Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Facebook does with abuse reports

The head of Facebook's international law enforcement group, Max Kelly, Friday revealed more details than I've seen in the news media on how the site detects bad behavior and content, including criminal activity. On the prevention side, The Guardian reports, "Facebook has developed sophisticated algorithms to monitor its users and detect inappropriate and predatory behaviour, bolstering its latest raft of initiatives to improve the safety of its users." For details on what FB does about that behavior, please see the article, which includes pushback from CEOP but also signs of momentum toward a working rather than adversarial relationship. Only the former will help remove layers and redundancies in abuse reporting, as well as help educate the public on where and how to report what. Historians could probably tell us that it took time for the public to know what to report to 911/999 and, for example, what to report to school authorities, and here the system and education will need to be multinational and multicultural. This is a followup to my post last week about the "panic button" problem.

Labels: , , ,

Embarrasing photos in Facebook: What to do

Lots of Facebook news this week! There's loads of information in the site's new Safety Center, with sections aimed at teens, parents, educators, and law enforcement. But if you or your child has the specific problem of Facebook "Photos Gone Wild," Common Sense Media has some great tips including one about a little app called Wisk-it that lets a photo poster airbrush out the face of someone who doesn't want to be seen in a photo s/he posted. You'll note that a lot of this reputation management is a negotiation, which is why the last section in CSM's article on the need to "Be respectful" is so important (see "Collaborative reputation protection"). It's a lot easier to get a photo deleted when poster and complainer are cooperating (often the only way, since FB says in the Safety Center that it "cannot make users remove photos that do not violate our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities").

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No more free nings

I saw a lot of sad tweets tonight about Ning's announcement from tech educators I follow on Twitter – educators who created classroom "nings" (mini, user-created social-network sites), professional-development "nings" and activist "nings." Creating a site on Ning will no longer be free, I read in CNET, "free" being just one of the service's attractions to educators (and a whole lot of other people). I remember last fall hearing a speaker at the Safer Internet Forum in Luxembourg say that soon the country's Education Ministry would be introducing Ning for teachers' social networking nationwide (see this), and tonight Steve Hargadon of Elluminate and Classroom 2.0 blogged that Ning has been "a great springboard" for educational networking. Anyway, the news broke yesterday that Ning would be "cutting 40% of its staff and axing its free, ad-supported service," according to CNET. Wrote TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid, to whom someone apparently sent the internal memo about the staff cuts from Ning's CEO (published in full on that page), "I suspect we’ll see quite a few active networks jump to whatever the cheapest premium option is," which may spell more fundraisers at schools lucky enough to have teachers setting up classroom nings! [Here's my first post about Ning three years ago, "Mini-MySpaces: New phase," with a comment from co-founder Marc Andreeson (even better known as co-creator of the first Web browser, Mosaic)!]

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Federal court ditches student-free-speech decisions

Philadelphia's federal appeals court has vacated two key decisions of this past February that served to confuse matters. The 3rd Circuit Court "has decided to discard those conflicting decisions and rehear both cases on June 3," Wired reports. "School officials complained the rulings left them unclear on what legal legs they had to stand on when comes to punishing students for their online, off-campus speech." Wired adds that a larger panel of 13 judges – as opposed to the panels of three in February – will be rehearing arguments in the both cases in June and "the decisions, which are likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, will govern Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the Virgin Islands." Here's my post about the February decisions, also linking to Wired's coverage.

Labels: , , , ,

Early iPad safety tips

It's something to think about – no filtering or other "parental control" tools for a wi-fi-enabled device that can go anywhere a kid can go. I'm referring to the iPad at the moment (because it's so new, there's no such software available for it), but the wi-fi-enabled mobility part is true of most phones that go with kids to school now (I hear a lot of parents didn't think much about parental-control software before they bought kids iPod Touches for last winter's holidays). Norton Internet Safety Advocate Marian Merritt is a mom who did think about her kids connecting to the Net with her new iPad – a lot (a lot in terms of how much they wanted to use it and a lot of thinking on her part about how to keep their use constructive). Basically, all there is for the iPad so far is the filtered search offered by the major search engines. Check out Marian's advice for that under her "Browsing" subhead, and don't miss what she says about video, apps, and security (YouTube's new parental controls don't work for the iPad yet). See also "Potential iPad glitch for families."

Labels: , , , , ,

Facebook No. 1 in most Asian countries, but...

