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Powerful lessons for preventing bullying & cyberbullying

It’s October already, so National Cyber Security Awareness Month (#NCSAM2014) and National Bullying Prevention Month have arrived – offering a good reminder that, in today’s increasingly user-driven digital environments, digital safety and security depend on all Net users of all ages. Care and respect for each other’s property, privacy, identity, emotional safety and digital security – just about every online representation of us and our lives – increases our own and those of our peers and communities. Today I’ll focus on the human side of security, marking the start of this high-awareness month with a sampler of all we’ve learned about bullying online and offline….

Crowded school hallway

Photo by Kate Ter Haar (CC Licensed)

So much wisdom and sound practice has emerged since social media reignited concerns about social cruelty – by making it more visible, not more common, than ever. [In fact, research released by the US Centers for Disease Control this past June shows a small decrease in cyberbullying between 2011 and 2013. Last year it was down to 14.8% of students having experienced “electronic bullying” in the 12 months prior to the survey, which means a huge majority – 85.2% – had not been cyberbullied during that year.]

We know so much more now, from the prevention to the intervention parts of the solution spectrum. First and foremost, we know that all solution development needs input from students themselves.

It has been quoted before (including here), but I’ll quote it again: “We,” wrote the authors of the milestone Youth Voice Project that surveyed more than 13,000 US students in grades 5-12, “are concerned that too much work in this field has focused on adults telling youth what bullying is and what to do to address bullying behavior.

“In reality, youth are the primary experts on what is happening at school and on what works best to prevent peer maltreatment…. We see authentic youth involvement as key to success in bullying prevention.” This has been expressed in European and Australian research circles too.

Here’s just a sampler of other game-changing insights research has turned up since the advent of “cyberbullying”:

  • Bullying’s not normative, but social rivalry is. A study involving 3,722 8th-to-10th-graders in three North Carolina counties looked at the social pecking-order aspect of the power imbalance involved in bullying, introducing a shift in focus from individual to social context. For another perspective on this, see psychologist Carl Pickhardt’s piece in
  • One-time meanness more common than the repeated kind: For both offenders and targets, “experiencing one episode of bullying is more common than experiencing bullying repeatedly,” the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center reported, in the results of an important study of students in grades 3-5. One-time meanness could be many things we all experience, not just bullying: e.g., an expression of stress, anger or frustration, an outburst on one side an argument, a prank or act of misguided humor, etc. (and technically, it’s not even bullying). In a reference to resilience building, MARC added that, while “efforts to control bullying may often be successful, it is also possible that many children learn, from one episode, how to avoid future episodes.” And more on resilience…
  • No resilience without risk: ” “Risk and resilience go hand in hand, as resilience can only develop through exposure to risks or stressful events,” reported EU Kids Online. “Consequently, as children learn how to adequately cope with (online) adversities, they develop (online) resilience.” More thoughts on how to grow resilience in this about a TED Talk by game designer Jane McGonigal and this one by her sister, Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal.

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Mobile rules in the US now too

It’s now clear that, where Americans’ use of digital media is concerned, mobile rules. “The days of desktop dominance are over,” declares top digital market researcher comScore in its latest mobile app report. Smartphones and tablets represent 60% of Americans’ digital media time, and “the fuel driving mobile’s relentless growth is primarily app usage, which alone makes up a majority of total digital media engagement at 52%,” comScore adds. And the amount of time Americans spend in apps was up 21% last month over August 2013, TechCrunch reports, citing data from mobile researcher Localytics.

Apps in the categories of music (79%), health and fitness (51%), and socializing (49%) saw the biggest growth in time spent in them (part of music’s increase reflects a move away from iTunes to apps such as SoundCloud and iHeartRadio). TechCrunch also cites Nielsen data showing that, as of the last quarter of 2013, we’re spending “an average of 30 hours a month” in mobile apps and on average have 26.8 apps installed on our mobile devices.

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What are we really seeing in the social media fishbowl?

