Today’s decision by the US Supreme Court sent a clear message about the importance of context for making decisions about what we see online. It was bad news for victims of online harassment and their advocates but good news for parents of kids not thinking about the impact of their online speech and actions.
“The Supreme Court ruled in favor of “a Pennsylvania man who posted several violent messages [against his estranged wife] on Facebook and was convicted under a federal threat statute,” CNN reported. But if this ruling comes up in classroom or family discussions, it’s important for parents and educators to tell kids that this decision was not the US’s highest court saying that physical threats in social media is acceptable. What the Court’s saying is that the lower court that convicted the man for his online speech didn’t have enough to convict him “based solely on the idea that a reasonable person would regard” the man’s comments in Facebook as a threat. “The Court held that the legal standard used to convict him was too low, but left open what the standard should be.”
The decision was about legal process not what people can or can’t say online or even how what’s said should be taken by others. It says that courts – and in the case of young people, parents, school administrators and law enforcement – need context. They can’t rely on what any “reasonable person” sees in a post or comment to decide what to do about the post or comment. Read more
When I read this sentence in a New York Times review of the Apple Watch, I thought of the privacy spectrum of the digital age:
Apple “seems to be pushing a vision of the Watch as a general-purpose remote control for the real world, a nearly bionic way to open your hotel room, board a plane, call up an Uber or otherwise have the physical world respond to your desires nearly automatically.”
That’s the “convenience” end of the spectrum that we all need to be aware is actually not “private” vs. “public.” More than anything else, what “threatens” our personal and data privacy, if we want to think of it in terms of a threat, is our collective (and seemingly growing) addiction to convenience. For example, if for convenience (so we don’t have to go into Settings to get directions to our kid’s play date in real time), we want to have our smartphone’s geolocation capability always turned on, our movements can be tracked. So we’re closer to the Convenience end of the spectrum than the Privacy end. The same goes for flirting or showing off using photo-sharing apps, having the state of our health or a child’s academic performance stored in databases, being able to secure our homes from a distance, and having all our contacts and other info about us and our lives at our fingertips wherever we are. Read more
It looks like Russell Brand has struck a chord. The other day the actor, comedian and commentator posted a thoughtful, very personal video about the film 50 Shades of Gray, pornography and sexualized culture that has already gotten nearly a half a million views.
“This cloud of pornographic information and even soft cultural smog like 50 Shades of Gray … is making it impossible for us to relate to our sexuality and our own psychology and our own spirituality,” Brand said. “Whether or not this is porn from a female perspective, it is still the commodification and mainstreaming of soft-core porn. What does soft-core porn do to us? And what does porn in general do to both men and women and the way we relate to each other?”
He quotes a religious leader as saying that porn doesn’t reveal too much, it reveals too little, “extracting sex from its biological, emotional and psychological context,” he said, not to mention its ethical context. From the Journal of Adolescent Health, he cites these effects of prolonged exposure to porn, effects he says he himself is trying to address in his own life:
- An exaggerated perception of sex in society
- Diminished trust between intimate couples
- Abandoned hope of sexual monogamy
- The belief that promiscuity is a natural state
- Other effects he cited from a Texas-based psychologist Gary Brooks: voyeurism (looking at not interacting with someone); objectification of women (“Guilty,” Brand said. “I’ve been acculturated; this is something I work on, to see everybody as equal human beings”); “the need to validate masculinity through beautiful women”; “trophyism, women as collectibles”; “fear of true intimacy – inability to relate to women in a real and intimate way despite deep loneliness.”
For Data Privacy Day (1/28), let’s take a look at students’ data privacy – as in the data on their cellphones and whether school administrators have the right to search the devices. The ACLU says they don’t. It called out a school board in Tennessee for violating the constitutional rights of students by implementing a policy that allows school officials to search digital devices kids bring to school and “to monitor and control what students post on social media sites,” Wired reports.
As for citizens of all ages, the Center for Democracy & Technology cites “a very important appellate court ruling … US v. Warshak, which says that email should only be accessed with a warrant,” and “not just email, but also texts and private social networking posts.” But that’s just one appellate court decision, so CDT is calling for an update to the relevant federal law, Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Student privacy vs. school safety in Illinois
But lawmakers in Illinois apparently believe students don’t have that privacy right on school grounds. They passed a law that allows an elementary or secondary school to “request or require a student to provide a password or other related account information in order to gain access to the student’s account or profile on a social networking website if the elementary or secondary school has reasonable case to believe that the student’s account on a social networking website contains evidence that the student has violated a school disciplinary rule or policy” – as long as the school has notified students and parents that this kind of request could be made. The law, which went into effect a year ago this month, doesn’t mention cellphones but it’s safe to say the passwords to “social networking websites” would include passwords for accessing students’ social media accounts on any device used at school. Read more
Don’t believe anything you hear about sexting causing an increase in teen pregnancy. There is no way it can be true. How can I say that? Because teen pregnancy in the US has plummeted since 2007.
The biggest decline is among women under 20 (far left). [See the full-size chart at Vox.com.]
“For five years now, America’s teen birth rate has plummeted at an unprecedented rate, falling faster and faster. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of babies born to teens annually fell by 38.4%,” writes Sarah Kliff in Vox.com
, citing research by Demographic Intelligence. But that research firm isn’t by any means the finding’s only source. The federal government published it last June (2013 figures are the latest available), and the teen pregnancy decline made it into President Obama’s State of the Union address last week.
Teen abortions down too
“This drop occurred in tandem with steep declines in the abortion rate,” so abortions aren’t the explanation, Kliff points out. She looks at every possible theory you could think of for how this decline across all 50 states came about to show how stymied public health officials are in looking for an overriding explanation. Please see Kliff’s article for all the theories she surfaced and why they don’t cut it – yet, at least. Read more