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Pretty faces in social media vs. mass media

The story about the impact of all those ‘pretty friends’ in social media on self-esteem offers one good explanation for self-presentation fatigue. Researchers in the UK, Iowa and Ohio used Facebook to look at the impact on body image of selfies in social media vs. photos of celebrities and other beautiful people in magazines. They found that comparing oneself to Facebook friends “can make a young woman feel worse about her own body than comparing herself to the most beautiful celebrities and models in fashion magazines,” the Today Show reported. In its coverage, the BBC reported that “the research, presented at a conference in Seattle, found no link with eating disorders. But it did find a link between time spent on social networks and negative comparisons about body image.” In an earlier (2013) study, researcher April Smith at Miami University of Ohio did find a link between “certain Facebook habits” and “symptoms of bulimia and over-eating,” according to Today.

When Today asked her why she thought friends’ photos had more impact than those of celebrities and models, Smith suggested, quite logically, that friends are more “real” to us than movie stars. They’re our peers, after all, right? So this must be an accurate representation of what they and their day-to-day lives look like, right? Nope. To put it in old-fashioned terms, people sometimes put their best foot forward in social media, posting their favorite and even using “photo-editing tools to shave off pounds or build cheekbones,” Today points out. Read more


Risk implications of kids going mobile: Research

Even back in 2010, the EU Kids Online researchers in 25 countries noted that “the ways through and the locations from which children go online are diversifying, and this trend is continuing.” It has indeed continued. Increasingly obvious to parents, the mobile platform enables “ubiquitous internetting,” as Dutch researchers put it way back in 2006). At the same time, mobile represents the most personal, private way of accessing the Net and the least evolved provisions for kids’ safety, EU Kids Online’s Prof. Sonia Livingstone pointed out at the ICT Coalition gathering in Brussels last week.

EU Kids Online mapAt that all-day gathering of people representing Internet companies, the European Commission and youth advocacy organizations, Livingstone gave a summary of findings from EU Kids Online’s latest project, “Net Children Go Mobile,” based on face-to-face interviews in the homes of 1,000 young people aged 9-16 in five countries: Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom. She showed us how, on the risk side of digital life, things have changed between 2010 and 2013, when the researchers went back to them. One big difference was in the questions alone. “In 2010, we asked them about the handheld devices they used,” she said. In 2013, the research distinguished between the kinds of handheld devices they used ¬– such as tablets and smartphones. Computers are still No. 1 for connecting in these countries, but now only by a teeny bit – 49% via computers vs. 48% of kids and teens who connect via smartphones (younger kids are more likely to use laptops and older kids mobile phones).

Smartphone users: More risks, more ‘safety skills’

There was “a slight increase in the percentage [of youth] who encountered one or more online risks,” Livingstone reported – though if you’ve been reading Net Family News, you know that for years she and EU Kids Online have been pointing out that risk and opportunity go hand-in-hand and that risk and harm are two different things, especially online, where we’re talking about “the risk of the risk” more than of actual harm. In 2010, 44% of 9-to-16-year-olds encountered one or more online risks, and the figure is now 50%. There was a 10% increase among girls, as opposed to a 3% one among boys. Cyberbullying may account for much of that difference between girls’ and boys’ experience of online risk. The research found a 5% increase of cyberbullying among girls vs. 0% increase among boys from 2010 to ’13. The increased experience of cyberbullying for both sexes was 4%. Among other key findings…. Read more


A positive, insightful new book for schools on bullying

Nancy Willard's bookIn the preface to her new book, Positive Relations @ School (& Elsewhere), author and risk-prevention educator Nancy Willard tells of a conversation with a very smart 5th grader in a dance class waiting room. She was explaining to another parent why a “rules and punishment approach” to dealing with bullying wasn’t working for schools, when this other person in the waiting room piped up.