As a society, we’re getting closer to the heart of social media safety, which is largely, not entirely, a blend of emotional and social (psychosocial) safety. This thoughtful piece by Prof. Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center – “Bullies or Best Friends? The Challenge of Interpreting Interpersonal Relationships” – raises some important questions for parents and school staff as well as researchers to consider, and I’d like to help get more discussion going. Here are some possible talking points:

  • Who’s the adult here? In an intriguing way, Justin illustrates an important point about how the behavior of a bunch of adults in a classic “real world” situation is really not that different from what goes on among teenaged friends hanging out in digital spaces. How much do we think about that when we observe teen group dynamics online?
  • “Best friends or worst enemies?” Whether it’s a group of adults or kids, offline or online, it’s often really hard to tell if the ribbing’s mean or just in fun – even when you’re a participant, much less someone on the outside looking in. Are observers honest with themselves about how little context they have? It’s hard to tell…
  • Where the line is drawn. “Most of the comments were accompanied by laughter by many in the group, including the one being roasted, which may have masked the maliciousness,” Justin writes, referring to that real-world experience. “We’ve learned through our conversations with teens who bully that a lot of bullying behaviors are done by young people who think they are just joking around.” Maybe by a lot of adults, too – some of whom, young or old, could be socially challenged or disabled. And young people, by definition, are figuring all that out as they go. Can we give them a chance to do that?
  • That definition problem again. Justin writes, “I don’t believe that bullying can be done unintentionally. Even though someone’s feelings can certainly be hurt without intent. Bullying by definition is deliberate.” Do parents and school staff think about that enough? Sometimes hurtful remarks, whether made online or offline, are mistakes, sometimes insensitivity, sometimes made in a fit of anger and of course sometimes meant as a joke. None of that is bullying or cyberbullying. That doesn’t mean that it’s ok, that it doesn’t call for an apology or shouldn’t be made right, but it’s not bullying and should be addressed with communication first, not punishment. (I’m not speaking for Justin, of course. This is my view.)
  • The social media fishbowl. Now that group dynamics play out so publicly in social media, they get more scrutiny and judgment than ever. But how much can we observers – those of us with no context on those dynamics, such as parents or school administrators watching from outside the fishbowl – know what the intention or impact of the behavior we see is? How much do we factor our lack of context into our investigations and conclusions when the dynamics seem negative or harmful?

It’s time for the public discussion about online social dynamics to get less reactive and more thoughtful. It would be very helpful, to observers as well as participants, to take what we see in social media with a grain of salt. Snap judgments from context-challenged observers are not only not helpful, they can create problems and increase harm. Respectful, open-minded communication is needed in our responses, seeking participants’ perspectives on what was going on before any conclusions are reached or actions taken.

Related links


Spoiler alert: Kid loves teaching Twitter to Dad

I never do movie reviews. But Chef is totally on-topic for NetFamilyNews, and not because some families have foodies in them. It’s because there’s a scene that illustrates better than anything I’ve seen on film how sweetly and respectfully social media can be folded into parenting. Sure, as in this scene, it can be a little bumpy and awkward at times (like parenting, like being a kid), but when done with honesty and love, we can’t really go wrong, and we need to remember that.

Photo from the film Chef

A less than meaningful father-son moment for Percy: Chef teaching kid about the merits of fruit (photo from the film Chef)

The scene is about 30 min. into the film. And the story leading up to it is about Carl Casper, a divorced, devoted dad and master chef whose parenting is distracted and career threatened by a risk-averse restaurant owner. One night, a foodie blogger’s brutal review of his food, his menu and him goes viral on Twitter. Chef Carl – played by Jon Favreau, who is also the film’s writer and director – doesn’t understand what happened or what going “viral” means, so he turns to his 10-year-old son Percy the social media expert for help in what’s portrayed as the first undistracted, meaningful exchange Percy’s had with his dad since Dad “left home.”

The text can’t possibly do justice to the actors’ treatment of father and son (Emjay Anthony) roles, but here it is anyway, a perfect example of the sweetness that can come from turning the tables and letting our kids school us in the social media apps and services they love:

Dad: You know about Twitter?
Kid: Yeah, I have an account.
Dad: How does it work?
Kid: It’s cool.
Dad: It’s cool? That’s how it works, ‘it’s cool’?
Kid: You tweet on it.
Dad: Is that like texting?
Kids: Nah. Read more


At the IGF: Youth participation = greater youth e-safety

One of the best things about participating in the Internet Governance Forum is seeing the growing youth participation in sessions about their online protection. And one of the best things I’ve heard so far, after just 1.5 days of the IGF here in Istanbul this week came from Danish 15-year-old Olivia in a session about “Child Online Protection” where there was much discussion about technical, legal and parental control of children’s Internet experiences:


IGF 2014 participants Olivia (left) and Silke taking a media break (their sponsoring organization is Save the Children Denmark)

“This is our world, the Internet we’re talking about here. You have to be with us in the world. You can’t keep us away from it. You have to talk with us about it…. You have to help your children instead of trying to control them [emphasis hers].”

