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Friday, April 20, 2007

Irresponsible sites: Web 2.0's other darkside

Worried parents may find some comfort in seeing the list of teen-safety improvements MySpace has made (see Business Week). But parents also must be aware that there are many social sites besides MySpace, some showing little to no corporate responsibility – if there are even corporations behind the latter type of site. Take for example, a public wiki (mocking where public and private individuals are being parodied and bullied. Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use emailed me and other child advocates this week about a person she'd heard from who'd been victimized in this site, which says in its disclaimer, "We take no responsibility for any of this." Not just the parody site it purports to be, it encourages trolling (inciting insults, flaming, bullying, defamation, etc.) and jokes about rape. Referring to this site and the page someone created about her, the person who emailed Nancy for help wrote, "There are hundreds of offensive and hurtful pages on there…. 99.9% of the information is obviously ridiculously false. What really kills me is the portrayal of my having been sexually assaulted as a big hilarious fabrication. That doesn't belong in my life…." For more on this, please see this week's issue of my newsletter.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

YouTube winners' stories

Want to get a feel for the best of YouTube (to see what your kids see in this runaway Web phenomenon)? Meet the winners in the Best Comedy, Most Adorable, Most Inspirational, and Best Series categories of the first-annual YouTube Awards. Carol Montsinger at USATODAY got a bit of the backstory from the winners themselves. You might call this the best of the user-driven Web. Here's the Associated Press on the program. Meanwhile, the New York Times recently reported on a study that found YouTube is much more grassroots, more about videos like the above than about copyrighted video clips of movies and TV shows.

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Teen social networkers' safety practices

Good news about teen safety practices on the social Web this week – surprisingly good to adults persuaded by the very negative hype about social networking in the news media this past year. A just-released study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that "the majority of teens actively manage their online profiles to keep the information they believe is most sensitive away from the unwanted gaze of strangers" and other adults, including parents, of course. "Less than 10% of teens say they're actually presenting … their first name and their last name on their profile," Amanda Lenhart, the study's lead author, told Larry Magid in an interview for CBS News. "Add on to that their city or town and the name of their school and the number drops even lower. So it's a very, very, very small number of teens who are actually posting info that can really allow them to be identified online." Other key findings in the 55-page report: "Some 55% of online teens have profiles…. Of those … 66% say their profile is not visible to all Internet users." Of those who do have public profiles, "nearly half (46%) say they give at least some false information. Teens post fake information to protect themselves and also to be playful or silly." The study also reports that 32% of teens receive some kind of online communications from strangers, but not necessarily on a social-networking site. Amanda pointed out that "stranger" can mean a variety of things, from bands to unknown friends of friends to people with bad intentions. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they ignored or deleted those contacts; 21% "responded so they could find out more about the person"; 8% responded to say "leave me alone"; and 3% reported the contact to a trusted adult. There were dozens of news stories covering this around the world by the end of its release day. Here's the Associated Press in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A social networker's good thinking

In, a young commentator tells of a social Web-enhanced "schoolgirl error" gone very wrong – "the case of 17-year-old Rachael [name deleted for her privacy]… who claims that her MySpace account was hacked and that her innocent advert posted for 60 of her friends was doctored to invite the world and his dog to her house party…. And we all know what happened next, hundreds of young people descended on her parents' house to do all sorts of nasty things to it while no doubt necking rather cheap booze. There is a lesson for all of us there." It's refreshing to hear a younger person advise against too much self-exposure on the social Web for a change, but this is also some of the first coverage I've seen about the risks of indiscriminately sending out bulletins to large numbers of fellow social networkers. Another pitfall for them to be aware of: making their calendars public (with dates and locations of places they'll be) – we write about this in MySpace Unraveled (shameless plug).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How social sites can help kids

These might look like a couple of those rare boy-bites-dog stories, but I think the news media are beginning to pick up on a story that was always there. First, the Safe School Ambassadors Program uses social-networking techniques to combat bullying. It IDs social influencers in San Francisco schools, meets with them, and tells them that with influence comes responsibility. The premise is that if a school's top student influencers say bullying is not cool, a large number of other students "will change their behavior because they will have to conform to a new norm," a program spokesperson told San Francisco's CBS 5. More than 450 schools have used the Safe Schools Ambassadors program since 2000, CBS 5 adds. The other article from McClatchy Newspapers, points out that there is a lot to be learned about our kids from their profiles and blogs if we have access to them (which usually requires open parent-child communication lines), and social-networking profiles can present "very public warning signs from troubled kids" to parents, mental-health-care professionals, educators, and researchers.

