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Friday, August 10, 2007

Important new study: Students on the social Web

In releasing its study "Creating & Connecting: Research & Guidelines on Online Social - and Educational - Networking," the National School Boards Association this week added some balance to the public discussion about safety on the social Web. The 10-page report is just as useful to parents as it is to educators. Conducted for the NSBA by Grunwald Associates, the study found that…

These days US 9-to-17-year-olds are spending almost as much time on the social Web (about 9 hours/week) as they are watching TV (about 10 hours/week), and for many that online activity is "highly creative."

"Overall, an astonishing 96% of students with online access report that they have ever used social-networking technologies, such as chatting, text messaging, blogging, and visiting online communities, such as Facebook, MySpace and services designed specifically for young children, such as Webkins and the chat sections of," the NSBA reports. Interestingly, one of the most common topics of conversation in all this online communicating is education itself (about 60% of social networkers talk about this and 50% specifically about schoolwork). Grunwald surveyed, students, parents, and school district leaders for this study.

As for those creative online activities, the NSBA and Grunwald found that 32% of online students share music; 30% videos; 24% photos (22% their own photos or artwork); 12% updating/decorating their Web pages; 30% have blogs; 16% create and share virtual objects sucha as puzzles, houses, clothing, and games; 14% create new characters at least weekly; 10% contribute to online collaborative projects. The survey found that "nonconformists … are on the cutting edge of social networking, with online behaviors an skills that indicate leadership among their peers." They're "significantly heavier users of social networking sites" - 50% of them are producers and 38% are editors of online content. These students, the study found, are "significantly more likely than other students" to be "traditional influentials," "promoters," "recruiters," "organizers," and "networkers."

Fewer risks than expected
"Study: Fears over kids' online safety overblown" is the headline on's report on the NSBA study. It "suggests strongly … that the overwhelming majority of kids have never had an unknown adult ask them for personal information." And there's a big discrepancy between students' actual experience with risk, as they reported it to the researchers, and school perceptions. More than half of US school districts (52%) say students providing personal information online has been "a significant problem," while "only 3% of students say they've ever given out their email addresses, screennames, or other personal info to strangers." The School Boards Association ends the report calling on schools to "reexamine their social-networking policies." It's important to have such policies, it says, but students may learn online safety and responsible online expression better "while they're actually using social-networking tools." [The ArsTechnica piece includes a link to the complete study in pdf format.]

Related link
PC World: "Report Refutes Claims of Social Networking Dangers"

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

More polite in virtual worlds?

CNET asks that question, and I think it's an interesting one - especially given a growing public discussion about cyberbullying and why some people are so nasty on the Web (see my earlier post on this). The question is: Are people more polite in online worlds and games with avatars than in, say, social-networking sites? And is it because there are avatars - visual representations of ourselves - instead of just text and the anonymity associated with it? Maybe virtual worlds (like Teen Second Life,, and are logical "places" to teach cybercitizenship and cyberethics, then. Parents, educators, and online-safety advocates concerned about social behavior online and cyberbullying might consider putting heads together with operators of tween and teen spaces online to consider making this a component of virtual worlds for youth. See also ZDNET's "When cyberbullying hits teens."

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Friends on phones

Switching cellphone carriers can really be hard on teens' relationships these days. "What was set up as a purely business strategy [encouraging customers to talk to people in the same network] is having an unintentional social effect" for better or worse, the New York Times reports. "It is dividing the people who share informal bonds and bringing together those who have formal networks of cellphone “'friends'.” Some parents worry that cellphone friendship groups will replace real-life ones, but one sociologist who's studied this told the Times the mobile ones tend to reflect the real-life ones quite closely (probably more so than friends lists in social Web sites, I would add). So it would follow that losing some phone access to real-life friends - maybe because Mom and Dad switch carriers - would have an effect on one's in-person social life. Some numbers in the article: The age group that talks on the phone most is 18-24 (they send and receive 290 calls/month on average). The group that text messages the most is 13-to-17-year-olds (435 messages a month, on average). "By contrast, cellphone users 45 to 54 years old spoke on the phone 194 times, on average, a month and sent only 57 text messages."