Safety takes practice

This was in response to the moderator asking for a teen participant’s perspective on the discussion up to that point. Olivia later told us of a friend whose 3rd-grade teacher – someone who was “qualified,” i.e., literate in the technology and media popular with her students at that time – led a discussion with her students about how they felt people should treat each other online. Her friend told her “there haven’t been any [cyberbullying] problems since” that discussion. Her point was, young people need and want thoughtful, caring guidance from informed adults, and that, not restriction, is what keeps youth safe – that as well as their own growing resilience and literacy, of course (see below for more on the literacy part). There hasn’t been enough discussion, much less acknowledgment, in online-safety circles about young people’s own skills in keeping themselves and peers safe in connected media.

“Safe” is what’s felt in a community of guided practice, whether it’s a family or a school (if children aren’t fortunate enough to have this at home, it needs to happen at school and in digital environments). This is sound, child-centered safety education: when students receive respectful guidance through facilitated discussion and opportunities to practice what they learn (in digital environments, where digital safety’s concerned), knowing that caring adults are there when backup’s needed. We need more communities of guided practice online too – that’s what children’s virtual worlds and online games need to be. Read more


Enabling peer protection: Knowledge is empowerment

From infancy on up we learn what’s right and wrong, based on our families’ and, later, peers’ values. That’s important. It develops that inner guidance system – or “moral compass,” as it’s sometimes called – that makes for safer, smoother navigation through life. But that isn’t all kids need as they grow and find their own way online and offline. In order to be safe, keep peers safe and make things right when they see something very wrong happening, they need solid information.

In a magazine article out of Australia, Nina Funnell and Dannielle Miller, authors of the new book Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships, give two graphic examples – one in Boston, the other in Adelaide – of how important it is for young people (and all people) to have accurate information, especially about sexual harassment and assault, in order to help each other stay safe at school, in public, on the mobile platform, etc. They wonder if the reason why some bystanders witnessed but did not report or stop an alleged sexual assault in these incidents was because some didn’t recognize it for what it was. They hadn’t been supplied with the information they needed to take action.

What makes people intervene

So here’s some basic information for parents and educators who want to enable peer support and protection among young people: The authors write, “According to research, the main factors which determine whether or not a person is likely to intervene in a situation such as a sexual assault include: Read more


Millennials’ changing social media use: Survey

It’s hard to believe the high end of the Millennials age bracket is over 30 already! The Pew Research Center’s definition says they’re all adults, putting their age range at 18-33 (check out Pew’s 6 distinguishing characteristics of this generation), while has a range of 14-32, a huge spectrum, considering 14-year-olds have just started high school and lots of 32-year-olds are already in the thick of their careers.

Ypulse chart

This Ypulse chart is tough to read, but the colors, from the top down, represent Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Vine (for millennials overall between 1/13 and 6/14).

But I’m sure almost all millennials use social media in some way on some platform, and Ypulse tracks their use as it changes with a bi-weekly national survey of 1000 14-32 YOs -year-old Millennials nationwide” that helps it keep up with that rapid change. Here are some highlights, some of which are busting some myths that have developed:

  • Facebook going strong. Reports of FB’s death among teen users are “greatly exaggerated,” as the popular misquote of Mark Twain goes. “We’ve seen the network dip slightly in popularity, but overall maintain its position as the No. 1 network that they say they use – by far,” Ypulse says. That’s all millennials. That just changed this year for the younger ones….
  • YouTube No. 1 for 14-17 YOs. Ypulse says YouTube and Facebook just swapped positions this year, with 89% of this age group saying they use the former, “compared to 80% who say they use Facebook.”

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Heard of Twitch? Amazon has!

