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‘Game of 72’: Let’s apply a little ‘social norming’

This is a perfect example of why we need to apply what we know about social norming to social media panics. And in a rare show of levelheadedness from the news media, Global News in Canada helps us get there.

“The Game of 72 – a viral prank urging kids to disappear for 72 hours – is the latest in a series of risky pranks being done by kids and then shared to social media. But the prank, and others like it, may not be as common as many people think,” reports. It certainly acknowledges how scary this prank can be to parents dealing with it, especially those in the UK and France who’ had to – and this is why parents worldwide need to know about it. But not panic, for two reasons:

  1. The acting on it by kids probably isn’t as viral as irresponsible news media outlets would suggest.
  2. The powerful social-norming part of the equation: When we refuse to join in the fear-and-panic mongering, stay levelheaded and spread the facts as best we can, and work to change the perception from “everybody’s doing it” to “most kids aren’t doing this” or “most kids know this is a stupid, hurtful prank,” behavior changes.

“Confirmed instances of the game being played are rare,” continues. “It seems to have started in Europe with the disappearance of some teens in England and France and is believed to have made its way across the Atlantic,” but the piece links only to news over in Europe. Read it, though, because it links to other stupid, hurtful, short-lived “games” that went viral online. I wrote about the Neknomination one here, showing how good can go viral too, because neknomination led to raknomination, the spreading of random acts of kindness. There’s usually a flipside to online problems, but our brains get stuck on the negative side of things, as social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood at University of California, Davis, explained in a recent TEDx Talk.

I’d love to hear of examples of that in Comments below! You can read more about what we’ve learned from the social norms research here.

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Wise words on bullying from 11-year-old star of ‘Little Boy’

Remarkable actor Jakob Salvati is only 11 – and he was only 8 when he played the title role in the film Little Boy released today – but he already gets a core truth about bullying:

Little Boy image

Pepper (Jakob Salvati, left) eyeing his nemesis

“Usually the person bullying is someone who is hurting on the inside and hiding it,” he wrote me via his publicist.

Experts in juvenile justice get this too. At last summer’s national bullying prevention summit in Washington, D.C., a representative of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention called for trauma screening for students exhibiting bullying behaviors. So the OJJDP is saying what hasn’t been seen and acknowledged enough in this society: that kids engaging in bullying are hurting too, I wrote last August after participating in the summit. Do we stop bullying by punishing the aggressor or by healing – or at least screening for and acknowledging – the child’s pain?

Bullying is a theme that runs through the film, directed by Alejandro Monteverde. Set in a small town on the California coast apparently not long after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the story of a father and son separated by war is told through the eyes of 8-year-old Pepper Busbee, who’s bullied because he’s small for his age. Thankfully, the film also illustrates that bullying is not just “a kid thing.” A long-time Japanese-American resident of the town is bullied too – brutally – and the lives of the two victims become intertwined in a way that helps them both. Read more

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The universe in an app: Will youth create a trend within the trend?

The days of simple, single-use apps may be over. Or not, depending on the user, his or her context and a whole lot of other factors. But there is a bit of a trend among messaging apps. Not all apps – particularly the No. 1 messaging app, Facebook’s WhatsApp with 600+ million users – are part of it, though, so where you are in the world has been a driver of this trend so far.

(CC licensed)

(CC licensed)

The trend, according to the New York Times, is to offer messaging app users with just about everything but the kitchen sink: not just text, chat and photo-sharing, but shopping, games and so much more. The world’s No. 2 messaging app, WeChat by China-based Tencent, has a Yik Yak component (live chat for up to 500 people), a payment systems like Apple Pay or Snapchat’s Snapcash, hotel check-in with digital room key, appointment scheduling, prescription tracking, train ticket purchasing, Call a Chicken (for ordering food delivered to your house, presumably if you live in China) and more, the Times reports. Because Japan-based Line is built on, steeped in, providing and promoting pop culture, it’s a platform and offline world event organizer, not just an app, Fast Company’s description indicates. It’s hard to tell if the formula will work here in the West, but it does seem to be part of this trend everybody’s talking about. And Facebook Messenger seems to be moving in that direction, since CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Messenger is being opened up to app developers who want to “piggyback their own apps on top” of it, the Times reported, allowing Messenger to offer the rainbows of functions WeChat and Line offer. [See for more about the announcement.]

