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Friday, June 29, 2007

A mom sues RIAA back

Tanya Andersen, former target of a recording industry lawsuit for copyright theft via file-sharing, is suing back for malicious prosecution, reports. Her suit, filed last week in a US District Court in Oregon, “accuses the RIAA of a number of misdeeds, including invasion of privacy, libel and slander, and deceptive business practices.” The RIAA’s case against her was dismissed earlier this month. Here, too, is a Wired blog post on the subject.

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Teens' digital story

Amanda and Nick’s final project as high school seniors in the Chicago area this past spring was a digital storytelling assignment. They were asked to “tell a story in digital video about “what it meant to be an American and to tell the world about that. Move beyond the rhetoric, the politicians and the media. Speak as a kid. What do you have to say to the world?” writes their teacher and Instructional Technology Coordinator David Jakes. He also writes that he was blown away by what they came up with (you can play the piece right in his blog post at “So this is the kind of work kids can do. Given the opportunity, and with some guidance and hard work, they rise to the occasion. And when we hear about kids not caring, not wanting to do quality work, just look at this story, because it’s good. Very good. And when kids are characterized as lazy, and only concerned about their cell phone, mp3 player, or text messaging, just look at this story. This isn’t self-absorbed, it’s not spontaneous, it’s thoughtful and reflective. It’s what an 18 year old should be capable of, it’s what we should be teaching kids to do.”

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China's videogame sweatshops

If someone at your house plays World of Warcraft and you want to understand the appeal or the ins and outs of this 8 million-player virtual world better, don’t miss “The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer” in the New York Times Magazine. It’s one of those stories that transports you almost to another planet, because it’s about China’s “gold farmers,” usually low-20-something professional gamers making sweatshop wages to do the tedious in-game work that gets their clients (gamers mostly in North American and Europe) into higher levels in the game by earning them “coins.” “Every World of Warcraft player needs those coins, and mostly for one reason: to pay for the virtual gear to fight the monsters to earn the points to reach the next level. And there are only two ways players can get as much of this virtual money as the game requires: they can spend hours collecting it or they can pay someone real money to do it for them.” But that’s only the beginning of the story.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Web video's dueling giants

Watch out, YouTube: Now there’s MySpace TV. Then again, watch out, MySpace: YouTube is adding social-networking features. MySpace Video is morphing into “an independent Web site ( that people can visit to share and watch video, even if they have not signed up for MySpace,” the New York Times reports. And even though it will “offer some new ways for members of MySpace, which attracts 110 million users a month, to more easily integrate the videos they create and watch into their personal profiles,” the focus reportedly will be more on professionally produced video. “For example, last week MySpace became the exclusive site for Sony’s ‘Minisodes’ - five-minute versions of ‘80s sitcoms like ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ and ‘Silver Spoons’.” Meanwhile, the Times reports, YouTube is testing a new tool that allows “YouTube users to chat while they watch the same clip and share their favorite videos.” As for audiences, MySpace TV launches “in 15 countries and 7 languages, much like YouTube’s own foray into nine countries announced this month,” and YouTube says more than half its audience is now overseas.

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96% social networking

That’s 96% of US teens and tweens, participating in a social-networking site at least once a week, according to a study by teen market researcher Alloy Media & Marketing. “Youngsters are now spending nearly as much time online as they are watching television, and many multitask,” Alloy found. “However, they’re four times more likely to be concentrating on what they’re doing online than on what’s happening on the television.” Parents may also be interested to know how these young social networkers respond to marketing, according to the survey. It needs to “enhance or facilitate their social-networking experience,” offer them tools for self-expression, e.g., widgets to enhance or customize blogs or profiles. As for the huge 96% figure, in her latest paper on the social Web, danah boyd suggests that the percentage of US teens who are “truly active” in social sites “is more like 50%” (see my feature next week for more from danah).

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cyberbullying in the US: Fresh insights

About a third (32%) of US online teens, or some 8 million kids, have been cyberbullied - girls more than boys (38% vs. 26%) and older girls more than younger ones (41% aged 15-17 vs. 34% aged 12-14). That’s according to a national survey the Pew Internet & American Life Project just released. Interestingly, despite all we hear about Internet-based harassment, the respondents told Pew they’re more likely to be bullied offline than online. More than two-thirds (67%) of the 12-to-17-year-olds Pew/Internet surveyed said that, while 29% said bullying happens more online, and 3% online and offline equally (I probably would’ve been among the 3% saying it was both), bullying and harassment happen more offline than online.

The study found that the online version of harassment, “depending on the circumstances,” can fall anywhere on the annoyance spectrum from “relatively benign” to “truly threatening.” Toward the more damaging end of this Richter scale are tactics like “receiving threatening messages, having private emails or text messages forwarded without [one’s] consent; having an embarrassing picture posted without [one’s] permission; or having rumors about them spread online.” The most common tactic experienced among the four Pew asked its respondents about was “someone taking a private email, IM, or text message you sent them and forwarding it to someone else or posting it where others could see it,” for example in a profile or blog.

Pew/Internet asked the teens why people bully online, and they gave four basic answers: that the Net is just another venue for a fact of adolescent life, the convenience and access technology provides, the anonymity of the Net that encourages bullying (psychologists call this “disinhibition”), and the intolerance that fuels bullying. In this digital age, study author Amanda Lenhart writes, “the impulses behind [bullying] are the same, but the effect is magnified.” We’re of course talking about sites with millions of members where the “publisher” loses control of the content the minute it’s “published,” which means the damage can be broader in scope and can last much longer (see social media researcher danah boyd’s view on this in the bullets below).

