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Core concern: ‘Blue Whale’ & the social norms research

My first post on the Blue Whale “game” or “challenge” was published March 13 here (and has gotten more comments than any of my blog posts since 1999!). A lot has happened since then, so an update is in order, but I hope you agree that the most important part of this story is how and to what degree fake news becomes real – and itself dangerous – as it’s spread around the world….

It’s time for an update. Since I wrote about the “Blue Whale” story two months ago, the fake news has spread further (e.g., comments from multiple countries under my last post and these commentaries in Indonesia and Bosnia Herzegovina); the number of suicides linked to it has gone down drastically in that “coverage” (from 130 to “at least 16”) and we still don’t know if that number’s accurate; Philipp Budeikin, a Russian man alleged variously to have created it or organized groups of “players,” is reported to have pleaded guilty in St. Petersburg, Russia, to “charges of inciting at least 16 teenage girls to kill themselves by taking part in his ‘game'”; and now schools from Alabama, U.S., to Essex, U.K., are warning parents to be on the alert for signs that their kids are playing this so-called game.

How to spot fake news chart

Chart by IFLA.org (CC licensed)

There is no question that, if even one suicide is related to whatever is real in this story, it’s one too many. These developments add no clarity on that, though. “The arrest is real but it is absolutely unclear when it happened,” wrote Georgi Apostolov of Bulgaria’s Safer Internet Centre, which has thoroughly investigated this “story” with the aim of spreading digital media literacy – and thus the safety – of young Internet users in that country (he was responding to my request for his perspective on these latest developments). More on the safety part in a moment; first an update on what is known….

A media literate perspective

“Some sources claim that the arrest happened in November 2016, others in March 2017. There’s no official information about that. As Russian journalists say, it came after a series of sensational stories about Blue Whale by Galina Mursalieva [herself nicknamed “Klikuchka,” a play on “clickbait,” by other journalists, Apostolov wrote elsewhere] which put pressure on the authorities to take some action. Budeikin was investigated for months before the arrest, and he insisted he was not guilty. The investigation too could not find any evidence that he was guilty of inciting/pressing teens to suicide besides [finding only] that he was a member of Blue Whale groups in Russian social network site Vkontakte.” But he was found to be “psychologically disturbed,” Apostolov added. “When the story was picked up by many other Russian websites, he suddenly started to claim (according to not very reliable sources) that he was the ‘master’…. The first coverage in Russia was in the beginning of 2016, so for a long time the authorities did not arrest him or anybody else. In those publications different accounts of victims were mentioned – 150, 130, etc. Now they are 17. As you can see,” Apostolov wrote me, “the whole picture is quite chaotic but raises many serious doubts because of a number of inconsistencies.”

Impacts on youth

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VR as empathy teaching tool: What to love, what to watch out for

Just from watching Engadget’s 6 min. video report about it I could tell “The Last Goodbye” – a 16 min. virtual reality experience that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival that just wrapped in New York – will have a profound impact on anyone who experiences it. The reporter called it “emotionally harrowing.”

Watching the VR participant

Watching Engadget’s Hardawar experience “The Last Goodbye” at the Tribeca festival – the presenter demonstrating empathy for the participant (freeze frame of Engadget’s video report)

So there are really two central roles in this VR experience: that of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter, who was 11 years old when he was literally shipped to Majdanek, then an extermination camp in Germany-occupied Poland, and that of empathy. Because clearly – based on the thoughtful video report by Engadget reporter Devindra Hardawar – the project is truly all about both. The participant is walking into Gutter’s horrific experience as a child and spending that time with him now, which is beyond extraordinary. Part of it is virtually, immersively, being in – walking around in – the camp with Gutter as he points out what happened in specific locations. “We wanted to ease people into the walk-around,” one of the producers told Hardawar. You can tell that’s needed.

The experience itself is the first part of experiential learning. The other essential part is the reflecting, the thinking out loud, that the participant does about their experience of it. So there’s a third crucial role (if a production is to become a teaching tool) – that of the facilitator or teacher and others external to the experience who are bringing empathy to the overall experience (in and after the virtual part). [The empathic-looking person helping Hardawar (who’s wearing the headset), in the photo above is playing that role, as a teacher would during and after students are in the experience.]

Empathy around the VR experience too

So parents and teachers, let’s think about the role of empathy. Clearly, based on Engadget’s report, it was central to the project and the producers’ intent. They wanted to be sure the production, the art and the technology, was faithful to the story and the space, they said. In teaching with a tool like this, we’d want nothing less than the level of integrity they’re asserting, right? That’s baseline. Read more

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Reasons why ’13 Reasons Why’ demands discussion

By now, if you live or work with young people, you’ve probably heard about “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix’s dramatic series about a teenager’s suicide. Based on a Young Adult book of the same title, the series – now a hot topic at schools in the U.S. and other countries – needs discussing.