Kids will probably customize the trend

Our multitasking kids may like the multi-functionality, but I have a theory: They won’t only be users or consumers of multi-functional apps, they’ll be customizers of them. It just may be a trend within a trend: young users developing their own piggybacking apps for the app platforms of their choice, kind of like game mods or Snapchat geofilters (or remember how, in the last decade, younger users loved “pimping” their MySpace profiles, as they called adding their own design elements and apps that enhanced their profile visitors’ experience?). Read more

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Digital parenting: Individual, situational, contextual

It’s so interesting to see what British psychologist Sonia Livingstone zooms in on in American psychologist Lynn Schofield Clark’s book on parenting digital media users, The Parent App. Dr. Livingstone picked up on what I liked most about the book too: diversity and depth of insight. Dr. Clark interviewed “46 very different families” for a study that Livingstone calls “one of the most astute inquiries into the state of modern American parenting.”

theparentappThe diversity and insights into other families’ experiences and practices could well be comforting to parents, because we know that parenting is very individual (for the parent and the kids) and very fluid. It adjusts and calibrates to changing, maturing kids, to situations kids and parents encounter and to contexts both environmental and social. We also know that the digital parts of family members’ lives are just that: embedded parts of our communicating, relating, playing, working, learning, etc. So digital parenting, if there really is such a thing, is just as individual, situational and contextual as all the rest of it.

What’s just as individual but not nearly as fluid – thankfully – even across generations, is the bedrock of parenting: Read more

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The real privacy dilemma: Private or convenient?

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:

WatchApple “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

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Growing empathy: How VR could augment our humanity online reporter Dave Smith recently experienced social virtual reality – not the videogame kind anybody who has demo’d VR has experienced, where you find yourself in some exotic activity like standing on top of a skyscraper or snorkeling by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. And Smith says, “social is the killer app of virtual reality,” likely why Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion last summer.

Oculus Rift

Checking out Oculus Rift (CC licensed)

Imagine the fun of watching a World Cup game with fans from a dozen countries – or an inspiring TED Talk and being able to talk about it afterwards with friends or relatives on another continent. In “I finally understand why Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion,” Smith describes hanging out in a beautiful virtual zen garden and watching a football game with people at social VR startup AltspaceVR.

So big deal – why my headline about augmenting our humanity online? Two things:

1. How real 3D makes it. Smith writes that “hand gestures and head movements were being translated to VR perfectly in real-time. This was noteworthy to me: Even though it was a robot avatar, the gestures made it feel like I was really in a room with this person.” He and the other person could chat, fist-bump, watch a game and just generally share an experience in the same digital space truly almost as in physical space. “Even though it was a robot avatar, the gestures made it feel like I was really in a room with this person…. His head even subtly leaned forward when he laughed. Read more

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How brave commenters are growing the power of Lewinsky’s talk

“Together, we have the power to protect the most vulnerable among us.” There never was a truer, more urgent call to the world’s social media users. It’s from Nadia Goodman, TED’s social media editor, in a blog post about the digital aftermath of posting the video of Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk in the TED site. [This is a followup to my post on Sunday about the talk, which has gotten nearly 2 million views within a week of being posted.]

Nothing prepared Goodman for the aftermath, she writes, describing an “outpouring of negativity.” She added: “As I read hundreds of hideous comments, I suddenly realized I was being subjected to a tiny fraction of what Monica has experienced every day since she was 24 years old, essentially every day of her adult life.”

Then Goodman describes exactly how we turn this around: social norming. Participants in that thread of comments on the Lewinsky talk page showed us how it’s done. The “upstanders” – a word used by bullying prevention experts, and by Lewinsky herself, for bystanders who stand up for the person being victimized – stood up. Brave people who had positive things to say did so. The conversation on that TED page changed. And that’s how cruelty gets marginalized. Read more

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Social circles, more than social media, cause stress: Study

Social media itself doesn’t increase our stress levels, but our social lives can. We knew that, right? Caring about others can cause us stress when we see them suffering, and that’s one of the things social media does: expose our friends’ challenges.