If you have gamers at your house, you probably have heard of Twitch – especially if they like to either play, or watch other gamers play, while the play’s being streamed live on the Web and everybody tuned in is chatting about it. Some people call it YouTube for gamers. In fact, Google, YouTube’s owner, was rumored to be acquiring it last spring. But it has just been confirmed that Amazon is – to the tune of $980 million, according to

Twitch logoGame livestreaming is huge. “In July, more than 55 million unique visitors viewed more than 15 billion minutes of content on Twitch, which is supported by advertising,” StreamDaily reports. The community has some 1 million gamer-broadcasters, it adds, “including individual gamers, pro players, publishers, developers, media outlets, conventions and e-sports organizations.” The Twitch’s broadcasters with the biggest followings, called “partners,” get a share of the ad site’s ad revenue and can sell subscriptions to their channels. There are 5,100 partners.

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Dealing with the nasties online

Pondering positive ways to deal with online negativity seems to be a trend – maybe even a blooming social norm! Because, in response to social cruelty like the recent tragic trolling of Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda Williams, other people sympathized, defended her and started thinking of ways to counteract cruelty like that. Negativity grabs our attention more than positivity, New York Times commentary “Dealing with Digital Cruelty” pointed out yesterday, which doesn’t mean the former is more prevalent, but it does spark creative countermeasure development.

troll dolls

One kind of troll, anyway. (Photo by Tomi Knuutila. CC Licensed)

The article offered some strategies for people targeted by nastiness online, ways to stay stable and grow resilience, some of which sound a lot like the kind of wisdom handed down since long before there was an Internet (I’ll add a few I’ve learned too):

  • Not when you’re down. For goodness sake, don’t read online “feedback” when you’re feeling vulnerable (actors have been considering this one for as long as there’ve been theater reviews).
  • Sad comment on the commenter. Know that the nasty comments are often as much (or more) about the commenter than the commentee.
  • Turn it into the joke that it is. Read mean comments in a goofy voice – alone or in a group of friends, turning the nastiness into silly drama the way Jimmy Kimmel does with celebrities on his show in a “Mean Tweets” segment that makes the comments laughable.

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Leadership in bullying prevention and so much more

We need to prevent and solve bullying. No question. But we also need to encourage and empower our children with the knowledge that most kids don’t bully, that bullying is not normative – that, in fact, kindness is. As Dr. Marc Brackett at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence said Friday at the federal government’s Bullying Prevention Summit in Washington, “Children are wired for good,” and I’ll add that they deserve to know that. Out of basic respect, they deserve to hear that truth. And there are other reasons why they do….

Scaring kids with the misinformation that most kids are socially cruel in social media does not change behavior for the better; it perpetuates the problem, social norms research shows. Because perception greatly affects behavior (see this), and we want to model media and social literacy for our children by telling them the truth – the facts as stated in study after study – that goodness is normative. If we want to change behavior, change perception away from destructive headlines and political messaging that bullying and cyberbullying are an epidemic. They are not. Besides, fear-based messaging, University of Toronto researchers found, changes behavior only if the scary messaging is relevant and actionable (don’t most people say to themselves, “I’m no bully!,” making messages that say bullying is out of control irrelevant to them; and doesn’t sending the message that bullying is normative discourage rather than empower a person to do something about it by making a kind person feel abnormal and disinclined to take action?).

Leadership Day resonates

How fitting that educator Scott McLeod’s tech education Leadership Day should be the same day as that of the Bullying Prevention Summit. Because, with regard to bullying, educators and school administrators need to exercise leadership in two ways: by making sure students get the facts – what the research shows – about bullying and by making sure they are safe and empowered as users of digital media by arming them with the three literacies of their (and our) very social, mostly digital media environment: digital literacy (providing for effective use of digital tech and media), media literacy (providing critical thinking and thus protection in the face of misinformation, hyperbole and politicized messaging, among other things) and social literacy (providing them with the social-emotional skills that protect them and help them protect peers in social media and all other social spaces). These are the literacies that enable citizenship and success in our networked world. Read more


Kindness really could be going viral! Just look…

The use of kindness as a conscious, very effective grassroots solution to bullying is picking up steam. Where youth are concerned, sometimes the kindness is purely their idea, such as the kind intervention of two high school upperclassmen that sparked Canada’s Pink Shirt Day and students’ anti-bullying countermeasures in Iowa in 2012. Other times the impetus comes from teachers and school officials supporting student leaders. Here are three examples, two on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, of the latter….