Netflix logoOn one hand, it exposes issues today’s high school students often face (among them, depression, bullying, sexual assault and suicide); on the other – if viewed uncritically – it could expose vulnerable young people to way too much. It’s about what happens after a suicide and – as Headspace, Australia’s mental healthcare hotline, pointed out – it irresponsibly suggests that suicide can somehow right wrongs or cause resolution for the person who has died, and younger or more impressionable people may not fully comprehend the finality of death. However, some young people have said the story gives them a better understanding of how much suffering suicide can create for friends and relatives – something they hadn’t thought about.

Fortunately, suicide prevention experts have weighed into the discussion and are offering advice and talking points. Here are advice for young viewers and parents and talking points for educators and clinicians developed by the New York-based Jed Foundation and Suicide Awareness Voices of America (SAVE). As for Netflix, Jed – which is very critical of the series – reports that the entertainment company “was supportive of the distribution of the Talking Points and posted them along with crisis services and a link to additional information about young adult mental health on the official 13RY resource website. Netflix also filmed ‘Beyond the Reasons‘ as a tool to help parents and teens frame the conversation and encourage them to speak up and seek help. The show is rated TV MA and there are trigger warning cards prior to three of the episodes.”

It’s my hope that parents and caregivers will ask their kids if they’re watching the series and, if they are, they’re watching it with friends and, ideally, an adult – not alone. Then talk about an episode while it’s fresh in their minds. Perspective is good.

Related links

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Finally, kids can have their own Google accounts (with parents’ help)

Google made a bit of history today, opening up its universe of apps and services to users under 13 as their parents design it. Family Link, the name of the new parental control toolset, describes it well: Parents download the tools to their own and the kids’ devices, then link them up for a whole family’s real-time digital device management.

Google's Family Link on screen

Parents can see time spent on individual apps and set “bedtime”

Family Link “marks one of the first attempts by a major tech company to directly address the reality of kids using tech products,” Mashable.com reported.

A groundbreaking aspect of this is that these aren’t watered-down kid versions of Chrome, Maps, Search, etc., they’re the full-blown versions as controlled by their parents. So parents can make each app available (or not), and if, for example, Search is allowed on a kid’s phone, it can have filtered search turned on.

But there’s so much more going on, here: phone time/bed time, whether and how location is used, which apps (e.g., games, social media, messenger apps) can be downloaded from Google Play and when they’re used. Some apps just won’t be made available to Family Link users under 13 – e.g., YouTube (YouTube Kids is available), Google Pay (which is only for users 18+) and apps rated M and up, based on ESRB.org ratings. It works a little like the way mobile carriers allow us to create a family administrator for all family members’ mobile accounts – only much more granular and real-time.

Now, there is no such thing as total Internet safety, right? I hope we all know that. We don’t even want that (see why here). Even this very comprehensive toolset doesn’t promise that. For example, if you allow your kids to download Firefox, they’ll be able to go to YouTube via that browser.

Which takes us to my favorite parts of this parental control tool: the inside-out part and the family communication part. Let me explain:

1. The inside-out part. Safety isn’t one-size-fits all, right? Because everybody’s use of digital media is very individual, including every kid’s use, safety works best from the inside out – the kid out. So the best products are those that can be calibrated to each child and their developmental style and pace by the people who understand them best: their parents. The parent can calibrate, tweak, change his/her mind and age up what’s on each child’s phone as the child matures. Read more

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‘Blue Whale’ game: ‘Fake news’ about teens spread internationally

[Thank you to all commenters on this post! I’ve just posted an update (5/17/17) that I hope you’ll read before commenting further here.]

It has been reported as real news here in the U.S. in recent weeks, just as it was earlier in eastern Europe, and what a dark, disrespectful message it sends about young people in any country. I’m talking about coverage of the so-called “Blue Whale suicide game” that started in Russia. And while even the term “fake news” seems to be morphing into something else now, this is the real, original version that’s misleading and scaring parents.

Fake news countered by Safenet.bg

safenet.bg, Bulgaria’s Safer Internet Centre, works to counter fake news harmful to youth

It’s truly fake – a textbook example of how misinformation about online harm can itself be harmful. Georgi Apostolov of Bulgaria’s Safer Internet Centre told me this was a “manipulation” that “can really affect parents and vulnerable children.” He wrote me that his organization is very thankful they succeeded in countering the “wave of clickbaits” in Facebook, the most widely used social media service in Bulgaria, “but it cost us a week of countering their posts…. If you are curious you can check by FB search #синкит, #синийкит – to see how we were able to stop the copycat attempts in our country. It has much to do with digital media literacy, which is now our main focus of work,” Apostolov wrote. “What I was afraid of, and we had several cases reported to our [Internet] helpline, was that self-harming or suicidal teens would use the manipulation as an excuse to not speak about their real problems.”

The Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre, which is funded by a research institute in that country as well as the European Commission, runs one of Europe’s many Internet helplines for youth. Here’s the background on the Blue Whale story that Apostolov earlier provided a U.S. group of Internet risk prevention practitioners and researchers (which I’m sharing with his permission):

So-called ‘investigative journalism’

“It is a sensationalist fake started by Russian media back in May 2016 and [which] has been recently resuscitated not without some political aims. Based on ‘investigative journalistic stories’ a special working group under Putin elaborated a plan to be implemented by the Russian government for “prevention of teen suicides incitement. Doesn’t that sound familiar – e.g., Turkey cutting off social networks to fight child pornography? And several Russian politicians already mentioned ‘Western intelligence services’ and ‘Ukrainian nationalists’ as creators of the ‘horrible game’ with the aim to exterminate young Russian generation!

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The resilience part of digital parenting (& kids’ safety)

Parents concerned about the digital part of parenting deserve to know that they are not starting from scratch when their kids start using phones, tablets and other connected devices – even if they haven’t had conversations about digital safety yet. Far from it. Besides a loving family member or 2, 3 or 30 and the safeguarding norms, identity and values that most kids develop at home, kids also come with resilience, one of life’s key safeguards, online and offline. It’s that ability to bounce back from challenges, hardship, suffering, etc.

Shadow of a strong, confident girl

Photo by Scott Swigart (CC licensed)

“All individuals have it – it is an innate characteristic that can be bolstered by environmental factors (you! me! a healthy home! a wonderful school! positive leaders in the community! and others!),” writes cyberbullying prevention scholar Sameer Hinduja in a blog post about a remarkable, very international gathering we both attended last month, Facebook’s Global Safety Network Summit (where it was inspiring to hear youth advocates, activists, parents and risk-prevention practitioners from 4 continents talk about their work and research).

Kids’ resilience levels

Resilience is part of our online well-being, Dr. Hinduja continues, “an umbrella concept that refers to a state of psychological, emotional, and mental health where individuals can use, embrace, exploit, and enjoy online communications for all they are worth.”

He and his Cyberbullying Research Center co-director Justin Patchin, recently measured resilience in U.S. 12-17 year-olds. Interestingly, they found that, “though some adults believe that youth are lacking resilience across the board, the average kid ranked above the midpoint, which points out that those seeking to help build out that competency are not starting from scratch” (see this for more of their research).

What hinders & what helps

Interestingly, in response to a question about what keeps that number from going up, Hinduja points to a kind of learned helplessness (the opposite of resilience) that comes from over-focusing on online dangers, representing kids as potential victims (rather than potential helpers and upstanders) and advising them to “tell an adult” when victimization does happen. [We do want them to get help from the best source possible when they need it, and sometimes that is an adult, but we also want to encourage them to cultivate their individual and collective powers to help and solve problems.]

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How to choose (or make!) an anti-bullying video that helps

Recently a graduate student was given the assignment to find videos on YouTube that are “helpful to kids in confronting bullying.” The criteria given the student were: Make sure the video…

Actor Jeremy Shada for CartoonNetwork's 2014 campaign (CC licensed)

Actor Jeremy Shada for CartoonNetwork’s 2014 campaign (CC licensed)

1. presents accurate information about both the problem and what bullying is (sometimes behavior’s just rude or mean, not bullying)
2. is made by kids for kids
3. shows kids standing up for each other
4. depicts step-by-step resolution, especially reporting to a caring adult
5. is realistic (not canned)
6. has some ethnic diversity

I’m adding these:

7. doesn’t depict suicide or attempted suicide (follows the suicide prevention field’s Media Guidelines)
8. is current (check the date the video was posted and think about whether its message, data, call to action, etc. are still relevant, because if it’s old, it can be inaccurate).
9. has no agenda – political, religious, etc. – other than preventing or reducing bullying and so doesn’t use political, religious, etc. language.
10. doesn’t label people as “bullies.”

I’ll explain in a second, but what do you think? Whether you’re looking for a video or looking to make one, what are your top criteria for a video that would guide and inspire people? Here’s what I think:

No. 1 is essential. Please make sure whatever video you pick or make doesn’t misinform your viewers. Do thorough fact-checking. If you’re looking at other people’s videos, make sure the filmmakers have done their homework – that any bullying statistics they present are accurate, based on responsible, agenda-free research. If you don’t do this, the video is not going to teach anyone anything; it’s going to misinform people. If you’re making a video, put your sources in the credits (see this for the latest U.S. federal data on bullying and cyberbullying). Read more

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Most kids under 3 use tablets daily: Study

Just under 100% of UK families own at least one touchscreen device, and 97.5% own multiple such devices – some of those families as many as 14 tablets or smartphones. So it’s not too surprising that the same study at the University of London found that more than half of the UK’s littlest citizens (6-11 month-olds) use a touchscreen device on a daily basis (for nearly 9 min./day), and 92% of its 1-3 year-olds do (for about 45 min./day).