PewlogoWe can probably extrapolate a few things about our children’s experiences from the Pew Research Center’s survey of 1,801 adults that explored “whether the use of social media, mobile phones and the Internet is associated with higher levels of stress.” It found that…

  1. “Overall, frequent Internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress. In fact, for women, the opposite is true for at least some digital technologies.”
  2. The not particularly surprising but confirming fact that “there are circumstances under which the social use of digital technology increases awareness of stressful events in the lives of others.”

So here’s the important takeaway that I’m seeing more and more in research findings, something we all – whether parents, policymakers or society as a whole – need to remember if we want to help our children use social media enrichingly: Most of the negative impacts people attribute to social media are indirectly related to social media and directly related to the people involved in a situation in social media. Read more

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Monica Lewinsky’s talk going viral: A sign

At some point yesterday, shortly after TED posted it, Monica Lewinsky’s 2015 TED Talk had about 198,000 views. One day later, as of this writing, it had gotten 644,394. I believe the reason for this is not just because we’re encouraged ourselves when someone has the courage to turn horrific public humiliation into social change. It’s also because of the timing of Lewinsky’s talk.

“There are two kinds of timing,” wrote Chin-Ning Chu in her 2007 book The Art of War for Women (based on Sun Tzu’s millennia-old guide to life as much as martial art). “One is personal timing…. The other is universal timing, which … is like running with the wind at your back…. When you are aligned with an idea whose time has come, you are unstoppable.”

Lewinsky’s courageous talk about replacing public humiliation with compassion online is aligned with both great suffering and a great need on the part of too many young people, parents, LGBTQ people, women, people of color, people of disability and other victims of online hate and harassment. Read more

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Thank you, Ashley Judd: Of fixing online hate & harm

Thanks to #AshleyJudd (you may’ve noticed that her Twitter handle became a hashtag this week), online harassment, bullying, hate and misogyny got the kind of exposure that could actually bring positive change to this global network of ours. It could do that because Judd is not only an intelligent, articulate, high-profile warrior against hate, she’s a warrior for healing. As a human race, we will not end the hate and cruelty online (and keep this global network useful to us) without doing two things: exposing it and healing it.

Ashley Judd (CC licensed)

Ashley Judd (CC licensed)

Judd is unusually effective in exposing it because of her deep understanding of the problem and solutions (personal and collective), her ability to communicate them and her being a huge basketball fan during “March Madness”! In a way, it’s beyond extraordinary what verbal violence a fan’s simple comment – the kind that any concerned fan would make when his/her players land bleeding on a court or field – brought down on her (see the Washington Post for details). In another way, it’s not extraordinary at all:

“What happened to me is the devastating social norm experienced by millions of girls and women on the Internet,” Judd writes in a powerful essay at Online harassers use the slightest excuse (or no excuse at all) to dismember our personhood.” Read more

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‘Disconnected’: Crucial book for closing the ‘ethics gap’ online

I don’t know about the millions of people in developing countries going online for the first time with mobile phones but, here in the developed world, something strange happened when we moved onto the Web nearly 20 years ago. It’s as if we checked our thousands of years of social-norms and ethics development at the door of cyberspace. Somehow we saw that space as “technology” and got stuck there – even as, more and more, we socialized, learned, created, collaborated, played, worked, shopped, gave, protested, helped and harmed each other in it. How is it not obvious how much we need those norms and ethics – how they protect us and make things go better in cyberspace too?

Disconnected book coverSomehow there was and still is a disconnect. That’s what I think an important new book – Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap, by Carrie James at the Harvard School of Education – is about. The result of six years of surveys and interviews with tweens, teens and young adults by the 14 researchers of Harvard University’s Good Play Project, Disconnected focuses on youth and “the moral and ethical sensibilities [they] bring, or fail to bring, to their participation on the Internet,” James writes.

But the book is also very much about our generation – parents, educators, policymakers – and how we approached the Internet and our work with young people using it. Citing the work of sociologist Christian Smith, James writes that the ethical blind spots he, his co-authors of Lost in Translation and her own research team found “point to larger sociological forces as well as the failure of adults to provide young people with ‘intellectual tools’ and other supports for thinking about and leading a moral life.”