  • TBK logoTBK in Florida. Short for “To Be Kind,” TBK started three years ago with the help of award-winning educator Adam Sherman, when he was teaching a Leadership class. In this blog post about it by professor, author and Cyberbullying Researh Center co-founder Sameer Hinduja, Sherman gives some background as well as some insight into why it’s hard sometimes for students to go from being bystanders to upstanders. But look at the creative way he and his students came up with “TBK,” as described by the students: “After a long class discussion, someone suggested using social media as a way to help solve the bullying problem rather than make it worse. We decided to use the already trending idea of “tbh” (to be honest), where users on Facebook can like someone’s status and then receive an honest statement from him or her. Using the same format, we changed the idea to “to be kind.” Users still take part by liking a post on someone’s page. Then the original poster is supposed to give a compliment or write words of kindness on the wall of whoever liked the status. To Be Kind, or TBK, is a simple idea: Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Every one of us possesses the ability to be kind. This simplicity is the answer to preventing bullying.” I so agree.
  • icanhelp logo#icanhelp in California. Started by high school Leadership teacher Matt Soeth and middle school phys ed teacher Kim Karr in northern California, #icanhelp is pretty self-explanatory – and viral. As Matt put it in an email, “Our mission is all about empowering and enabling students to respond and combat negativity in their lives and in social media. We have done well in California [and] we have a few places we have reached out to back east in South Carolina, Tennessee, and upstate New York. We will be in Canada [this] fall. Most of our workshops/trainings are through teachers we have gotten to know in our work as leadership advisors.” But they only sort of started this program. “Almost by accident,” Matt and Kim “stumbled across kids behaving positively and supporting other kids online. When we asked them why they stood up for other students we were told it was because of conversations in school about what to do when negative posts/comments are made,” Matt explained to me by email. So they play a supporting and bridging role – bridging the program over summer vacations, providing continuity as students graduate and helping to promote the program at other schools and among adult peers (Kim’s got 12 school assemblies lined up for the coming year already). You can find icanhelp – and help from them – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Here’s an article about #icanhelp in the Huffington Post by Internet safety activist Sue Scheff.

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More clarity on teens’ ‘Am I pretty?’ videos

The thoughtful New York Times story begins with a 13-year-old New Jersey girl posting her “Am I pretty?” video on YouTube. I won’t steal its thunder, so I hope you’ll read it. But I do want to highlight the points most helpful to parents of young teen girls:

Stick figure in mirror

By Tsahi Levent-Levi (CC licensed)

  • Ages 13-15: “Nearly all the people in these videos” are in that age range.
  • Developmentally normal: The videos’ sources are in that age range because that’s “when children struggle to understand how their emerging selves might fit into the larger picture.” They’re exploring and developing against that backdrop instead of the family one.
  • “Objectivity” via YouTube. To them it represents the general anonymous, unbiased global population (they’re right about general and anonymous, not so much about the unbiased part, as we know).
  • See it in context. The question is not just a gender thing. It’s not runaway narcissism or superficiality. It’s about what their society and media culture say about the importance of appearance.
  • Education needed! They may’ve been born with the Internet in their houses but they were not born understanding the consequences of using it in various ways.
  • It could become self-harm. Some young people are self-destructive and need extra vigilance and care where digital media is concerned. An “Am I pretty?” video can start as the posting of an honest question and then lead to self-destructive encouragement of the kind of social cruelty that typically turns up in comments.
  • Getting in front of the bullies? The Times suggests that some of these videos are “a pre-emptive strike against bullying, a way to say hurtful things about themselves before others can” or a show of bravado, a way to show that they can hack it.
  • It’s not all trolls. There are some helpers on YouTube too. The Times reports that, “like so many big sisters, a handful of video bloggers have responded with their own clips, explaining to girls why they should stop seeking validation from strangers – or shaming the commenters who insult them” (the Times links to examples, so check out the article).