Very young touchscreen users

Teeny tablet users (Creative Commons licensed)

Are you seeing what I’m seeing, fellow parents? “Touchscreen devices are a common part of a toddler’s media environment,” The TABLET Project‘s researchers write. Even babies using touchscreens is commonplace.

Question the advice for parents

Which says something about advice parents have been getting: “The current recommendations for zero screen time for children under 2 years is out of line with the reality of the current home media environment of most toddlers,” the authors write. They even add that any advice to keep toddlers and screens apart is “difficult to enforce by parents who themselves are conducting more of their lives through such devices.”

So parents feeling all the reported guilt and anxiety about this odd, ill-defined concept of (undifferentiated) “screentime” might consider giving themselves a little more slack. They’re in good company. Besides, “most children do plenty of activities every day that don’t involve screens,” a recent article published in MosaicScience.com and ScientificAmerican.com cited developmental psychologist Ed Tronick as saying. “He is concerned that the worries about kids’ use of screens is born out of an ‘oppressive ideology that demands that parents should always be interacting with their child’.”

But what about the impact this touchscreen time is having on our littlest kids, you might ask? “Our results did not show any evidence for negative associations between touchscreen use and developmental milestones,” the TABLET Project researchers report, and “empirical evidence relating early touchscreen use in toddlerhood to delays in cognitive development is currently lacking.”

Positive impact found Read more

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In 2017, chatbots & other imaginary friends

chatbotI am not kidding: The latest tech developments – and certainly not just those aimed at kids – remind me of the much-loved cartoon show of the last decade, “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.” There are all kinds of imaginary friends emerging, from the toy kind to the digital kind to the kind kids believe they are and have as fans of each other. That probably doesn’t make complete sense yet, so let me explain:

  • Toys as imaginary friends. There are actual toys with embedded bots kids can talk to, like this year’s My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot and last year’s Hello Barbie – physical, doll-like imaginary friends that have artificial intelligence software inside them that enables chat, “learns” about their kid owners through that chat and sends what it learns to servers at their toy companies (caveats abound, e.g., here and here about the safety of connected toys and one about smart toy hackers here). These are not to be confused with the very alive-seeming Hatchimals, which ABC News says were the hot toy this holiday season and which are not Net-connected.
  • Kids who have imaginary friends (fans) because they are imaginary friends (fans) of kid YouTube stars. That’s a lot to wrap our brains around, I know, so read this in the Washington Post:

    For the youngest members of the next generation, sometimes called Generation Z, the distinction between the online world and real life is fading [this was actually true a decade ago]. Parents are having to explain to their toddlers that the children whose whole lives they see on the screen aren’t actually their friends. They’re finding their kids methodically “unboxing” their toys, as if they’ve been paid to review them for an audience. “Who are you talking to?” a parent will ask. “The viewers,” their children reply.

  • Chatbot imaginary friends. Chatbots, explained by The Guardian here, are the next digital wave our children (and we) will be catching. “Chatbots have suddenly become the biggest thing in tech,” reported TechCrunch earlier this year. So, in essence, they’re everybody’s imaginary “friends” and helpers and concierges and whatever the businesses that deploy them – from airlines to your friendly corner convenience store – want them to be for us. People, such as many of the WeChat app’s more than 800 million active users in China, are already using them for calling a cab, ordering takeout, buying a t-shirt, finding a date and plain-old venting to a faux confidant. Examples abound, but some of the more teen-friendly ones are in Kik messenger app’s Bot Shop – definitely worth parents taking a look.

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The new non-fake news & Snapchat

Last week I wrote about fake news, this week about its opposite. This is very real news, as captured by bystanders on the spot – curated and given app-wide exposure by Snapchat. This is quite likely to be how our children will get a lot of their news going forward, so I want to be sure you don’t miss what was at the bottom of New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo’s important article about Snapchat.

Snapchat screenshotThis isn’t people making stuff up to make money by gaming the system (search and social media’s algorithms), like what bowled us over this election season. This is reporters hired by Snapchat to assemble into “in-depth pieces” bits of video shot by users who are in the middle of unfolding news, Manjoo reports.

“The company calls these Live Stories, and they have been transformative, unlike any other news presentation you can find online. Every day, Snapchat offers one or several stories about big and small events happening in the world, including football games, awards shows and serious news,” he writes.