...not in India, Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan, where Google's Orkut,,, and are No. 1, respectively (the US version of Cyworld ceased operation this past February). According to comScore's latest Asia-Pacific data (which don't include China), Filipinos are the biggest social networkers in the region, and 50.8 % of the total online population in the region, or 240.3 million people visited a social network site this past February. Nearly 90% of Net users in the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia engage in social networking, comScore says, and Facebook is No. 1 in all three as well as in Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Facebook: Why a Safety Center, not a 'panic button'

The Facebook news in the US today was its new expanded Safety Center. The news in Britain was that Facebook "STILL refuses to install [a] 'panic button'" on its pages, as the UK's Daily Mail put it. However, Facebook also announced today that its UK users will "now be able to report unwanted or suspicious contact directly to CEOP [the UK's Child Exploitation & Online Protection Center] and other leading safety and child protection organizations via its own reporting system," as CNN reported, so CEOP has come very close to getting its wish.

But this "panic button" concept is really problematic – and not just because of the word "panic," which suggests brains in crisis mode, with all rational thought switched off. Here's why it's problematic:

  • A single reporting mechanism doesn't cut it. In the offline world, we call 911 (or in the UK, 999) about crimes and medical emergencies. But the social Web – especially a fairly basic social utility like Facebook – is a mirror of its users' social lives and networks, of a full spectrum of behaviors, mostly good and, when bad, definitely not just criminal bad behavior. So if you just consider the really negative behavior that might lead to an abuse report, research shows that it's bullying, not predation, that would get reported far more often. Is law enforcement designed to deal with noncriminal but bad adolescent behavior? Fortunately, the new system Facebook put in place sends only reports of criminal behavior to CEOP.

  • Would a "panic button" have helped Ashleigh Hall? CEOP reportedly has said that the British teen whose murderer was convicted last month (see The Guardian) may have lived if such a button had been in place in Facebook. Ashleigh was reportedly communicating with someone who she thought was a boy, and fear didn't seem to be involved at the time of that FB communication. It isn't a factor when a child is being "groomed" online (see this).

  • A crime not involving panic. Ashleigh's case was far from typical of Net-related sex crimes. Presenting research from law enforcement files on Net-related child sex crime cases, David Finkelor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center (CACRC), said in Washington in 2007, "These are not mostly violent sex crimes ... they are criminal seductions that take advantage of common teenage vulnerabilities" and are characterized as statutory rape. "In 73% of the crimes," he continued, "the youth go to meet the offender on multiple occasions for multiple sexual encounters. The law enforcement investigators described the victims as being in love with or feeling a close friendship for the offenders in half the cases that they investigated" (see this for his "Jenna" profile). Panic buttons in social sites do nothing to mitigate this problem.

  • Largely the wrong location. The Internet, that is. It's important to remember that the vast majority of sexual abusers of children are people they know in real life, not strangers they meet online, much less predators trolling the social Web. In a much-anticipated 2009 update of its research on Internet predators, the CACRC reported, "There was no evidence that online predators were stalking or abducting unsuspecting victims based on information they posted at social networking sites," and we've seen no reports in this country of convicted sex offenders being arrested for violating parole agreements by contacting minors in social sites. [As for non-Internet-related sex crimes, University of California, Berkeley, law professor Franklin Zimring was recently quoted as saying people are "more likely to get struck by lightning than to get raped and murdered by a stranger," The Press-Enterprise in southern California reported last month.]

  • Facebook actually tested a similar proposal made by New Jersey's then-attorney general, Anne Milgram, a couple of years ago: the test of a "Report Abuse!" icon involving "at least 1.5 million randomly-selected page impressions" for nearly a year (see MSNBC). What FB found (after running the test longer than MSNBC reported up front, a spokesperson told me today) was that the number of abuse reports was "significantly lower" when there was a special icon in a different location from the rest of the reporting links on a page. Third-party buttons and graphics "intimidate and confuse people," Facebook's European policy director Richard Allen told "We think our simple text link, which gives people the option to report abuse to CEOP as well as to the Facebook team, is a far more effective solution."

  • A button is not enough. Even the host of Britain's "To Catch a Paedophile," Mark Williams-Thomas, a child-protection expert and former detective, said that "the much called-for report-it button alone does not make using social networking sites any safer, but a coordinated approach providing the additional reporting to CEOP is clearly worthwhile, as is a dedicated phone line for law enforcement." The dedicated line he's referring to is similar to one Facebook has for US law enforcement and part of the safety package it announced this week, including the Safety Center mentioned above and 1 billion public-service ad impressions in the site (which CEOP called "a 5 million-pound [or $7.7 million] investment in education and awareness" in its press release, which was not yet online as of this writing).

    Having said all that, everybody can thank all parties to this agreement for an important pilot test we all need to watch. Not before in history has there been a service playing host to the visual socializing of 400 million users in multiple countries, much less developing some sort of reporting system for when something in all that socializing goes wrong – the online version of dial-911 or -999 (UK) but for many more kinds of "wrong" (not just the criminal kind). I don't know about CEOP, but our NCMEC has a, a sort of online 911 service, and it still tells people to call their local 911 service in emergencies. Physical proximity is still and always will be a factor when people need help – so just what is the role of a global online service, here? We all – social-Web companies, their users of all ages, parents, educators, law enforcement, risk prevention practitioners, psychologists, etc. – need to figure this out together. It just won't work if the onus is placed only on companies', or law enforcement's, or policymakers' shoulders – not in a highly participatory, grassroots-driven media environment.