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A bit of videogaming is good for kids: Study

What?! A little videogame play a day is actually good for children? That’s what an Oxford University researcher found in a study of 5,000 UK 10-to-15-year-olds that looked into both the positive and negative impacts of videogaming. “Young people who spent less than an hour a day engaged in video games were better adjusted than those who did not play at all,” the BBC reports, citing the study published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

Little gamers

Photo by Sean Dreilinger (cc licensed)

The study’s author, psychologist Andrew Przybylski, also looked at the effects of two other levels of videogame play. What he called “moderate play” (1-3 hours a day) turned up neither positive nor negative effects, and kids who played 3+ hours a day “reported lower satisfaction with their lives overall.” Overall, the Times of India adds in its coverage of the study, videogaming’s influence on children, positive or negative, “is very small when compared with more ‘enduring’ factors, such as whether the child is from a functioning family, their school relationships, and whether they are materially deprived.”

Play & social wellbeing

Those were the other factors Dr. Przybylski asked the respondents about to get at gaming’s influence, the BBC reports: “satisfaction with their lives, how well they got on with their peers, how likely they were to help people in difficulty [and] levels of hyperactivity and inattention.” He looked at the children’s responses against their levels of gameplay to see how different levels affect psychological and social wellbeing. Read more


Virginia teen sexting case: (Somewhat) reduced injustice

It was a picture-perfect example of how a law intended to protect children can be used to victimize them. But the juvenile judge didn’t comment on the perversion of justice – or the prosecution’s victimization of a teenager by ordering police to photograph the boy’s genitals and threatening even more abusive treatment. He just eased the punishment meted out to the boy (his girlfriend was not charged) in this teen sexting case that was by all accounts consensual.

Although Judge George M. DePolo said he found “facts sufficient on both [felony child pornography] counts” to convict, the Washington Post reported, he “suspended imposition of any ruling for one year, placed the teen on probation, and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service and have no access to text messaging or social media of any kind. Thankfully, he also said, “The defendant shall not be placed on the sex-offender registry or any similar lists.”

The boy’s attorney, Jessica Harbeson Foster, said, “This is a law to protect juveniles, not to prosecute them, not to create more harm,” according to the Post. But somehow Judge DePolo didn’t see it that way. He put nothing on record about the prosecution’s “outrageous abuse of power and … unfathomable violation of this kid’s privacy,” as Post blogger and author Radley Balko put it last month in a post entitled “We must destroy the children in order to save them” providing some case history on sexting by minors.

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‘Revenge porn': Exposing cruel disclosure

This is a sidebar to my earlier post about social norms as one of the solutions to social cruelty online, zooming in on one form of it.

camera“Revenge porn” needs to be understood and exposed for what it is so it can be neutralized. Its power to harm will lessen as we stigmatize the shaming rather than its victims.

So let’s be completely clear about what revenge porn is: malicious distribution of someone’s nude or sexually explicit photos without his or her consent.

Focus on distribution, not creation

According to University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks, the more accurate term is “nonconsensual pornography” – because it’s “disclosure of private, sexually explicit photos or videos” without the consent of the person whose images are being disclosed, she said in a talk at the National Network to End Domestic Violence‘s (NNEDV’s) Tech Summit last week. “Legally and ethically, the focus should be on the disclosure, not the creation, of the images.” Why? Because it’s the disclosure that harms. In many cases the images were created consensually by both partners or by the person who is later victimized by his or her partner (with “selfies,” the distribution of which California’s “revenge porn law” absurdly doesn’t address).

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Zooming in on social norms

This is a sidebar to my earlier post about social norms as one of the solutions to social cruelty online – in case readers would like a little more definition.

Social norms are practically super powers. As I mentioned in my main post, this doesn’t occur to us much because, well, these are norms, after all – part of the wallpaper, socially speaking. They’re everyday behavior based on intangibles like a family’s, peer group’s or community’s values, habits of thought and living. They can be good or bad, of course, depending on the particular group, but the bigger the group the better the norms are, typically, because pro-social works better for more people than anti-social behavioral norms do.

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Beginning of the end of #purge, revenge porn or social cruelty?