“For instance, this summer, while the rest of the media were engulfed by Hurricane Trump, Snapchat’s news team spent days following the devastating floods in Louisiana. That in itself was unusual, but Snap’s presentation was also groundbreaking: Rather than showing the overhead shots or anchor stand-ups that are conventional on TV news, Snapchat offered video from inside people’s houses, from shelters, from schools. It mixed the macrostory of an impending natural disaster and the government’s response to it with the microtragedies of personal loss, and even the lighter moments of humor and boredom in between.”

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Fake news & how media literacy is protective

When young people in the Balkan country of Macedonia create fake news sites like WorldPoliticus.com and make good money off of all the American voter traffic their uber-grabby headlines generate (true story, from BuzzFeed), this is not the new Nigerian Internet scam. I think we’re seeing that this is a history-changing problem that affects everybody, not just the people who were duped.

"truth" amid all the fake newsFake news is big news right now, and I’ll get to where it comes from and what’s being done about it in a minute. First, what struck me about reading the BuzzFeed story was the opportunity it represented – for students and educators. In addition to being a cultural, economic and geopolitical problem, fake news is a media literacy challenge.

More than ever before in history, this is a call for media literacy education. And what better way to develop that literacy than by giving students a news story about fake news and asking them to solve this problem?

Four university students did, the Washington Post reported – at a hackathon at Princeton University sponsored by Facebook and other Internet-related companies. They came up with a mostly tech solution – a browser plug-in that could verify whether a Facebook post was factual or fake. Tech is only part of the solution, though. What if students read the very human BuzzFeed story and were charged with coming up with at least three non-tech solutions to the very human problem it depicts?

So about fake news: It’s a serious ongoing social problem created by a perfect storm of media conditions plus human conditions. The key media ones are:

  • A media “pipeline” that outputs into devices that go with us everywhere and has everything running through it – entertainment, news, opinion, fiction, research, advertising – in an undifferentiated way from every direction (up and laterally from the grassroots, in from and out to other countries, down from podiums, etc.).
  • New media companies that have only just begun figuring out what news is, from a journalist’s perspective, and are only just thinking together with journalists about how to deploy algorithms that distinguish it from fiction, as well as human fact-checkers
  • The filter bubbles Eli Pariser warned of in his 2011 TED Talk, where social media algorithms feed people what fits them or what they like to see and hear, making it harder to be exposed to other perspectives than not to be.
  • A 24-hour news cycle that fills its vast “news hole” with tiny stories, non-stories and stories about news stories that, in the mass-media era of 25-min. news shows, would never make it to the level of “news” – as well as vast amounts of commentary from talking heads. And that’s from mainstream news.
  • People “publishing” stuff shaped by a whole spectrum of intentions: everything from purely and honestly financial (e.g., the Macedonian teens) to drama and fear-mongering to power- and attention-seeking to an honest interest in contributing to the public discussion.

The human conditions: Read more

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IBPA 2016: Focus on the positive

It’s fitting that the last day of a bullying prevention conference focusing on empathy, kindness and resilience happened to be Election Day 2016. Whether or not they were thinking about it, some 750 educators, students, researchers and practitioners together capped off possibly the most divisive, indecent, relationally challenged presidential election season in our history by modeling and discussing what will start the healing.

IBPA logoParticipants heard, said and demonstrated that – though we all know there’s plenty more work to do – bullying and other forms of social cruelty among youth are far from common and are being actively replaced, by youth, with positive, pro-social action. It was a theme reinforced by presentations from academic researchers to student activists. Another theme was a desire expressed in a number of sessions to focus more on the positive in the public discussion about young people’s sociality – or at least to strike a better balance.

“It’s important to understand that we adults tend to over-focus on the negative. Kids are actually trying to help the best they can,” said researchers Lisa Jones, Kimberly Mitchell and Heather Turner from University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC).

Here are some other highlights from the International Bullying Prevention Association’s 2016 conference:

  • Kid President cited. “If we’re all on the same team, let’s start acting like it. We’ve got work to do…. You were made to be awesome,” he said in a YouTube video shown by professor, researcher and author Sameer Hinduja in his closing keynote – a 3.5 min. video that, as of this writing, has been viewed 39.3 million times.
  • Wellbeing from the inside out: The opening keynote speaker, educational psychologist and author Michele Borba, touched on this. Safety and social-emotional wellbeing work from the inside out as well as the other way around; they don’t just come from parents or schools – from external conditions. Empathy is both a safeguard from anti-social behavior and essential to social success. It’s “the ability to feel with someone,” Dr. Borba said. Sympathy is outside in; empathy works from the inside out, she said. “It’s how we can mobilize our kids’ pro-social behaviors. It mobilizes their courage” so they can support peers being targeted, stand up to negativity and defuse cruel social situations. Telling them not to bully doesn’t inspire, much less mobilize, people. In his keynote, Dr. Hinduja suggested that “Teaching students about the harmful effects of bullying could promote a victimization complex, and constantly focusing on the negative paints a bleak picture.”
  • Resilience, another key internal safeguard (see this), was the focus of Professor Hinduja’s closing keynote. It’s what helps young people bounce back from social-emotional cruelty, and “every individual is hard-wired for self-righting,” he told us. But kids can’t develop resilience without exposure to and opportunities to deal with negative situations. Hinduja questioned over-protectiveness. If nothing socially or emotionally bad ever happens to them, “will kids later expect society to provide the same protection when they grow up?” he asked, making a point very similar to that of EU Kids Online in a 2013 paper on “online resilience.” “Risk and resilience go hand-in-hand,” those researchers wrote (see this). Not that we create adversity for our children, but if we try to remove all negativity from their social lives, how can they figure out how to cope with, bounce back from or navigate their way out of negative social situations? Hinduja’s research found that the ability to learn and feel safe was much lower in students with low resilience. They were also less likely to reach out and help others who were being harassed.
  • Bayfield High School's amazing FOR Club members at IBPA

