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Friday, January 15, 2010

Social Web's help for Haiti

With emails from President Obama, tweets in Twitter, and cellphones sending “Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief," fixed and mobile social media are raising millions for Haiti earthquake relief. Yesterday (1/14) may've been "the biggest day for mobile giving to date, CNET reports, adding that Facebook said its users "have been posting more than 1,500 status updates a minute containing the word Haiti." The New York Times reports today that "the American Red Cross, which is working with a mobile donations firm called mGive, said Thursday that it had raised more than $5 million this way" and "nearly $35 million" in general by Thursday night, "surpassing the amounts it received in the same time period after Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami." This is an important media story for classroom and dinner-table discussion, but parents and teachers will also appreciate this "teachable moment" for new media literacy. Because, unfortunately, "with any urgent call for donations often comes a rash of scams that can pilfer cash or result in identity theft," another CNET post warns. The article offers advice for applying critical thinking to texted, posted, and tweeted solicitations – and so does the FBI.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Moderator wisdom: Virtual worlds' youth-safety experts

Virtual worlds are a red-hot topic these days, probably because of their rapid growth and the US Federal Trade Commission's report on their content (see "Related links" below). I can think of two more reasons to add: ConnectSafely's brand-new safety tips for parents (shameless plug, links below) and insights from master virtual-world moderators in a recent 3-part series on the subject at and in a white paper, "How to Moderate Teens and Tweens," at eModeration, London-based provider of community management in 31 languages.

Three points – one each about moderating kids, tweens, and teens – really leaped out at me as I read these contributions (just a sampler of the insights in them), and I think parents will find them helpful:

1. Two types of virtual-world moderators: In Part 3 of Shaping Youth's series, eModeration describes how virtual worlds are evolving, as illustrated by moderation techniques: The more traditional silent moderator "stays in the background, blocking offensive material from participants, warning users, defusing confrontation and reacting to abusive or illegal behavior. The second and increasingly popular type is the in-game moderator, who actively participates as a character or avatar ... encouraging children to explore and try new things and have as positive experience as possible, but stay safe and secure while doing so.” Gazillion Entertainment's director of user engagement Izzy Neis describes the former as the "elephant in the corner"; eModeration compares the latter to the fun, engaging host of a kids' birthday party. I think the latter type – because kid users tend to look up to this cool, fun "older avatar" – presents a tremendous opportunity for modeling civil behavior and good in-world citizenship.

2. Tween VW behavior is as dynamic as the real-world kind. Moderators are finding that, just as tweens move back and forth between children's play and playing at being adults in the real world, they do the same in virtual worlds. EModeration's Littleton quotes Neis as saying, "It's not always one or the other – often tween users balances between the two, depending on how their day went, or what escapism they need, or what reinforcement/acknowledgement they crave. They're taking the experiences they've had, applying imagination and exploring new territory (mainly adult situations)." She says virtual worlds see "the same playground problems kids have every day: bullying, heartache, betrayal, etc." That's why it's just as important, as we say in our VW safety tips, for parents to talk with their kids about what's going in their virtual worlds as what's going on at school. But moderation in all things (no pun intended). Kids also need some space. Virtual worlds, Neis says, "provide an outlet and a chance to develop other aspects of their personalities [which] they feel unable to explore during real life for fear of rejection, or sometimes they're just trying something to try it - an opportunity to fail without physical consequence.”

3. The delicate balance between over- and under-moderating teens: An experienced moderator in the UK, Amy Rountree, told Littleton that “moderating [youth] 16+ communities is about balance." She says that, if virtual world rules and moderators are too heavy-handed, users go elsewhere. If the moderation's too easygoing, both the company and its users are at risk. This echoes what we say at about safety on the social Web: If parents are too controlling, kids – who have many workarounds and access points – tend to go "underground" to sites parents may've never heard of, to friends' houses where rules are more lax, to establish alternate "stealth" profiles and accounts parents aren't aware of, etc., etc., all of which spells even less parental input and guidance. Kids are safer when parents, like moderators, find the balance between "over- and under-moderating" and keep the communication lines open (see also "'Soft power' parenting works better").

Note Tamara Littleton's bottom line in her white paper: "Our view is that if you [a virtual world company] are inviting teens or tweens into your online space, you are in effect throwing a huge round-the-clock party for them. And what parent in their right mind would send out invitations worldwide, then leave the keys to the liquor cabinet with their 15-year-old and go away for the weekend?"