    But for heaven's sake – or even better, for youth's sake – let's please take the "panic" out of this whole important test. It simply doesn't lend itself to the calm, mutually respectful conversations that help youth develop the critical thinking that protects on the social Web. We had our predator panic on this side of the pond starting in 2006. At the Family Online Safety Institute's annual conference in Washington last fall, the Net-safety field declared it over with a strong consensus that scary messaging is not productive. Why? Because it makes young people less inclined to want to come to us for help. They tend to get as far away as possible from scared, overreacting adults; find workarounds that are readily available to them; and then leave us out of the equation right when loving, steady parent-child communication is most needed. The other reason is, even the research shows fear tactics don't work (see "Let's not create a cyberbullying panic" at CNET).

    [Disclosure: Facebook is a supporter of a nonprofit project I help run,, but I so hope you've seen in the above that that's not why I've blogged about this issue.]

    Related links

  • "Why technopanics are bad"
  • More on why fear tactics don't work
  • The US's perfect storm of parental concern in 2006: created by MySpace's exponential growth, adults not understanding social networking, news media hyperbole, Dateline's "To Catch a Predator," and a mid-term election (hinted at but not fully described in this Business Week article about MySpace's safety efforts of that time). Now – even after the sanity of the Byron Review and ensuing government-industry-NGO cooperation – the UK is experiencing its own perfect storm, with an election, a tragic crime story, a "To Catch a Paedophile" show, Facebook's rapid growth, and continuing cognitive dissonance over social media. Storms are destructive; these national-level storms in a new-media climate distract us from calmly sorting through complex problems and finding real solutions.
  • The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, which put on the Capitol Hill event where Dr. Finkelhor spoke in 2007

    Labels: , , , , , , ,

  • Monday, April 12, 2010

    Help for teaching digital citizenship

    "The Internet is where children are growing up," the New York Times reports, citing Kaiser Family Foundation research suggesting that they're online or interacting with digital media just about every hour they're not asleep or in school. So it follows that they really need to learn what it means to be good people online as well as in real life.

    Or good digital citizens. More and more parents and educators are asking how we teach digital citizenship, and San Francisco-based media-education nonprofit Common Sense Media has been working on an answer to exactly that question. Its solution is an important step forward: a digital literacy and citizenship curriculum for students in grades 5-8, which will be available for free to all schools next fall. It has already been tested in San Francisco, Omaha, and New York, and "Denver, the District of Columbia, Florida, Los Angeles, Maine and Virginia are considering it," according to the Times. The curriculum's based on the work of the Harvard School of Education's GoodPlay Project on digital ethics and, the Times reports, covers five areas: "identity (how do you present yourself online?); privacy (the world can see everything you write); ownership (plagiarism, reproducing creative work); credibility (legitimate sources of information); and community (interacting with others)." Anyone can get a preview of the privacy section in the Common Sense site now and here's an audio interview on the curriculum with Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer by ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid at CNET.

    As for what we teach at home, definitely check out the curriculum for family discussions (and to know what schools will be teaching our kids, hopefully). But also keep it really simple. One basic pointer can go a long way, I think: What we have always taught and modeled for our children – things like civility, respect for self and others, and always treating people the way we want to be treated – now goes for the online part of their our lives too. Just be very clear that there's no distinction between online and offline behavior – no hiding behind real or perceived online anonymity or disinhibition! Given that the average young person spends more than 7.5 hours a day socializing in as well as consuming digital media (see this), this is how our parenting embraces the whole child now, don't you think? Feel free to email me your thoughts via anne[at] – or post them here or in the ConnectSafely forum.

    Related links

  • How digital citizenship can be protective: on the "guild effect" and increasing everybody's investment in the wellbeing of the community and fellow members, as well as themselves
  • Citizenship is a verb!: There are all kinds of communities, online and offline. A classroom is a community, so is a wiki, a wrestling team, a Google doc, a social network, and a family. You can't be a citizen without a chance to practice citizenship in the community where you're supposed to be a citizen, I blogged after talking with Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation Yes.
  • "From users to citizens: How to make digital citizenship relevant" and an afterthought on that
  • "A definition of digital literacy & citizenship" (I tried to make it simple by fitting it into one sentence, but is it still to complex? Pls comment!)
  • Educator Anne Bubnic's amazing collection of links to resources on digital citizenship

    Labels: , , , ,