“Of course it’s not working,” Willard quotes the 5th grader as saying. “They tell you bullying is against the rules, but kids bully when adults aren’t watching. And they tell you to tell an adult. But if you do, the other kids will consider you a loser and the bully will get back at you.”

A 5th-grader nails it

Willard was struck by how ably this elementary school student had summed the situation up, so she decided to conduct a one-kid focus group and asked the girl some questions: Read more


Students called heroes in this 6th-grade class

If your child is seriously into videogames – and Pew Internet research has found that 97% of US 12-to-17-year-olds are – it may help to read about New York teacher Peggy Sheehy’s heroes, also known as students. The middle school humanities teacher calls them heroes because she co-created the WoW in School curriculum “A Hero’s Journey” (WoW is short for the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft). “Her lessons mesh perfectly with a sixth-grade Common Core unit on myths and heroes,” The Journal News reports, because she mapped the curriculum to the Common Core learning standards. “She is a national leader in opening classrooms to video gaming and, more specifically, MMORPGS” (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), and she has trained teachers in India as well as the US and will soon be doing so in Australia. Read more


In the face of school violence, what do we default to?

Certainly what all the coverage of the Murrysville, Pennsylvania, school stabbings indicates is a society trying to make sense of a so far inexplicable tragedy, but there is no – zero – sense or accuracy in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “report” that this is “the latest face of the national epidemic of school violence.” There is no such epidemic. In fact, the latest national data available shows a steep decline in school violence for a long time.

“Between 1992 and 2010 for youth 12-18, school-related violent victimizations declined 74%,” according to a report from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC), citing the US Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. “The declines were fairly linear during this period, and included a drop of 50% in school-related violence … from 2007 to 2010.”

The same report said bullying – which some news stories speculated was behind 16-year-old Alex Hribal’s attacks – is down too. “Four US national data sets show substantial declines in face-to-face bullying and peer-related victimizations at school from the 1990s to recent years. Some of these are quite large.” As for cyberbullying, the CCRC reported that an increase it cites “is probably best seen simply as growth in the usage of electronic media for all kinds of socialization including its negative forms.”

Selfie of a student hero (& victim)

We don’t think enough about what characterizations like a “national epidemic of school violence” say about our young people. Maybe zooming in on the story of one of the victims better illustrates how unfair it is to rush to negative conclusions – the story of a selfie posted online from the hospital. It was posted on Instagram by Nate Scimio, the student credited with having pulled the fire alarm, “reportedly an action that eventually saved countless other students,” according to a commentary at Read more


Popularity: The other kind of vulnerability

A study cited in “When Popularity Backfires” at found that socially ambitious kids can be just as likely to experience bullying and harassment as “social outcasts” at school. Interested in the “hotspots” of social aggression in students’ social experiences at school, sociology professors Robert Faris at University of California Davis and Diane Felmlee at Pennsylvania State University “investigated whether there were other reasons for students’ aggression toward one another, such as using it as a tool for social climbing,” Time reports. They looked at changes in social status (or lack thereof) for 4,200 students in grades 8-10 through a school year and found that, “not only were the socially mobile and relatively more popular students victimized more than the socially stable teens, they were also more sensitive to the effects of bullying. They reported higher rates of anxiety, depression, and anger, and lower rates of feeling central to their social group,” according to Time (their methodology is detailed in the article).

Faris and Felmlee’s research in this area started in the last decade (I last wrote about it in February 2011, linking to New York Times coverage). It was a first look at the relationship between bullying (or, more broadly, social aggression) and school “drama,” which got national media attention, thanks to social media researchers danah boyd and Alice Marwick. Faris and Falmlee challenge stereotypes about bullying and vulnerability, showing that most social aggression is aimed at social rivals, and – in this kind of victimization – it’s the kids looking to change their social status who are most vulnerable.