    Bayfield High School’s amazing FOR Club members at IBPA

    Most are upstanders. By far. A whopping 83% of student bystanders reach out to help the victim, the CCRC researchers told us.

  • An upstander’s own story. You could call them “compassion activists,” because it’s the goal of the members of Bayfield High School’s FOR Club to spread compassion in their town of Bayfield, Colo., as well as their school. Going into her freshman year, one member found out she’d made varsity volleyball. “It should’ve been the best day of my life. But someone didn’t like it and created a really mean Instagram account about me.” It was pretty devastating for her but the FOR Club members found out and stepped in. “By the end of the night I had so many people behind me.” She later found out that it was the club members’ goal to post 1,000 compliments on that mean page. “That’s why I joined FOR Club because I didn’t want anyone else to feel the way I felt that day.” Throughout the year, the club’s some 40 members mentor 4th and 5th graders on how to model and spread kindness, form one-on-one partnerships with special ed students, organize kindness campaigns and competitions like “Dude, Be Nice Week,” and have fun committing spontaneous random acts of kindness in and out of school (here’s a YouTube video they created to illustrate).

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Insights from under 18 Net users in 4 countries: Research

globalkidsonlineYoung people worldwide are beginning to see the Internet “as a human right, a necessity.” That’s from Global Kids Online, a research project and network now encompassing 33 countries (and counting). It just released findings from South Africa, the Philippines, Serbia and Argentina, summarized here.

“My favorite apps are social media – Whatsapp and Facebook. Also Instagram,” 15-year-old Siyanda in Mdantsane, South Africa, told researchers in his country, where most access is mobile. “At the moment we don’t have a lot here, on this side of the planet,” said Nolwande, a mother in the same town, so they do go to the Internet. They do see what they can do with what they have. They can become more.” “I can find some things that I can’t find in the dictionaries, and then I can be good at schoolwork,” said 15-year-old Asenathi. “She gets brilliant with that Internet,” said her dad. That’s just a tiny sampler from Global Kids Online’s not-to-be-missed 5 min. video on the South Africa project.

1/3 of world’s Net users are U18

“In many ways, children from very different countries share similar online interests. In the Philippines, for instance, children love Facebook and YouTube, and their top online activities are learning something new, social media, watching video clips, using the internet for schoolwork, and playing online games. In other words, pretty much the same as found in Europe,” the researchers write.

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About the AAP’s media guidelines for parents

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidance on screen time for families by de-emphasizing the term “screen time.” The AAP’s focus is now more on the “how” of media use than the “how much.”

Kids online at library

Photo: Harris County Public Library

“The key is mindful use of media within a family,” the AAP’s press release quoted Megan Moreno, MD, lead author of the Academy’s policy statement for school-aged children and teens.

That’s a big step forward, “a much better fit with the present circumstances of family lives” than its earlier guidance on kids’ media use, writes psychologist Sonia Livingstone, one of the world’s most recognized researchers on youth and digital media, “more media at home, used for multiple and often valuable purposes, as part of diverse family cultures; certainly no longer something parents can simply police or ban.”

The AAP continues to face quite a dilemma, Dr. Livingstone writes, because “parents want guidance now,” but “there isn’t a robust body of research on the effects of digital media on children.” In her post, she spells out what we do know.

So here are my top takeaways from this up-to-the-minute blend of pediatric, psychological and media expertise:

  • Good for the time being: These guidelines are better than before – more aligned with the research we do have – but more is needed. So also take a look at the recommendations of Livingstone and her digital parenting co-researcher Alicia Blum-Ross at the bottom of the former’s blog post about the AAP’s guidelines. [Here‘s Blum-Ross’s blog post on the subject too.]
  • Strike a new kind of balance. Consider balancing advice from experts outside the family with what you can learn from your kids’ own media experiences – open-minded and –hearted interaction with them on how and why they use various media tools and services. And then there’s the very important balance of internal and external media safeguards I wrote about in 2013.