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2 great child-protection updates

A mom and New York Times writer recently got herself up to speed on online child protection and wrote a meaty but refreshing account. "I found out, for example, that most of the Internet search engines, like Google, AOL and Yahoo, have a simple process allowing you to set strict, moderate or no filter on your search engine to weed out explicit sexual content," she writes, pointing to a free, very basic and easy safeguard any parent can employ (here are simple instructions at GetNetWise). She found some other great sources of advice, including about helping our kids develop the filter between their ears, but she also looks at all the control some parents want to have over their kids' online experience and how their kids feel about it. The Christian Science Monitor recently did a thorough update too, linking to some of the best software tools now available but also finding that "the best parental control is still a parent." CNET also recently ran a huge multi-piece update on kids' Net safety.


R-rated media & teens: FTC study

Ads for R-rated films may not be appearing around TV shows targeting youth, but they're definitely appearing in Web sites that do. Then there's the proliferation of unrated DVDs on video store shelves. "Despite industry controls, buyers from the ages of 13 to 16, unaccompanied by adults, were able to purchase tickets to R-rated films in 39% of their attempts, and successfully bought unrated or R-rated DVDs 71% of the time," the New York Times reports. These developments are contributing to what a new Federal Trade Commission study found to be an erosion of "the entertainment industry’s promise not to entice youth with violent fare," according to the Times. The FTC says “general compliance with existing voluntary standards" is pretty good, but the entertainment industry is giving enough attention to applying them to "evolving marketing trends.”

Monday, April 16, 2007

Net communications at Va. Tech

Administrators used email and students used Facebook as, in many cases, their only means of sending and receiving information fast in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in modern US history, ABC News reports. The death toll was 33 by late Monday night, the Associated Press reported. With phone and other communication systems jammed, "many people turned to social networking sites to try to connect with friends, family and loved ones." ABC cites a MySpace user sending out a bulletin asking if they knew about six people she listed (presumably at Virginia Tech) and a Facebook user who "suggested that all others [on Facebook at Virginia Tech] update their profiles to say 'I'm OK'.... For the most part, the comments posted online were from people sharing their prayers and sympathies." Along those lines, see also and the Los Angeles Times. Reuters and CBS analyst (and co-director) Larry Magid zoomed in on Facebook's role in helping Virginia Tech students (here's Larry's audio interview with Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief security officer).

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Older students help littler ones

This makes enormous sense: Middle and high school students teaching elementary level ones about online safety – simply because kids look up to teenagers so much. Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Steven Del Negro told Channel 9 News that there was growing demand from grade schools to present to students about online safety and there just weren't enough officer-trainers to go around, so he found an alternative that was just as cool. "Del Negro said for the new program he had student teachers - a freshmen honors English class from Drury High School - work with him, prepping the presentation. It includes interactive activities on how to deal with online predators." I bet soon these trainers will be folding in the wisdom that comes from first-hand experience with that other key online-safety topic: cyberbullying (see "Predators & cyberbullies: Reality check").

Highly mobile child porn

Child pornography images are being stored on increasingly portable devices and so are getting harder to find in investigations – from flash drives to cellphones, law enforcement officials say. Still, it is being uncovered. "Of the nearly 125 child porn cases annually investigated by Bergen County prosecutor's detectives, the majority now involve some sort of digital storage media," reports. It adds that "they've confiscated digital storage as mundane as burned CDs and as crafty as a ballpoint pen that unscrews to reveal a flash drive." Flash drives (those little digital storage devices people carry on their keychains) are most popular, a few months ago, investigators from the Texas Attorney General's Office raided a home and "found an iPod containing videos of child pornography." Meanwhile, the US Congress has been much less effective than law enforcement in combating this horrific crime. "Two recent legal cases [involving the Child Online Protection Act and the PROTECT Act] illustrate overreach and ineffectiveness by Congress in a worthy fight," according to a Los Angeles Times editorial. In related news, the UK's Internet Watch Foundation found in its annual review that online child porn "is becoming more brutal and graphic, and the number of images depicting violent abuse has risen fourfold since 2003," the Associated Press reports.