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Friday, July 27, 2007

Juvenile sex offenders & Net registries

As if to punctuate an important New York Times Magazine article on juvenile sex offenders this Sunday, CNN reported that two 7th-graders in Oregon were charged with felony sex abuse after running down a school hall after lunch, swatting "three to four" girls in the rear end (the mother of one of the boys said in an interview that one of the girls had done the same thing to her son earlier but hadn't been charged). A student hall monitor took them to the principal's office, and they were later taken from school by the police in handcuffs. They were held in juvenile detention for five days, according to the CNN report, and they face up to 10 years' detention. Under Megan's Law, if they're convicted as sex offenders, they could be placed in a public sex-offender registry for life.

A decade or so ago, probably the harshest punishment immature, impulsive behavior like this would've received would be school suspension, maybe expulsion. But times have changed. Our children are living in a time when such behavior can lead not only to arrest and adjudication but also public notification via online sex-offender registries. And some parents – thinking minor's records are sealed, kids need to learn lessons - are unwittingly exposing their children to this new reality. The New York Times looks at all aspects of this in "How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems?"

Here's the current environment for kids deemed sex offenders:

  • "Juveniles are subject to the same [sex offender] registration requirements as adults without the benefit of a jury trial or similar protections."
  • "At least 25 states apply the sex offender community notification law to juveniles," which means "their photos, names and addresses and in some cases birth dates and maps to their homes" are in public Web sites for any school peer to find and ostracize them with (kids love to "stalk" each other - do casual background checks on each other - in social sites; see this).
  • "States that have excluded adolescents from community-notification laws may no longer be able to do so without losing federal money" - within about two years from now. So the other 25 states may follow suit.
  • Under the 2006 Adam Walsh Act, a teenager adjudicated for a sexual offense "will remain on the national [sex offender] registry for life. He will have to register with authorities every three months. And if he fails to do so — not an unlikely prospect for some teenagers, especially those without involved parents — he may be imprisoned for more than one year."

    All this even though for more than 100 years minors' records have been sealed from public view by juvenile courts. That was long before we even knew that adolescent brains aren't fully developed until people are in their mid-20s. "The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control, moral reasoning and regulating emotions - the things that adolescents lack when they decide, if they make a conscious decision, to molest a younger kid," the Times reports, citing the National Institute of Mental Health.

    Ninety percent or more of young people who have been through the courts for sex offenses won't become adult rapists or pedophiles, according to an expert the Times interviewed. The recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders is "about 10%," compared to 25-50% for adult offenders (50% or higher is the rate for "the most serious offenders"). Not all, but many of these young people are "naïve experimenters," a term therapists use for "overly impulsive or immature adolescents who are unable to approach girls or boys their own age; instead they engage in inappropriate sexual acts with young children," sometimes because they have been abused themselves, the Times reports. And then some of these - "how many is unclear" - are in the legal system "for what some therapists would say is 'playing doctor' or normative 'sexual experimentation',” inappropriate behavior that has always been a part of teenage reality but is getting reported and adjudicated a lot more now.

    A huge problem is the fact that we - society - know almost nothing about the impact on minors of placing them on public registries on the Web, at the same time that research is beginning to show that they are different from adult offenders in several ways. One thing we do know: Public humiliation tends to marginalize people, particularly adolescents, which in turn tends to harm more than help kids and society. Check out the article to see how they're different, to see how and why minors need different kinds of treatment from what adult offenders receive, and to read the stories of individual teenage boys and girls who have been adjudicated for sexual offenses.

    Related news

  • Arizona's new sex-offender law. Starting in September, registered sex offenders in Arizona will have to disclose their social-networking and instant-messaging screennames as well as their email addresses because of a new law in that state, the Arizona Republic reports. "Anyone can go to the state government site and search an individual or screen name against its database" of sex offenders.

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  • Professional & personal lives online

    It's all getting kind of muddy online for grownups. For the pioneers of social networking - teenagers and 20-something just starting out their careers - it wasn't such a big deal. They didn't make the distinctions we make between "lives." They, especially teens, experimented with different persona, but that's just it. The persona were experimental, not established. Now that we adults are getting into social networking, and social sites are proliferating and specializing (or settling into niches), fortunately we have some choices: We can have our professional social networking, our extended-family social networking, our music social-networking, but we are also having social networking dilemmas. Take Washington Post tech reporter Rob Pegoraro's experience with Facebook, for example. For him, Facebook started out to be "purely recreational" and kind of solidified in his head as such. Then co-workers started friending him. Okaaaaay, he could maybe get used to that. But then p.r. people in his business circles but not personally known to him wanted to be "friends." Hmmm. The problem is, Facebook has become what you might call the hip (a "social-networking" site that has always been about professional networking), so plenty of people 30+ are now doing professional networking on it. Facebook does have "at least 135" privacy options. "Yet not one of these options allows you to categorize Facebook contacts as close or distant friends." It' getting a little tricky. See p. 2 of Rob's article for his conclusion.

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    Thursday, July 26, 2007

    Web video's hot

    Web video is quite the trend, and not just for online youth, though young people are on the lighter side of video-viewing. Three-quarters of all 18-to-29-year-old Net users in the US have watched videos online, and 60% of all US Net users have, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, citing a just-released study by the Pew Internet & American Life project. A fifth of Net users watch videos online "any given day" (one-third in the 18-to-29 category), the Associated Press reports. "On a typical day, 19% of US Internet adults watch some form of video. News ranked first and comedy second overall." Younger ones go for humor, older Web video viewers prefer news. "Half of video viewers ages 18-29 watch clips on YouTube, and about 15% cite MySpace. Only 7% turn to a cable or network TV site," according to the AP. But in spite of YouTube's popularity and all the homemade stuff on it, most video viewers - more than 60% - still prefer professionally produced video. High-speed Net access is a factor - 74% of broadband users watch or download online video, Pew/Internet found. Here's the Pew study.