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Youth cybersecurity concerns & what will reduce them: Research

NCSAThis being National Cyber Security Awareness Month, we might ask how secure young people are feeling online. According to two just-released studies, not so much. But there’s some light in there, so stay with me.

A Microsoft survey of 13-17 year-olds in 14 countries found that 43% had experienced unwelcome contact at some point. The study also surveyed adults and found that 58% of young people said they’d met their offenders in person compared to 43% of adults. [That maps to other research finding that young people generally know their online harassers in real life, which is simply because their online experiences revolve around school life.] The young people in this international study were especially concerned about online contact involving sexual harassment and extortion, with 44% saying either they or their friends or relatives had experienced such unwanted contact.

Young US users’ concerns

That offensive online behavior – such as harassment, bullying and unwanted sexting – is just as concerning to 13-17 year-olds in the U.S., a just-released study from the National Cyber Security Alliance found. But they’re more confident about negative content encountered online and on phones – violence and hate speech – than online behavior. More than two-thirds – 69% – said that, “if directed to online content containing extreme violence or hateful views that made them feel uncomfortable,” they’re very or somewhat confident that they could handle it (48% were very confident).

Among young people’s concerns, NCSA reported 47% “very concerned” about someone “accessing their account without permission;” 43% about “sharing personal information about them online”; 38% about “having a photo or video shared that they wanted to keep private”; and 32% about “receiving unwanted communications that makes them uncomfortable.”

NCSA also surveyed parents, reporting that both youth and adults said preventing identity theft is the number one topic they’d like to learn more about. Second on the list is a real call for digital literacy: “keeping my devices secure.” And No. 3 is a clear call for more media literacy instruction: “how to identify fake emails, social posts and texts.”

Positive signs

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Heartbreaking US data on LGB youth risk

LGB youth risk, cyberbullying

Twice as many LGB students have been cyberbullied

Asking U.S. 14-to-17-year-olds about their sexuality for the first time since the first Youth Risk Behavior Study in 1994, the Centers for Disease Control researchers found that youth who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are far more likely to experience depression, bullying and other forms of violence than their straight peers, EducationNews.org reported (the survey didn’t ask students if they identified as transgender or queer).

Earlier studies have shed light on this harsh reality, but what’s different, here, is that the YRBS is “the gold standard of adolescent health data collection,” as the New York Times put it, and a senior CDC official told the Times that he found the data “heartbreaking.”

Here are key findings from the study: Read more

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Musical.ly inclined: App huge with younger users

Musical.ly just may’ve replaced Instagram as kids’ starter app. This is an educated guess. I remember a few years ago my friend Trudy Ludwig, the award-winning children’s author, observing that, based on all the elementary schools she visits throughout the U.S., Instagram was huge with 4th and 5th graders. Don’t get us wrong, we know the official minimum age of these apps is 13. The reality, however, is quite different. Younger kids, especially girls, were cutting their social media teeth on Instagram.

musicallyNow, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s Musical.ly, the social app for making 15-sec. DIY music videos (usually lip-syncing selfie videos). A year ago it first hit No. 1 in Apple’s App Store, according to BusinessInsider.com.

My friend, author and cyberbullying researcher Sameer Hinduja just tested and wrote up a great primer on Musical.ly – which he writes now has 80 million users, 10 million of them uploading videos a day. Parents, definitely check out Sameer’s thorough review. He’s seeing very young users in it. He was “amazed as to how many ‘Musicals’ [videos] were made by children who looked like they were 8.”

Safety in creativity

The more focus, or purpose, a digital environment has the safer it is, like quests in a game or – in Musical.ly’s case – producing little videos (see my 7 properties of safety in a digital age). In this case, there are 2 elements of purpose: music itself and creating something (social producing, not just social networking). I love what Sameer wrote about this: Read more

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Online harassment 2016: Fresh data

I get a lot of press releases in my email in-box. This one about harassment in social media truly surprised me because it was balanced, cited data responsibly, did not appeal to people’s fears and represented clear understanding of today’s media environment.

The survey of Americans 18+ – a project of Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.com and craigconnects.org, and social impact consultants Rad Campaign – indicates that we, all of us social media users, need to work harder. We’ve made hardly any headway in bringing down online harassment, but we have made a teeny bit. The survey found that 22% of Americans have either been “bullied, harassed or threatened online” themselves or know someone who has been, down 3 percentage points since the partners’ last survey in 2014.