Why the disconnect?

What caused that failure? A convergence of challenging conditions, from what I’ve observed over 17+ years as a participant/observer in the Internet safety discourse: a new kind of space that quickly went from connecting documents to connecting people; the rapid adoption of that fast-changing technology, with young people often the earliest adopters (and adapters of the media to their interests); mostly negative press; a series of moral panics (fear of the impact of tech on lives and societies, fear of the unknown); increasingly busy lives crowding out reflection time; and our own struggles to adopt connected media wisely and fold it into our policymaking at household, school and government levels. To name a few. Read more

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An uncle’s take on social media for kid users

The uncle in question, Nick Bilton, is also a tech reporter for the New York Times, so he’s got a certain 30,000-foot perspective on social media that can be helpful to parents (because, even when writing commentaries, [good] reporters have been conditioned to represent things dispassionately, which is helpful in the tech-parenting space).

So with his nephew Luca in mind, Mr. Bilton puts social media into three buckets. He actually calls them “three social media doors that you can unlock for a child,” but that may be a little optimistic. It assumes parents start with social media locked away, and as soon as there are playdates at other kids’ houses, parents can’t assume social media are not locked away. Not unless the other kids have parents with the same rules and controls in place and the same level of vigilance, which can put a strain on playdate enjoyment (of course, if the objective is to encourage kids to go out and play where there’s no social media, then control and surveillance work well).

So about those social media buckets: Think apps. Because Bilton’s categories are really for thinking about social media the way kids use it, which is wherever they are and mostly mobile. The three categories or “doors” he proposes (I’ll add a fourth) are…

  • The self-expression/self-presentation services/apps like Instagram, where you post stuff for people to like, retweet, comment, etc. He calls them “public sites,” but I think “public images sites” would be more accurate, because there are degrees of public-ness and pseudonymity, and I think the focus is more on self-expression, content curation and managing your public image.

Read more

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Russell Brand on ’50 Shades,’ porn & sexualized culture: Good questions

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?”

russellbrandHe 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.”

Read more

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A YouTube for the littlest video viewers

Think of YouTube Kids as digital training wheels for the little video viewers at your house – something a lot of parents have been wanting for a very long time. We all know how popular but not always appropriate YouTube is for kids. Problem solved. Designed for kids through age 8, YouTube Kids carefully screens videos so the littlest online viewers can satisfy their seemingly over-active curiosity safely.

YouTube Kids logoIt’s age group-appropriate in terms of content as well as how kids navigate the app. If they’re pre-readers, they can just tap, swipe or talk to pick a video to watch – they can browse or search by voice (even a whisper), whether it’s for how to learn or make something or just to be a couch potato.

What I like about YouTube Kids is how kid-customizable it is. It’s easy to use, and there’s so much content that there’s something for every Curious George. It’s fun but not all fun and games. There are four categories of content at the top of the screen, each with a cute icon that looks hand-drawn: Tap the screen and you get “Shows”; you get music by tapping the little boom box. Learning is representing by a lightbulb, and tap the little binoculars and you get to Explore. The familiar magnifying glass symbol off to the side gets you to voice or text search. Read more

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From public shaming to public compassion

The public discussion about “online reputation” has gotten darker, as “public shaming” appears in more and more headlines. We may think it’s tough to be a celebrity, having everything one does – good, bad or anything in between – go viral. But it’s even tougher not to be, if you post something negative online. Because when you’re not a celebrity, it seems only bad stuff goes viral, not just every little thing you do. A stupid joke, a callous remark, a cranky critical comment gets posted, and the non-celebrity can suddenly find him or herself judged by thousands or (depending on how outrageous the post’s seen to be by his/her new “public”) by millions. The public has no context, and so somehow you’re defined – either intentionally by someone who has it in for you or by a public seeking entertainment on a slow news day – by something bad you mindlessly or angrily said.