In addition to the phone survey, Pew/Internet conducted focus groups with teens. Parents might want to note one of the anecdotes shared by a 15-year-old boy in one of the groups: “I played a prank on someone but it wasn’t serious…. I told them I was going to come take them from their house and kill them and throw them in the woods. It’s the best prank because it’s like ‘oh my god, I’m calling the police’ and I was like ‘I’m just kidding, I was just messing with you.’ She got so scared though.” A 16-year-old New York boy was recently arrested and pleaded guilty for making a similar threat online concerning a teacher (see below).

One of the most important online safeguards for youth going forward is critical thinking – thinking through the implications of their actions online so they can avoid embarrassment, victimization, and even arrest for actions that never saw the light of day when we were kids!

Related links

  • What’s different online: In an interview with last winter, social media researcher danah boyd (who prefers her name lower-cased) explained what’s different about socializing (and bullying) online: “persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences. Persistence - what you say sticks around. Searchability - my mother would have loved the ability to sort of magically scream into the ether to figure out where I was when I'd gone off to hang out with my friends. She couldn’t, thank God. But today when kids are hanging out online because they've written [themselves] into being online, they become very searchable. Replicability - you have a conversation with your friends, and this can be copied and pasted into your Live Journal and you get into a tiff. That creates an amazing amount of ‘uh ohs’ when you add it to persistence. And finally, invisible audiences. In an unmediated environment, you can look around and have an understanding of who can possibly overhear you. You adjust what you're saying to the reactions of those people. You figure out what is appropriate to say, you understand the social context. But when we're dealing with mediated environments, we have no way of gauging who might hear or see us, not only because we can't tell whose presence is lurking at the moment, but because of persistence and searchability.”
  • On disinhibition: “Social intelligence & youth”
  • Online threats: The New York teen who made threats against a teacher in a YouTube video.
  • The survey’s URL again: “Cyberbullying & Online Teens”
  • A sampler of the worldwide coverage of this study: in India, The Times in the UK, in Ireland, and the AP at CNN in New York.


  • Video threats: Teen pleads guilty

    This case might come in handy for parents looking for a way to get across that kids really can’t say anything they want to on the social and media-sharing Web. A 16-year-old in New York who was accused of threatening his math teacher in an online video “pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of aggravated harassment,” the Staten Island Advance reports. He was arrested in May for “asking in one of his video blogs that someone ‘put a bullet’ in the neck of his math teacher, who gave him a failing grade.” The Staten Island district attorney’s office said the boy would be sentenced in August to 15 days of community service and three years' probation.

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    Teen hacker arrested

    A Belgian 17-year-old had some fun boasting that he’d hacked into the federal police Web site but the tables were turned when the police announced he’d been arrested within 24 hours of the hack. After succeeding in temporarily shutting down the police site, he left “a mocking online note which helped identify him,” Agence France Press reports. The boy was picked up after a search of his home in a Brussels suburb, then released the same evening. He’ll “later be summoned to appear in a minors court.”


    Tuesday, June 26, 2007

    Real charity in virtual world

    The virtual world of Second Life has a population of about 7 million (one-third Americans), and the populace is about to be exposed to a discussion about philanthropy. The MacArthur Foundation has given the Center on Public Diplomacy of the University of Southern California $550,000 to stage events in Second Life, including discussions of how foundations can address issues like migration and education,” the New York Times reports. Nonprofit organizations are setting up shop in Second Life and staging fund-raising events. The American Cancer Society has “raised real money with virtual walkathons,” according to the Times – a few hundred avatars walked and raised $5,000 in 2005, and $82,000 has already been raised for this year’s walkathon, which hasn’t even started yet. I think there should be a similar discussion in Teen Second Life, where there would be an equally strong response, and wonder if has thought of this.

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    'Videogame addiction' update

    The committee of the American Medical Association that proposed designating videogame addiction as a mental disorder like alcoholism “backed away from its position” even before debate on the subject began at the AMA’s annual meeting, Reuters reports. Instead, the committee “recommended that the American Psychiatric Association consider the change when it revises its next diagnostic manual in 5 years.” Reuters adds that later, during the debate, addiction experts “strongly opposed” such a designation. Listing “videogame addiction” as a mental disorder in the American Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders would “ease the path for insurance coverage of video game addiction.” Excessive use of videogames affects about 10% of players, according to Reuters. Here’s’s coverage.

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    Monday, June 25, 2007

    Take Two game controversy

    Take Two Interactive, creators of the Grand Theft Auto series of videogames, is embroiled in controversy again. It has suspended the release of its latest product, Manhunt 2, “because of a rating controversy in the United States and a ban in Britain and Ireland,” the Associated Press reports. The Entertainment Software Rating Board gave Manhunt 2 a preliminary rating of Adults Only, which can really put a damper on sales since stores like Wal-Mart won’t even put AO games on their shelves, and Nintendo and Sony “said their policies bar any content rated for adults only on their systems.” The game is about “the escape of an amnesiac scientist and a psychotic killer from an asylum and their subsequent killing spree,” the AP adds. “In the Wii version, the console's motion-sensitive remote is waved around to control a virtual murder weapon.” The game was supposed to be released in the US on July 10 for the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2 consoles. Meanwhile, Sony apologized to the Church of England for using one of its churches as a backdrop for one of its games, the Associated Press earlier reported.