From poll by craigconnects, Rad Campaign & Lincoln Park Strategies

From poll by craigconnects, Rad Campaign & Lincoln Park Strategies

The number is higher for younger adults than older ones – and it hasn’t gone down at all. In both surveys, nearly half (47%) of millennials (ages 18-34) reported experiencing or knowing someone who has experienced bullying, harassment and threats online. Interestingly, the figure is much higher than for teens. Now, this survey’s figure is for those who’ve experienced a wide range of social cruelty or know someone who has, so it could be that it maps well to the latest data from the National Academies for teens, and teens are having similar experiences. The National Academies researchers found that 7-15% of youth have experienced cyberbullying, which is a subset of overall harassment online (for more, see this).

Here are other key findings in this new survey:

  • Sexual harassment down – from 44% in 2014 to 27% this year.
  • Political harassment up: Not surprising in a presidential election year, political harassment “almost doubled from 16% in 2014 to 30% this year.”
  • Mostly not strangers: “72% of millennials are harassed online by someone they know.”
  • Mostly not anonymous – 61% know their harassers.
  • Worse for people of color: Hispanics (34%) and Asians experience (34%) more harassment than black (22%) or white (19%) people.
  • Women more than men – 55% to 45%, respectively (with women more than 4x as likely to experience sexist harassment than men) – but the number of women who’ve been harassed is slightly down from 2014 and slightly up for men.
  • Tinder has the most work to do. “Tinder users report the highest levels of online” at 62% of daily users (three-quarters of whom are millennials. But Tinder is not alone, of course.
  • Harassment via email has increased – up 5% from 2014 to 25%.

It’s going to take all stakeholders – companies, users, interest groups – to turn this around. “Social media networks are not being very successful stopping this problem from the top-down, but they can’t do it alone,” Newmark is quoted in the press release as saying. “It’s up to all of us as users to do our part to report bad actors and to encourage civility.”

And we will, led by young people, the power users, I believe. As we adults change our rhetoric and messaging, see them as stakeholders rather than potential victims, allow them agency and teach them the literacies of the digital age (media and social literacy as well as digital), they will take digital citizenship to the next level – for example, with #icanhelp. As digital leaders, they will “be the change” they want to see online. So many of them already are modeling digital leadership for their peers online. We need to acknowledge and support that.

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When Pokémon GO really gets epic

You may’ve noticed this: More than the usual number of people with phones in their hands have been bumping into things and each other lately. That’s because of Pokémon GO, which market researcher MFour announced the other day had passed Twitter as the U.S.’s No. 1 app. “Fully a third of U.S. Android smartphone users 13 and over have downloaded the augmented reality game that’s become the talk of the nation,” they reported.

It's actually not a zombie takeover (Pokémon GO play in the Netherlands)

It’s actually not a zombie takeover (Pokémon GO play in the Netherlands)

Posted on July 6 when the app was released, the official Pokémon GO video already zoomed past the 4 million view mark this past weekend. Macrumors.com reported Saturday that the game’s now available in 26 countries (not yet in Canada or Asian countries), and “Nintendo shares surged another 10% on Friday.”

Weird things are happening. For example, The Verge caught on camera “a literal stampede” in New York City’s Central Park Saturday night. “When a Vaporeon showed up, people ran and jumped from their cars to capture the creature.” [On the same page there are some “advanced tips” on video for Pokémon GO players, such as, “All you care about is the points” and one about the little features like Razz Berries (available at Level 8) that make it easier to catch Pokémon.]

What’s the deal with the stampedes? Read more

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Learning about ‘The Class’: Researchers on their year in middle school

There is no way a book about spending a year in the life of a middle school class – its 28 students’ home, school and digital experiences – could be reduced to a single theme. But one main takeaway from The Class, by UK researchers Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton-Green, may surprise and sound familiar at the same time: the old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Book cover of The ClassAnd “things” in this ethnically and economically diverse school community in north London both change and stay the same in so many different ways. Kids change, technology changes, but school changes little; families are all different and change along with their members, but family roles and traditions not so much, and these students’ families come, many very recently, from cultures in Africa, South Asia, eastern Europe and the Middle East where tradition is strong.

Of course we know, and this book bears out, that home, school and digital are completely intertwined for people growing up these days. But except in quiet, personal ways for some of the young people themselves, the digital part doesn’t change things much at all. It’s embedded but it certainly doesn’t connect home and school. For a few of the students, services like Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were tools for growing their self-knowledge by expressing themselves and connecting to communities of shared interests. But for the most part, social media was just another way to connect – evenings, weekends and other times between the face-to-face interaction that means the most to them – and really just with close friends and family.

Decidedly not obsessed with social media

Interesting, in light of all the angst and hyperbole around keeping up with rapidly changing technology that we (or at least the news media) assume has so much influence on our kids, right? Actually, The Class shows, the influences on these kids haven’t changed much at all, and they’re virtually all non-digital. Family, ethnic and school cultures topped the list. Digital was “neither all-determining nor irrelevant,” the authors write.

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