Creative Commons licensed

Not that this new set of conditions excuses callous or casually cruel remarks made online. But if jobs are lost, depression or self-harm happens, reputations are destroyed and the safety of the commenter and his or her family and friends is threatened – all of which has happened to people – it is at least legitimate to ask if the punishment fits the “crime.” That’s an important question raised in a book excerpt about public shaming in this week’s New York Times Magazine. It leads with the story of how a p.r. executive with a Twitter following of just 170 people became a global celebrity while she was on an international flight. That a racist comment, whether reportedly a joke or not, could be posted publicly and by a p.r. professional on the way to South Africa is astonishing, but so was the scale of the collective response.

Our humanity, not our technology

Since what happens in social media is much more about our humanity than our technology, we really need to think together about the punishment humanity is now capable of meting out. Read more

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Youth participation’s growing momentum

It’s exciting to see the signs of adult support for youth voices and participation multiplying. It’s important and it’s time. Here is just a sampler of this encouraging trend:

  • Photo from Australia's YAWCRC

    Photo from Australia’s YAWCRC

    Agency for citizenship. In Internet safety circles, we’re seeing increasing focus on citizenship (online and offline) rather than on safety alone – safety as a means to competent participation and expression in participatory media and a networked world. Digital and physical safety, or protection, is one of three categories of rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: protection, provision and participation (see this on the “3 P’s” and this on citizenship). As for why active participation, or agency, is so important for our children, Prof. James Paul Gee at Arizona State University, put it better than I ever could: “People and institutions will have to be resilient and change with change. They will have to gain very real skills with critical thinking and complexity in order not to be dupes and victims of the rich, corporations, media, and governments. They must become activists, knowers, producers, and participants and plug into and play with the right team of people and tools” (as quoted in’s MindShift).

  • Born brave. Through research, events for youth, its Youth Advisory Board and continued learning, the Born This Way Foundation is talking about innovating ways to support young people “where, when, and how they need it,” writes its Research Advisory Board chair, University of Nebraska psychology professor Susan Swearer, in the Huffington Post. The focus is on support and support delivery mechanisms that are both meaningful and useful to youth, rather than on the adult supporters and legacy systems and tools, Dr. Swearer writes. Also in keeping with young people’s wishes, as they and I have heard from youth, the Foundation is focused more on empowering something – “the social and emotional well-being of our youth” – than on just stopping something: bullying and social cruelty, which debilitatingly focuses attention on people as perpetrators and victims.

Read more

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Of student digital privacy & schools demanding passwords

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

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Sexting & the plummeting teen pregnancy rate

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.

Chart showing 38.4% decline in teen pregnancy 2007-'13

The biggest decline is among women under 20 (far left). [See the full-size chart at]

“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, 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

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‘State of the Union’ & the student part of student privacy protection

There’s a lot of confusion in the air about student data privacy, and some widely quoted words about it from President Obama in his address Tuesday night didn’t help (but I suspect his speechwriters were just looking for a spot to put a high-priority topic into “a simple, dramatic message about economic fairness,” as the New York Times put it:

(Creative Commons licensed)

(Creative Commons licensed)

“No foreign nation, no hacker should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.”

Today’s privacy protection mashup

Where kids’ data is concerned, the problem is not foreign nations or hackers, it’s a blend of elements much closer to the kids and their devices, as close as the kids themselves, their peers, their devices, the providers of the devices and the software on them and the authorities in their lives (at home and school). So the solution is a mashup too. Not even “only” a mashup of laws and privacy settings (on devices, from social media companies, in operating systems or in the apps that run on them). It’s not just distributed across those non-human parts of the privacy equation; it’s distributed among the people who are party to a social experience in a digital space.

Because of the social nature of media, privacy is personal and social and fluid. It’s shared by all parties to that social situation. It needs to be optimized not just protected – by all the moving parts – especially by the user at the center of those concentric circles of privacy protection: in this case, your kid.

Protection from the inside out

How can we help our kids do their part, consciously and skillfully, in the optimization of their own privacy? First of all, we can’t continue to see or represent them as passive beneficiaries of others’ actions to protect their privacy. Part of protecting them is respectful treatment of youth as active participants in today’s participatory privacy equation – as is developmentally appropriate, of course.

Read more

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