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January 26, 2007
Here's our lineup for this last full week of January:
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Teens' fight video: Closer look
Probably like many such incidents, the cyberbullying case involving four Long Island, N.Y., teenage girls and - it is now being alleged - the victim's boyfriend has turned out to be a real puzzle for parents, police, and school officials to solve (see last week's issue).
We find in "A family stunned," a later, more in-depth report from Newsday, that the victim says she first met her attackers when they approached to attack. The attackers say they all knew each other and the victim and her boyfriend encouraged them to fight with the victim (the boyfriend allegedly videotaped the fight). The mother of the victim did say, as did the police, that the fight had "revolved around a boy." The mother also said that only after the video appeared online did her daughter tell her about the attack (bearing out research showing that only 11.3% of cyberbullying victims tell their parents - see below). The attackers' lawyer told Newsday the whole thing was staged for airing on MySpace, YouTube, and Photobucket, where the video appeared. Suffolk County Executive Steven Levy says parents need to be as concerned about cyberbullying as online sexual predation. I think he's right, not because sexual predation isn't a risk, but because research will probably soon show that a great many more children will be affected by cyberbullying than by predation. We have research now on half that equation: more than one-third of US kids have been cyberbullied, and that doesn't even include those who have caused or witnessed an incident.
Now that video-sharing is a key ingredient of the social Web, there's an important new question parents, educators, and police will be asking bullies, victims, and bystanders now in cyberbullying incidents: Was it real or manufactured for YouTube (or some other social site)? Because they're so public now, pranks and jokes have much more serious consequences - not just bigger audiences, but what they cost in terms of the time and resources used to react to them. The more public they are, it seems, the more resources go into their resolution. The results of this exposure are good and bad, of course. Bad (one example): Whole schools have been locked down after a student "as a joke" threatens violence to other students. Good: Tragedies can be averted; children crying out for attention the wrong way can get the right kind of help; and, increasingly, parents and educators will know how bullying can happen online and alert their children to the potential consequences; and school policies and laws will be updated for better handling of such incidents.
On that last point, take for example the role of bystanders in the Long Island incident. "While other students [not in the fight] are seen on the video watching but doing nothing to help, [the superintendent of schools] said their inaction was a legal gray area that would be difficult to codify in the school's code of conduct," Newsday reports, adding that the superintendent said there's nothing in the code that says bystanders have to do something about what they see. That code will probably be revised. And parents need to help their kids understand the difference between "bystanders who are part of the problem" (like those in the Long Island teens' video) and "bystanders who are part of the solution," as Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use puts it on p. 4 of her Parents' Guide to Cyberbullying.
Online bullying is also shaping up to be a bigger problem than offline bullying, research is showing. "Last year, when professors Justin Patchin [of University of Wisconsin] and Sameer Hinduja [of Florida Atlantic University] conducted an Internet survey of about 1,400 young people, 34% of the respondents reported having been bullied online. 'The accepted norm is that maybe 10% to 15% of kids are bullied in real life'," Patchin told McClatchy-Tribune. Here are other key findings in the 2005 Patchin-Hinduja study of some 1,500 US teens:
Readers, if you've dealt with cyberbullying at your house or school, tell us how you worked through the incident - email me anytime (email@example.com) or post in our forum, BlogSafety.com.
- 33.4% said they'd been victimized through cyberbullying and 36.3% that they had personally witnessed their friends bully others in cyberspace.
- Among those victimized, the most frequent types of cyberbullying victimization include being ignored (43.2%) and disrespected (39.8%). "Importantly, almost 5% were scared for their own safety.
- 59.7% believe that online bullying is as bad (or worse than) bullying that occurs in real life.
- 41.5% who were cyberbullied did not tell anyone (in person) of their victimization.
- 38% told an online friend. "Perhaps evidencing a distrust or disinclination to tell authority figures is the fact that only 11.3% told their mother or father, and only 3% told a teacher or other adult."
- In less than one-fifth (19.2%) of the instances did the situation get better for the victim when he or she told someone else.
- Cyberbullies tend to rationalize their behavior in certain ways. Half (50%) justify it as being done in fun, as being instructive (22.2%), or as an indirect tool used to strengthen victims (13%).