Related links


FB & Oculus VR: The potential of a virtual-reality platform

For years we’ve heard about the potential of virtual reality, but even when the virtual world Second Life was a hot tech-news story, it hardly felt like a second life to most people. I wrote about it a number of times because of the amazing work some very cutting-edge educators and their students were doing in Teen Second Life, when it existed. Then it faded into the background, and those teachers moved on to Minecraft, which is even less immersive than Second Life but compelling because such a vast empty slate for players’ (and educators’) creativity.

Oculus RiftThe news of Facebook’s plan to acquire startup Oculus VR for $2 billion put virtual worlds back on tech-news center stage (teacher Marianne Malmstrom, whose work with students in Minecraft I’ve covered, is now testing it with her students). Oculus is even more immersive than a Second Life or a Minecraft. Instead of watching your avatar move around on a screen, you don’t even see a screen; you’re in the scene itself – with the help of a very fancy headset for eyes and ears. Here’s how Oculus Rift’s developer Palmer Luckey explains it.

Humanizing, not dehumanizing

Online community manager Jesse Coombe at eModeration explains how immersive is good for business as well as education (not just the social media business) – and is probably the next platform, after mobile, for all interaction, including our kids’: “In a world where virtual reality is a key part of Facebook’s feature set, these conversations will have more in common with the interactions you experience when customers physically enter your place of business. You will design your virtual 3D space to best represent your company, just as you do now with a Facebook cover photo or the presentation of your brick and mortar stores and offices. Your VR goggle-wearing customer response team will have a physical presence in the space, made to your design and controlled by your staff’s own movements and commands.” Read more


What’s (importantly) different about Snapchat

It’s not what you might think – or what you might’ve read in the news. What makes Snapchat stand out in the crowd of social media apps, in fact what makes it “matter,” as social media researcher danah boyd put it, “has to do with how it treats attention.” Snapchat users don’t just swipe through a gazillion photos in a stream or album. The app doesn’t work that way. They actually pause and pay attention, danah notes.

“I watch teens choose not to open a Snap the moment they get it because they want to wait for the moment when they can appreciate whatever is behind that closed door,” danah continues. “And when they do, I watch them tune out everything else and just concentrate on what’s in front of them. Rather than serving as yet-another distraction, Snapchat invites focus.”

I’ve noticed this with my university student son (who was fine with me following him in Snapchat): care goes into snapping, sharing and viewing along a full spectrum of intention, from playful to thoughtful. The intention and attention danah’s talking about point to the behaviors and social norms that develop in and around every social app and service, and it’s fun for parents to find out what they are, if we can. I find teens are usually at least mildly interested when we’re interested, and often willing to think out loud (on occasion) about how those work.

For example, you might ask what apps “kids at your school” use most or even what the thinking is about using them to share risky or mean stuff, and take it from there – seeing what your child thinks about those activities along the way. Be honest that the conversation is not about prying or monitoring; it’s about learning (if it isn’t about learning, you won’t probably won’t learn much). Talking about the norms around a social media service can help grow the intention or mindfulness a user brings to it – and to others in it.

Mindfulness, norms as safety factors

Mindfulness and positive social norms increase social and emotional safety in social, user-driven media environments just as much as they do in the social settings offline. But they’re just two of the factors influencing how positive or negative people’s experiences are in Snapchat or any other social media service. Here are the important ones:

  • The properties or conditions of the app itself (created by its developers), e.g. the ephemeral or disappearing nature of a snap in Snapchat (10 sec. max)
  • The safety infrastructure – e.g., terms of use, whether there are community moderators watching over that digital space and whether there’s a responsive abuse reporting system
  • Besides the general social norms of that space, the norms of a particular peer group or social circle with which a person’s using it
  • What each user brings to the experience (kind of the way a film isn’t experienced in the exact same way by all of its viewers – the experience is partly the film and partly who the viewer is and what s/he brings to it at that point in his or her own experience).
  • External support users have – parents, friends, counselors, helplines, etc.
  • The policies and laws in offline life that govern users as well as the social media services they use.