We so want to believe it: that the fact that Twitter and Instagram are actively taking down #purge-related accounts signals “the tipping point of this particular phenomenon – and its end has begun,” as professor, author and cyberbullying expert Sameer Hinduja writes in an informative blog post.

purgeIt’s very possible we’re seeing the tipping point of this week’s hot Hollywood premiere-inspired digital-social-cruelty phenomenon. The number of posts and tweets with hashtags containing the word “purge” – associated with the just-released sequel of last year’s “gimmicky … violently satirical chiller” about one state-sanctioned day to “release the beast” within, according to Hollywood Reporter’s review of the 2013 original Purge film – just may be going down.

Let’s hope. We want that tipping point not only because of the cruel thinking and behavior on display in those tweets and posts but also because of the impact we know they can have on some of the people targeted by them. As Dr. Hinduja describes the #purge phenomenon, some users are “mouthing off in malicious, cruel, and offensive ways (typically against others),” and “the most troubling subset of participants are posting nude pictures of ex-girlfriends and others they wish to humiliate and demean (including those who are underage).”

The real problem

But let’s be clear on what we want stopped and how that can be done. What we’re seeing, here, is only the latest sick manifestation (#purge) of the problem: “malicious mouthing off,” revenge seeking, misogyny, abuse, public humiliation, etc. acted out in a user-driven, global medium – the digital versions of attitudes and behaviors that have been acted out in all kinds of places for a very long time, maybe in cave drawings (their increased exposure may even now be increasing and accelerating their marginalization).

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For our kids & ourselves: Presence in a digital age

Presence has never been harder or more needed – in this age of hyper transparency, connection, opinion and information, all in a media environment that’s networked, so that “speed of delivery” is a calculation of the past (it’s all just here already). Presence is needed by adults as much as children. It means different things to different people, including “attentiveness,” “focus,” and “mindfulness.”

Photo of teacher and child

Photo by bandita (CC licensed). This is one present teacher – see her description of this photo.

I think of it as being consciously present – fully here – in this moment and with the person(s) and action in and of this moment. That can be at a kitchen table, in a videogame, a phone conversation, a board game, a lecture, an exchange of text messages or a deep philosophical debate. There is a certain peace or comfort in this conscious focus, a bit of distance from the drama and fire hose of incoming information and plain old noise.

Loving attention

Psychologist Kellie Edwards uses the word “mindfulness” in an article in the Huffington Post, pointing to a 2010 study showing that “the most important thing we can do for children is express love and affection by supporting and accepting them, being physically affectionate and spending quality one-on-one time with them.” [See “The Parents’ Ten” on p. 49 of this pdf of an article by the study’s co-author Robert Epstein in Scientific American.]

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Manage Net risk but focus more on opportunities: Researchers

That’s what the authors of the latest “Net Children Go Mobile” report conclude: It’s great that the UK is “in many ways … leading in children’s Internet safety,” but “complacency would be ill-advised” and this success could be leading to a new kind of risk: reduced opportunity in and with connected media for British children.

“By comparison with some other European countries, the UK appears to prioritise minimising risk over maximising the opportunities of the internet,” the authors write, pointing to reduced opportunities for civic engagement and creative use of digital media, less “age-appropriate and stimulating content” for younger children, and more restrictions on digital media use in school. “Henceforth we suggest that managing risk should continue to be important, but that greater effort should now be devoted to optimising the benefits of the internet for ever more children.”

Here are some of their key findings: Read more


Proposed ‘rightful’ framework for Internet safety

Internet safety is a basic right of Internet users. But it’s not the only one. There are other fundamental rights that Net users of all ages have, and I propose that Internet safety will actually serve all Internet users better – and have much more relevance to the younger ones in our homes and schools – when we put it in context, in a framework of online rights.

UNICEF logoIt’s a framework for all users’ rights that was actually established in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it leaped out at me while reading a paper by social psychology professor Sonia Livingstone in London and media professor Brian O’Neill in Dublin about how the Internet interfaces with the UNCRC: “Children’s rights online: challenges, dilemmas and emerging directions” (pdf).

Minding Minors book“The three Ps”

Safety is one of the UNCRC’s three core principles, or “three Ps”: “protection, provision and participation rights.” For the first 20-or-so years of the “Internet safety” discussion in most developed countries, the focus has largely been on the Protection rights. We parents and educators need to give equal weight to children’s Provision and Participation rights, and I believe that our efforts to teach children safe, effective use of connected media will have more authenticity for them when we do.

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