* * * *Web News Briefs
- Dispelling 2 social-Web myths
Social media researcher danah boyd is doing parents of online socializers a real service. Through countless quotes in news stories and many speaking engagements, she's helping us understand what's really going on in social sites. Don't miss an interview with danah (who prefers to have her name uncapped) at AlterNet.org, where she dispels two widespread myths about teens' use of social sites. Myth 1: "that everybody is on there to meet people, and everyone is on there to engage in social networking.... It has [more] to do with constructing or presenting your social network, showcasing it, showing it off, engaging in the status around it," danah says, rather than meeting new friends. The latest research bears this out - see my 1/12 feature about the latest study. Myth 2: "that kids are in grave danger just because of participation. The risky behavior is not putting information about yourself online, which is what most adults think. We do not have a single case related to Myspace where someone has been abducted. We've had plenty of press coverage of these things, and every single one of them has proven to not be an abduction, but a runaway situation, or the kid was abducted by their noncustodial parent."
danah also told interviewer Kate Sheppard that there are two "clusters of kids" who use social sites: 1) "You have kids who are getting all they need in terms of validation and status, and everything else from school, peers in the physical world, peers from church, summer camp, activities, school, those kinds of obvious physical environments" - the kids just replicating all that online - and 2) the much less common type: "the marginalized and ostracized kids who are actually actively seeking out a community of peers online because they don't have one offline." The latter are the kids online-safety advocates and offline experts in all forms of at-risk teen behavior really need to focus our efforts on going forward.
- A shift in media attention
"Building a safer MySpace" in Business Week this week represents what looks to be a turning point - or the beginning of one - for MySpace. The corporate responsibility it has been showing is getting into the headlines now too. Joining all the coverage this week of the site's launch of Amber alerts, its new email-verification feature (requiring real addresses, not made-up ones), and the feature that's something of a firewall between users who register as under 18 and those who say they're 18+, Business Week focuses on chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam's child-safety efforts and the "perfect storm" of parental-concern creation I told writer Paula Lehman he and MySpace faced last year. The first major "storm condition" Paula didn't mention (I think I told her) - besides a flood of scary media coverage and a mid-term election - was that parents knew nothing about social networking (and their kids weren't inclined to fill them in). As for other safety measures implemented, see a brief rundown from the Associated Press this week. It doesn't mention MySpace's project to verify and block sex offenders by creating a national sex-offender registry and a supporting federal law in the works (see 12/8/06) or the parental-notification software tool I mentioned last week. Meanwhile, international expansion continues, with news of the launch in a few months of Spanish-language MySpace Mexico. CNET reports.
- 'Generation We'
CNET writer Stefanie Olsen tells of 7-year-old Gabriel, who's bored with TV because he can't do anything with it. He and the rest of his generation are growing up with the assumption that media is something you create, customize, and share - that media is both a self-expression and a socialization tool. It's not that TV's going away or kids are losing interest in it, it's that they're really losing interest in the way we adults used TV (passively). Here's Stefanie's example of how Generation We uses TV - "what MTV Networks is doing with its teen-targeted digital cable channel, The N. It produces television shows that air on cable, but its audience can stream the shows via the Web through its broadband player, The Click. On the site, kids can use a so-called video mix masher to take a scene from a show, put a comment on it and add other scenes ... to create their program. Part of it is what The N calls 'vomenting,' or adding commentary to shows via text blurbs or audio." (note that sound - music - is also commentary to teens).
- Unrestricted Net music?
Who would've thought?! Contrary to what they said in the past, the major record labels "are moving closer to releasing music on the Internet with no copying restrictions," according to the New York Times. Reporting from Cannes, at the recording industry's annual international trade fair, the Times adds that at least one of the four major labels could start selling unrestricted MP3 files "within months." Independent labels have been selling unrestricted MP3s for some time as a marketing tool, but the majors have resisted doing so, thinking digital sales of copy-protected files at online stores like iTunes and Rhapsody would make up for losses to online file-sharing. They haven't. So the major labels have been experimenting with unrestricted MP3s and streaming, and change is in the wind.
- 'Storm worm' hits family PCs
The worm looks like it was a perfect storm of social engineering, actually. Just as severe storms were sweeping Europe, users got an email saying something like "click here to get the latest weather news," CNET reports. There were six waves of these emailings over the weekend, and the other parts of this perfect storm were that "each new wave of emails carried different versions of the Trojan horse," and the viral code was "pretty much undetectable by most antivirus programs," CNET added. Computer security firm F-Secure told CNET hundreds of thousands of family PCs around the world could've been infected, which turns them into "zombies" (computers controlled by malicious hackers for spamming, denial-of-service extortion, and other ways of making money). Anti-virus software is no longer total protection (if it ever was). Tell your kids to be very careful about what they click on or download. And don't be smug, Mac users, security flaws have been found in Macs too. For example, a critical one discovered earlier this month that "can be exploited if the Mac user has enabled an option in Safari to 'open safe files after downloading'," CNET reported earlier. Mac patches are being worked on too - see this CNET interview.