Related links


We ‘like’ faces in social media: Study

That we like faces in our photos – or simply that we like faces – was reconfirmed by a new study at Georgia Tech. “Instagram photos that include faces are far more likely to get likes from followers than those without,” Mashable cites the study as finding. “Of 1.1 million randomly-selected Instagram photos analyzed with face detection software, those with faces were 38% more likely to get Likes and 32% more likely to get comments,” the authors found. One of them, researcher Saeideh Bakhshi, told Mashable that, because we’re social creatures, seeing faces is “comforting to us and makes us [feel] safe,” and apparently that’s as true in social media as it is in offline settings.

A couple of other interesting findings:

  1. Age, gender not factors: Though the number of faces in the photo affects engagement, the age and gender of the faces in it don’t, and “male users are just as likely to get comments and likes [as] female Instagram users.
  2. Moderation is good here too: “Though Instagram users with more followers experience more interaction, “those who post too frequently see a dip in engagement. The more you upload, the less likes and comments you get.”

Related links


Yik Yak update: How the app came to geo-fence off US schools

After Yik Yak “fenced out” her daughter’s entire high school in southern California, Diana Graber of did some investigating to find out how the app was blocking use in schools. What she found out is an example of digital citizenship on the part of an app developer (see this for an example from the funding part of the mobile ecosystem).

In “Yik Yak App Makers Do the Right Thing,” Graber writes that the app’s creators, two recent university graduates in South Carolina, first changed Yik Yak’s rating to 17+, then figured out how to build geo-fences around schools and bar student use, using the same GPS technology that allows the app to create location-based “chatrooms” with 5-mile radiuses. Read more


Smart safety: YouTube’s ‘neighborhood watch program’

In every neighborhood, there are neighbors and then there are visitors, and it’s mostly the neighbors who make it what it really is – great to hang out in or maybe not so much. That’s true in social media too, only digital neighborhoods can be geographically based or interest based. They’re interest communities. Some sites are single interest communities, others encompass masses of them – and all kinds of them. YouTube and other global social media services are giant collections of “neighborhoods,” and – just as in big cities in the offline world – a great way to help a service (like the police and other civic services) keep the neighborhoods great places to be is digital neighborhood watch programs.

YouTube logoYou could call it “participatory policing.” Or you could call it what YouTube calls it: a “Trusted Flagger Program.” Disclosure:, a nonprofit service I co-direct, is funded by Internet companies including Google, which owns YouTube, but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because 1) participatory policing online has made sense to and been used by law enforcement since long before YouTube launched, 2) the more social media users of all ages understand how key they are to the wellbeing of themselves, their peers and their digital communities, the more safety and well-being they’ll experience in digital spaces, and 3) because of its numbers, YouTube is an important example of why participatory policing is needed. Read more


The app ecosystem & very public secrets

This is a sidebar to my two previous posts here and here.

These are crazy times in the mediascape, and not just because of crazy valuations of startup apps. How do all these socially risky apps get out into the digital ecosphere? They don’t take a lot of people, time or other resources to build anymore – not like digital media products and services of lore, anyway, as a recent NYT Magazine article by a young software engineer made clear. And there’s money, in the form of venture capital, available for growing app developers’ companies and potentially for acquisition down the line (as with Facebook acquiring Instagram and Whatsapp). Read more


Will safety ever be ‘baked in’ to social apps?

Whether or not social apps can be made as trolling- and cyberbullying-proof as possible before they hit the app stores is a question more and more people are asking – and asking that question is a step in the right direction. The spanking-new anonymous app Secret is already making some changes after a “flap” in Silicon Valley about so-called grownup users’ behavior in the app, the New York Times reports.

“To reduce negative comments, Secret has said that it is adding features that detect when people’s names are typed into messages and warn those who would include them to ‘think before they post’,” according to the Times. “Users also have the ability to ban those who trash-talk others.”

