims leaves no room for a lawsuit," as the Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro put it. Nor can Facebook afford simply to "grind" users' reactions and edits to its proposed user "bill of rights" "into the usual legalistic sludge." Pegararo suggests Facebook should put its draft in a wiki that users can edit as in Wikipedia. The only problem is, Wikipedia doesn't need the input of corporate lawyers on its "encyclopedia" entries. The other problem is what adequate representation is for Facebook's 175 million "citizens." If more than 7,000 people comment on a new policy, Larry Magid points out, "the policy will be put to a vote and the result 'will be binding if more than 30% of all active registered users vote." Thirty percent of 175 million is 53 million. This will be an amazing experiment indeed if that many people vote! In any case, this is a great discussion to be having - it's important to make terms of use relevant. [Here's a transcript of Facebook's 2/26 press conference on this at CNET.]

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