- MySpace: Newsy week
The two biggest headlines this week are MySpace's lawsuit against a major spammer and its partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to publish Amber Alerts on the site. On the anti-spam front, the suit was filed against Scott Richter, "who allegedly sent out millions of unsolicited 'bulletins' ["newsy" messages to entire friends lists] to MySpace members," CNET reports. According to MySpace, Richter gained access to users' accounts via phishing schemes, then used the site's bulletin feature "to churn out unsolicited messages that advertised" all sorts of products. Richter was similarly sued by Microsoft in 2003. Under the second headline, MySpace today (Tuesday) will start broadcasting Amber alerts in the profiles of members who live in the community where a child has gone missing, the Associated Press reports. The alerts "will appear in a small text box at the top of a user's portfolio. The user can click on the box for more information, including a photo of the missing child and a description of the suspect." Meanwhile, PC World looks at whether the families suing MySpace "for sexual assaults against children who met offline with people they'd been in contact with on the site" actually have a case. Here's last week's coverage on this and a legal commentary on a similar case filed in Texas last June.
- Europe on violent videogames
The European Union is looking into whether to establish continent-wide curbs on violent videogame sales "amid worries that national controls are too lax," the Associated Press reports. It'll be interesting to see if free-speech concerns will carry as much wait in Europe as they have in the US, where federal courts in a number of states have struck down anti-videogame laws on constitutional grounds. " Most if not all EU governments have in place parental advisory rules and voluntary agreements with games makers and retailers to prevent the sale of violent or other adult games to those under 16." Germany's Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said an inventory of EU members' national bans and ratings will soon be posted in a Web site, and the EU would be consulting with other countries about greater international coordination. In other videogame news, two bills "aimed at restricting games deemed to contain violent or racist content from minors" have been proposed in New York State, Gamasutra reports, and Reuters reports on a US university professor's urging of schools "to consider using videogames as tools to better prepare children for the work force."
- Net-related curbs for kid TV
TV shows and channels whose audiences are children 12 and under can no longer show the Web addresses of "sites that contain any links to commercial content," CNET reports. Just exactly what that means is kind of complicated, apparently. "Never mind that recent visits to NickJr.com and Noggin.com, online properties of kid networks, turned up more advertisements for Tylenol cold medicine and Nissan minivans than for anything youth-targeted," according to CNET. It says even some children's advocates say the TV shows themselves are pretty ad-like, displaying "the toys and edible goodies endorsed by their stars." But the new rules, which went into effect January 2, are meant to keep broadcasters from using children's shows as billboards for Web sites that are just interactive ads, so the FCC's heart seems to be in the right place. Read the article for details but not a lot of clarity.
- U. students on social networking
Students at the University of Wyoming surveyed fellow students about their social networking habits for a student discussion on the subject sponsored by the Dean of Students and other university offices. According to the Laramie Boomerang, the discussion covered everything from identity theft to privacy to social networking's impact on studying (84% of the 50 students surveyed in the Student Union said online socializing distracted them from "homework" or "studying"). One student offered a Native American perspective: "She said reservations can be isolated geographically, so social network sites are a chance for students to meet other Native American students from different areas and different tribes" (the university's Multicultural Resource Center was one of the conference's sponsors).
- Winning social sites
There are now so many kinds of social-networking sites that it's possible to have SN awards with multiple categories. In the Mashable blog (all about the social Web), the 12 categories of the Social Networking Awards of 2006 included "Mainstream & Large-Scale Networks" (MySpace won); Social Bookmarking (digg.com); Sport & Fitness (FanNation.com); Photo-Sharing (Flickr.com); and Social Shopping (Etsy.com). Each category also had "People's Choice" and "Hot for 2007" winners; for the general category that MySpace won, Multiply.com was the "People's Choice," and the sites deemed hot this coming year were Bebo, Vox, Facebook, and Facebox. This whole page on Mashable is packed with information for anyone seeking a crash course in social networking. In the mainstream media, PC Magazine gave Vox.com its Editor's Choice in both the blogging and social networking categories.
- BBC's virtual world for kids
As widely reported, the BBC is jumping on the social-networking bandwagon (see Reuters), and this week there's news of the first example. CBBC, the BBC for 7-to-12-year-olds, is joining the likes of Whyville.net and ClubPenguin.com in opening a virtual world for young people, the BBC reports. CBBC says it'll be like Second Life without chat, virtual money or ecommerce, or the ability to build new islands or other user-generated real estate. But kids will be able to create their own avatars, or online characters, interact with each other's avatars, and "create and share content." The CBBC expects to launch the online role-playing game or world this summer.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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