Investors stepping up

But it wasn’t only this good move on the part of Secret’s providers that indicated progress. The trash talk and nasty gossip among Secret’s earliest adopters in Silicon Valley (not kids) apparently got some highly visible pushback – and leadership – from the people who fund app startups. According to another New York Times story, venture capitalist Marc Andreesen – a co-creator of the first Web browser, Mosaic, in the early 1990s – earlier this month sent out a series of tweets, saying that “every day, each one of us has many choices about whether to lift people around us up or tear them down…. For some of us, those choices loom larger, in the social software and systems we design, build, report on, advertise on, fund.” Read more


How Yik Yak is different from other social media

Yik Yak screenshotBased on news reports and conversations with educators about troubles with Yik Yak, the location-based anonymous texting app, at schools in many parts of the US, three scenarios leap to mind….

  • Remember that kid at school (or maybe that frat house) who felt the need or the pressure to set off the fire alarm to see what would happen, test the system, get attention or whatever social capital?
  • Remember “slam books,” with cruel anonymous comments about peers on actual paper, or the nasty comments scratched into metal bathroom stalls?
  • Remember sometimes there was a really angry, troubled kid who’d take it out on others either with threats of hurting them (physically or socially) or their reputations (including teachers’ or administrators’)?

The behaviors aren’t any different now, in apps. They turned up online before there was a Web, just as they did in physical spaces and on older media, then in Web sites (remember the services that allowed anyone to create a Web site for free?), then they were in blogs, then social network sites and now on the mobile platform. Wherever there’s social interaction, there’s anti-social behavior. Only sometimes is it bullying or cyberbullying.

What’s different with social media

What’s different, now, with connected media, is how fast the effects spread and escalate, so that the behaviors can end up hurting more people, including the initiator more quickly (see this about a potentially life-changing blow-up from one student’s very bad decision). It’s important for parents and policymakers to be very clear that – according to study after study and contrary to what we hear too much in the news media – this is not common behavior among young people. Read more


Social media reality check from Canadian youth: Key study

MediaSmartsBefore releasing its report on online conflict, MediaSmarts presented a much broader picture of young Canadians’ experiences in social media: “Life Online.” This is important context for any discussion about cyberbullying and other negative aspects of digitally informed life, whether we’re setting policy at the household, school or national levels.

“There are a lot of assumptions out there about kids online,” wrote Valerie Steeves, PhD, the study’s author, “but the labels we use are often misleading and out of step with what young people are actually doing with networked technologies.” So for a reality check, here are some highlights of the digital lives of Canadians in grades 4-11 in every province and territory:

  • So connected: Just about all (99%) of them can access the Net outside of school. They do so in various ways – but more with laptops or tablets (62%) now than desktop computers (59%), and MP3 players are the way a lot of 4th-through-8th-graders use the Net. Interestingly, 80% of French-speaking Canadian students use portable devices to go online vs. 67% of English-language students. Read more

Major study of teen online conflict in Canada, insights for all of us

Though “cyberbullying” is in the title, the just-released study from Canada’s premier digital and media literacy organization, MediaSmarts, is about far more than that. The study offers a wide range of insights from young people themselves on the full spectrum of negative behaviors that turn up in digital media, including meanness, gossip-spreading, acting out of anger, “drama,” threats and what’s academically defined as bullying (with the elements of repeated cruelty and a power imbalance).

And because of all the nuance it brings out from more than 5,000 students in grades 4-11 – experiences, responses, strategies and views on rules, harm felt and what help adults can provide – the study offers a lot of value to parents, MediaSmartseducators and policymakers in many countries.

Notably, MediaSmarts’s researchers report that – though “students often say cyberbullying is less of an issue than adults perceive it to be” – even students “in many cases overestimate how common [online conflict] is.” That’s the term that author Valerie Steeves uses, describing the study as “a portrait of online conflict,” which is much broader than the category of peer victimization called “cyberbullying.” Read more


A teacher on what teaching in Minecraft looks like

No need to leave connected learning to the imagination. Well, sort of – plenty is left to students’ imaginations! Teacher Jacqui Murray in southern California spells out in a blog post exactly how she uses Minecraft for students to work on reading comprehension, writing and problem-solving.