Related links

  •'s virtual world safety tips for parents of kids and teens, and tech policy expert Adam Thierer's review of them
  • "Virtual Parentalism," by Washington & Lee University law professor and dad Joshua Fairfield – the first of three parts at the Tech Liberation Front blog
  • Crisp Thinking's thinking on VW safety:'s interview on "detection and analysis of inappropriate online behavior" with Rebecca Newton, head of safety at Crisp Thinking, a provider of moderation technology for virtual-world companies
  • Shaping Youth series on moderating kids, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
  • "How to Moderate Teens and Tweens" by Tamara Littleton, CEO of eModeration
  • The FTC's "Virtual Worlds & Kids: Mapping the Risks"
  • My virtual world news roundup last month last month
  • Virtual world numbers
  • "Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual-world Users"

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  • Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    From comic-book panic to sexting panic

    Compare sexting to the comic book panic of the 1950s, a thoughtful commentary in the Boston Globe suggests. "Huh?" you might say? Yes, back then, "a broad swath of the United States was convinced that crime and horror comic books were turning the nation’s children into murdering, raping monsters. Hearings were held, and eventually federal authorities pressured publishers into creating the Comics Code, an industry standard that neutered what had been a vibrant, eccentric - and yes, oftentimes provocative - form of American art." Hmm, isn't it interesting that each previous moral panic seems to have happened just long enough before the current one that the current generation of parents has no memory of it, and therefore lacks the kind of perspective that would help protect us from "the outrage industry" that exploits parental fears? Must be a conspiracy! Writer Jesse Singal continues: "We’re wired to be protective of our young, so it will always be much easier to convince people that children are at risk than to argue otherwise. That’s why these moral panics rage through the country at regular intervals. In the 20th century alone, marijuana, rock music, Dungeons & Dragons, Satanic cults, and first-person shooters have all seized the minds of American parents. And yet each successive generation graduated to adulthood largely undecimated." Actually, this is good. It's an opportunity for parents to practice the critical thinking that protects us against group think and fear-mongering, so we can teach our children critical thinking from experience! [See also "Why technopanics are bad."]

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    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Tech-induced mini generation gaps?

    That's what the New York Times's Brad Stone has noticed, citing examples like his only-just-verbal 2-year-old calling his Kindle – a device he says he's not completely sold on – "Daddy's book." But even 9- or 10-year-olds wouldn't call it that – it wasn't ubiquitous enough when they were "growing up." Now all sorts of Kindle-like handheld readers are coming out. They – the Alex, the Que proReader, the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid, the tablet Apple's supposed to announce soon, and the "smartbooks" aimed at teens I blogged about earlier – were all over the Consumer Electronics Show floor in Las Vegas this past week, Stone and Nick Bilton report in another article. But, to the generational question, I wouldn't call them mini generations just because the term itself suggests solid starts, stops, and gaps that I'm not seeing, even at my house, with five years between two teenage and almost-teenage kids. The whole construct doesn't allow for all the individuality and diversity so evident in young people's (and everybody's) use of new media and technologies. I think kids' tech use has more to do with their interests (and those of their friends, of course) than their ages, and I'm seeing more social flow across age groups in this generation than in mine. I guess what I'm saying is that it's not the technology that dictates kids' tech use so much as the kid who uses the technology (and not entirely either way). If that was clearer than mud, argue with me – here or in the ConnectSafely forum!

    And as for these new "books," I don't care what devices we get into school, but we do need to get social media into school, pre-K through 12, all classes – to narrow the gap between formal and all the informal learning kids are doing with social media outside of school, make school more relevant and interesting to students, and get school doing for social media what it has done for books for hundreds of years: guide and enrich students' experiences with them (see "School and social media: Uber big picture"). I'm pleased to see others saying this too now. Here's Nicholas Bramble in Slate: "Schools shouldn't block SNS." [See also "From digital disconnect to mobile learning" and "School & social media."]

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    Monday, January 11, 2010

    State senator wants to criminalize teen sexting

    US states are all over the map where sexting legislation is concerned. While Vermont decriminalized sexting by minors, Indiana is considering a law that makes it a juvenile crime. WTHR TV in Indianapolis reports that, in order to send Indiana children the message, "Do not sext," state Sen. Jim Merritt (R) is working on a law that would make texting sexually explicit messages and photos a juvenile violation." "Senator Merritt says other similar sexting bills will likely be filed as well and he would like to eventually see adults included under the law too." Texas A&M psychology professor Christopher Ferguson sent a great response to the Indianapolis Star in a Letter to the Editor: "I share Merritt's concerns about responsible teen behavior and the potential risks of sexting. However, criminalizing sexting is the wrong response as it only harms teenagers who engage in this behavior more rather than teaching them responsible behavior." The real solution, Ferguson writes, is "increased education," including adding the subject of sexting to sex-education classes in schools. I agree. Or at least health class – not some sort of non-contextual, government-imposed add-on to the curriculum called "Internet safety" aimed at covering the whole gamut of risks online. That's almost like trying to teach a course on all the risks of life, since the Internet increasingly mirrors it, and have we thought about how well students will respond to a class focused on all the negative consequences of using the media and technologies they find so compelling?!

    Let's teach constructive use of media and technology in context. When children learn history or social studies, they learn about community, citizenship, social justice – a natural place to include online community and digital citizenship. When learning
    writing and composition, classes discuss plagiarism and academic ethics, the place where online-style, copy-and-paste plagiarism needs to be covered too. Sexting has its right place largely in discussions about adolescent sexual development. If malicious intent is involved, then sexting needs to be discussed in the context of bullying, including cyberbullying, for which many schools have programs. In any case, education is the key. I was encouraged to see that the Associated Press led its coverage of a recent sexting survey with a quote from a 16-year-old saying he probably wouldn't send a sext message again, knowing that sexting could bring felony charges (see this). [Here's earlier coverage on what other states have considered.]

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