'Dating 2.0'

While she describes dating, Web 2.0-style, Sabena Suri says she often finds herself "yearning for the past, where I imagine that courtship consisted of a guy breaking into song to woo the girl. (That's what I learned from Grease, anyway)." I imagine she's not alone in this. So the CNET summer intern is a little conflicted - even though she'd "rather have a guy pass me a nervously scribbled piece of paper in biology class than get the condensed text message version: 'hey u wna chill sat nite?'," she loves her Facebook as much as the next high school student, she says. So she offers six tips on how to navigate "Dating 2.0" - which are every bit as useful for those of us parenting these intrepid pioneers of the social Web. These are excellent tips! (Tip No. 5 gives new meaning to the phrase "public display of affection.")

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

US Congress: Net-safety push

We can expect to see some online-safety legislation coming out of Congress this fall, lawmakers themselves are saying. "Expect a new push … for laws aimed at keeping sexual predators off the likes of and elevating fines on Internet service providers that don't report child pornography," CNET reports, saying Democratic lawmakers are focusing particularly on anti-predator and -child pornography legislation. Meanwhile, Sens. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska and Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii introduced a bill that, among other things, "calls on the Federal Trade Commission to oversee a government-directed public awareness campaign" on Internet safety, PC Magazine reports. The bill would also 1) require the Commerce Department to "review industry efforts to produce online parental control technology; report evidence of child pornography; keep tabs on data collected about Internet-related child crimes; and support the development of new Internet safety technologies"; 2) require schools that receive federal Net-connectivity funds to teach students about appropriate online behavior; 3) would triple fines for Internet service providers that fail to report evidence of child pornography.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Canadians' digital connections

They're "fast becoming a culture of technological chatterboxes," the Toronto Star reports. A recent national survey of nearly 1,100 Canadians by Angus Reid Strategies found that only 18% of people in Canada do not own a cellphone but, at the other end of the spectrum, 18% couldn't live without their mobile phone. As for email, 64% check it at least daily, and 31% "can't resist the temptation" to check email hourly. Forty percent "couldn't contemplate life without the Internet"; and 52% say Google "has made their life better"; 55% visit Web sites at least once a day; and 22% of all Canadians (and 41% of 18-to-35-year-old ones) visit social networking sites daily (25% of women "believe these networks strengthen their sense of community with others). Social-networking sites are most popular in the Atlantic provinces, the Star adds.

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Hacks in social sites

What I mean is, hackers (not malicious ones) have something to say about social-networking sites. Thousands of them gathered at two conferences in Las Vegas this past week, the Associated Press reports. Here's the important part: Hackers are seeing intruders in social-networking sites who "commandeer personal Web pages and possibly inject malicious code." They look for flaws in sites' code that allows them to "inject" their own malicious code into pages. This is " a particular problem for social networking sites, where it's difficult to police the content of the millions of posts each day," according to the AP. The intruders often add links to Web pages in other sites that steal the computer "cookie" information from the computer of the social networker who clicks on the link. Particularly vulnerable are people who use older versions of Firefox, one of the AP's sources said. The source said Facebook and MySpace patch flaws they find, but there are probably hundreds of flaws like this and it's tough to keep up with what's on tens of millions of pages. So the take-away is: Everybody needs to keep their browsers up-to-date and be careful about what links they click on in profiles and blogs!

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Jail time for a film clip?

Tell your kids not to mess around with digital cameras in movie theaters. A 19-year-old in the Washington, D.C., area went to see Transformers at her local movie theater with her boyfriend. She told the Washington Post she was enjoying the movie so much she thought she'd shoot a 20-second clip to show her 13-year-old brother how good it was. While she was doing so, two police officers order the couple out of the theater confiscated the digital camera, and charged the college sophomore "with a crime: illegally recording a motion picture," the Washington Post reports. She told the Post that it was her birthday and the two had borrowed the camera from a relative to "make [birthday] memories," so she happened to have the camera when they went to see the film. She "faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 when she goes to trial this month in the July 17 incident." The Post adds that copying a movie in a theater "is a felony under the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, punishable by up to three years in a federal prison," and several states have anti-piracy laws in addition to the federal one.

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