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    MP3 Barbie

    Is it the Barbiepod? She has just as many outfits as the Barbie your mom knew and loved, but she's probably more appealing to the little female digital natives running around your house. Because she's a music player, and when her feet are plugged into the docking station, "she unlocks pages and pages of games, virtual shops and online chatting functions on the Web site," the New York Times reports. This is kind of the tao of Webkinz, the new way to both market and sell "Web-enabled products" to Web-enabled kids. "Instead of asking young Web surfers to punch in their parents’ credit card numbers, and other sites are sending customers to a real-world toy store first. Some of these sites (like the Barbie one) can be used in a limited way without purchasing merchandise — the better to whet young appetites - but others, like the popular Webkinz site, are of little or no use without a store-bought product or two (or three, or a dozen)." Then there's, which allows users to design their own jewelry, picture frames, etc., with Spotz that are like charm-bracelet charms or buttons (the button maker can be purchased for $24.99 at a real-live store). Both sites are about personal expression - decorating oneself, site characters, and/or spaces.

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    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    People-tracking phones

    If you'd like to know more about global-positioning-enabled phones,'s Larry Magid surveyed the scene for the New York Times. He looks at the various child-tracking phones and services from Verizon Wireless, Sprint, Disney, and Wherify, as well as social-mapping services by Helio and Loopt that are very cool but not really for kids because they actually map users' physical location (with the users' permission). But on the flipside of this tech marvel is a story out of Australia illustrating the privacy concerns involved in countries where consumer privacy isn't a top priority. Australia's national security agency and "law enforcement agencies will be able to track the movement of people through their mobile phones secretly, without obtaining a court warrant, under new laws, legal and civil liberty groups are warning," Australian IT reports. Meanwhile, in the US, on the Web, and as privacy concerns grow, search engine companies are tightening their privacy policies, the Washington Post reports.

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    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Recommended kid communities

    Izzy Neis has done parents a real service in publishing her list of about two dozen "Worthy Kid/Tween Communities" (emphasis on "community," she posted in our forum, "Community" is important because tweens and lots of kids like socializing online as much teens do, but they're too young for places like Facebook, Bebo, and MySpace. So it's good to know what the age-appropriate spots are. Underneath Izzy's list are more sites in her readers' comments (she'll check them out and add them to her list if she feels they're worthy too). She also provides another list of sites that are not for people under 14. Author, children's entertainment specialist, and blogger Izzy describes herself as "a cookie connoisseur, pop culture aficionado … and a zealot in the pro-kid movement." Meanwhile, the Associated Press recently look at the pre-tween end of the social Web in general, while the Pioneer Press zoomed in on Webkinz.

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    Social networkers worldwide

    The social Web is completely global, and there's a map to illustrate at the ValleyWag blog. Some fascinating, sometimes surprising, patterns show up on this map:

  • is the most international, with a presence in 15 countries, especially Peru, Colombia, Central America, Tunisia, Romania, and Mongolia. A bit more on Hi5 from the Gigaom blog: It "started out as a social-network-plus matrimonial site targeting the Indian diaspora, but later morphed into a social network" that now has about 30 million members.
  • "Facebook," the map says, "is stronger, internationally, than Myspace, with surprising strongholds in the Middle East."
  • Bebo and Skyblog "follow colonial patterns," Bebo British and Skyblog French, with strongholds in France, Belgium, and Francophone Africa.
  • Friendster's huge in Southeast Asia
  • "Fotolog, a photo service defeated in the US by Friendster, has re-emerged as the dominant social network in Argentina and Chile."
  • Google's Orkut is big in India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Paraguay.
  • Studiverzeichnis is popular in Germany and Austria.
  • LiveJournal's hot in Belarus and Russia.


  • Monday, July 23, 2007

    Rating teachers ok in Germany

    Citing free-speech law, a German district court ruled that rating teachers on the Web is not illegal. The court overturned a temporary injunction that would have forced the operators of the site Spickmich [something like "your cheat sheet" in German] to prevent a female teacher from being graded by pupils online," Heise Online reports. Students had given her "an overall grade of 4.3" on a scale of 1 to 6." is run by three university students, who had appealed the injunction. US-based examples of this kind of site include and


    Oxford fined Facebook users

    The age-old UK university's disciplinarians - the proctors - are cracking down on an ancient tradition using Facebook against its Oxford student users. The tradition is called "trashing," whereby students douse each other with stuff like champagne, shaving foam, and flour to celebration completion of exams, The Times reports. "Staff at Oxford University are searching [Facebook], collecting photographs of students who they say have broken rules on post-examination celebrations, and handing down fines." The student union, in turn, called the move a "disgraceful” invasion of students' privacy "and has emailed every common room advising how to prevent [proctors from] viewing the photographs." The students are getting fined around 70 pounds, about $143, after "residents and police complained that the clean-up bill ran into thousands of pounds," although The Times reported several years ago that fines have done "nothing to prevent exuberance." Here's some coverage from this side of the pond at InformationWeek. In related news, CNET describes "the latest unpopular Facebook move."

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