She agrees with New Jersey K-8 teacher Marianne Malmstrom on what makes Minecraft so great for learning: “Players start with nothing and must build their way to security, safety, food, shelter, companionship. What a primer in problem solving!” And the applications are limitless, she writes. Colleagues have used the game for building “molecules for a chemistry class, designs for 3D printing, and bridges for an 8th grade science project.” Read more


‘The gold’ of connected learning, innovation worldwide: The learners

You know that maxim that “necessity is the mother invention” (it goes back at least to 16th-century England, according to Well, South African journalist Tony Shapshak recently showed in a TED Talk in Edinburgh how necessity is the mother of (tech) innovation, and that innovation is certainly not just happening in Silicon Valley, Bangalore, or the Zhongguancun part of Beijing, but on the continent that probably has even more power outages than the Indian subcontinent.

His talk shows parents why developed countries like the United States do not have a corner on innovation, why it’s so important to get digital, connected learning into school, why there was a groundswell behind the week-long Hour of Code campaign last December, and why that campaign just happened in the UK too (here, at the BBC, is a dad’s description of his and his 10-year-old twins’ Hour of Code).

As Shapshak pointed out, we may be intrigued by the way a vendor at a California farmer’s market can complete a credit card transaction with a swipe through a little reader attached to a smartphone or tablet, but for 15 years people in Africa have been able to do transactions with much more basic mobile devices, with no need for a credit card.

NASA's composite image of Earth at night (2012)

NASA’s composite image of Earth at night (2012)

“Something like $25 million a day is transacted through M-Pesa” (“pesa” is Swahili for “money”), the online commerce app, and “40% of Kenya’s GDP moves through M-Pesa,” he said. “You can pay bills with it, you can buy your groceries, you can pay your kids’ school fees” with M-Pesa, he said. “Pay-as-you-go is one of the most dominant forces of economic activity in the world,” and it was one of many innovations that have been developed on what is often called “the dark continent,” the one that isn’t lit up on NASA’s composite photo of Earth at night (Africa’s some 1 billion people use 4% of the world’s electricity, according to The Economist). Read more


Significant safety changes at

Though Americans represent the 2nd-biggest population on Latvia-based social media site, they also represent only 10% of the activity on the site. But all 105+ million users will benefit from new safety measures the service has put in place, one of them being a new Safety Center, which includes a page with a clear description of how the site works.

Based on recommendations from a months-long audit of the service by international law firm Mishcon de Reya, here are some of the changes to Read more


Factors in good policymaking about youth & digital media

Kids online at library

Photo: Harris County Public Library

Informed citizens sometimes forget that the reason why negative, tragic or just plain-old bad news is news is because it’s the exception to the rule. That’s why it’s newsworthy. And this is true whether we’re hearing about airplane crashes or online bullying. Sometimes the news is unspeakably tragic, but it’s still the exception, not the rule. It’s not an event from which we can extrapolate what everybody’s experience is likely to be, or a set of conditions on which to base policy at any level – household, school, corporate or national policy.

Policy based on ‘the risk of the risk’?

It would be better to base policy on data that actually shows the likelihood of harm. That’s what we base decisions about crosswalks, stop signs and crossing guards on in school zones – the likelihood of an accident happening at certain intersections, a calculation we don’t have online, UK researcher Sonia Livingstone pointed out last fall. For example, when we’re talking about bullies online, we’re talking about “the risk of the risk,” she wrote. There’s the risk of bullying and then there’s the risk of harm that actually develops from this psychological bullying. Whether harm actually happens depends on a number of factors, including the target’s ability to shake off the harassment, get support from friends, and/or stand up to the bully, etc. Resilience levels have to be factored in, and of course the level of resilience or vulnerability is very individual, hard to generalize. Read more