Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Friday, February 01, 2008

Videochat at home

This could be unnerving for parents of teens - finding their kids' friends "hanging out" in the house virtually, via Webcam - but it looks as if found some parents who are handling it well. "Once dismissed as a potentially lewd distraction for the tech-savvy, video chatting has increasingly insinuated itself into American homes. While no firm numbers are available to document its rise, interviews with parents, children and college students suggest that as technological barriers have all but disappeared, the practice has become as easy as making a phone call and, for some, just as common." The article leads with a mom who heard a tiny voice coming from the breakfast table ask, "Is that your mom?" and finding out her daughter who was eating breakfast in front of her laptop was actually having breakfast with her friend on screen - they were using their Webcams. You do know that many new computers come with built-in Webcams, right? Parents need to know that because there are also very negative, uses of Webcams by youth (see "Kids & Webcams: Disturbing story" and this about live Webcam chat site Stickam). But there are just as many great uses for Webcams. One college student told the reporter, for example, that all her friends videochat with their parents back home - who wouldn't want to see their distant children when they're talking with them?!

Labels: ,

Cyberbullying and free speech

Legislation proposed around the US after the tragic case of a Missouri teen's suicide following cyberbullying is fuel for an important discussion about whether such laws are needed. "Officials from Megan [Meier]’s town of Dardenne Prairie wasted no time unanimously passing a statute that makes Internet harassment a local misdemeanor," writes co-director Larry Magid in a commentary at "Others have called for state and federal legislation to make it a crime to post comments anonymously or under an assumed identity." Larry points to the unintended consequences of overreaching laws drafted in reaction to an extremely rare occurrence. What is not rare - and in fact affects millions of young people - is online bullying by peers. Dealing with age-old social problem that is now common online and - overseas and increasingly in the US on mobile phones - is going to take a great deal of education and rational, not reactive, discussion in schools, homes, legislatures, and the media. Previous NetFamilyNews coverage of the Meier case can be found here and here.

Labels: ,

Key researcher's view on MySpace/AGs accord

The day after the agreement between MySpace and the state attorneys general was announced, a University of New Hampshire publicist sent me comments from David Finkelhor, director of UNH's Crimes Against Children Research Center. The Center's work has been key to shaping our society's understanding of online child exploitation since any of us first became aware of the problem (for example, see "Profile of a teen online victim" and "New approach to online-safety education suggested"). So it's good to get Dr. Finkelhor's thinking on this latest development....

He writes that it's an important agreement for a number of reasons:

“A majority of online teens use social-networking sites, and the overwhelming number use MySpace, partly because of its openness. Unlike many other current child safety initiatives, such as sex offender residency restrictions, this one is nuanced and complex in its approach - for example, thinking about the different needs and risks for different aged youth.

“However, some very important caveats exist. The parties have not solved some of the most important problems, such as how to verify the ages of participants. The technology and social networking environment are changing so fast, much of this initiative could be obsolete in a year or two.

“The attorneys general should be congratulated for showing what can be done. But ultimately, this is not the best arrangement for ‘watchdogging’ the safety of kids online. We need more agencies with a national scope, both in the federal government, equivalent to the Federal Trade Commission, and in the private sector, equivalent to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, with the resources and leverage to be doing this study and negotiation on an ongoing basis.”

Here is my item on the MySpace/AGs announcement, and here are some recent findings from the Center for Crimes Against Children Research Center:

  • "One in 25 Online Youth Asked to Send Sexual Pictures of Themselves" (note that, "according to the study, very few of those surveyed actually complied with the requests, but given the millions of youth online, thousands of children may potentially be sending such pictures" - see also "Teen-distributed child porn" in NetFamilyNews)

  • "Survey Identifies Teen Online Behaviors Associated with Online Interpersonal Victimization" (note this landmark finding: "Most Internet safety advocates suggest discouraging youth from sharing personal information and talking with unknown people online,” according to the UNH researchers. However, the study found that talking with people only known online under certain conditions is associated with online interpersonal victimization, but sharing information is not." Here's what leads to victimization: “Aggressive behavior in the form of making rude or nasty comments or frequently embarrassing others, meeting people in multiple ways and talking about sex online with unknown people were significantly related to online interpersonal victimization."

    Labels: ,

  • Thursday, January 31, 2008

    MySpace 'backdoor' closed

    The day that Wired magazine reported the availability of a "backdoor" to photos on some MySpace users' private profiles, the site sealed the door, MySpace said. It's an example of how the Net industry and the media, at odds on the surface, actually work together to protect users. Though Wired said "the glitch emerged last fall," it didn't report on it till January 17, the day MySpace said the "feature" - a way of allowing users with private profiles to make their photo albums available to friends, MySpace said - had been dropped. Private profiles of any change can no longer make their photos public. Don't be surprised, however, if reports of the bug continue to circulate, because not every blogger does fact checking.

    Labels: ,

    World of Warcraft passes big milestone

    The world's biggest multiplayer online game just passed the 10 million player mark, Yahoo Games reports. World of Warcraft has a "population" greater than Sweden's and Israel's, it adds. "Warcraft players number more than 2.5m in North America, while Asian subscribers account for the majority of the remainder."


    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    High school classes in videogame design?

    That's what the Ohio Supercomputer Center is promoting, the Cleveland Morning Journal reports. "The process of creating a video game involves reading, comprehending, doing math and physics, plus problem solving to make the game's characters and other features function realistically," the Center says, adding that getting high school students involved in the process gets them hooked on math and science. "Video game design isn't just for entertainment; similar 'games' are used in medical training," editorializes the Morning Journal, citing an Associated Press report. The Orlando Sentinel tells the story of one such class at Edgewater High School in Orlando. "Now offering a four-year track in digital design, the program hopes to reach students who may show great promise in art and other creative pursuits in addition to the basic math and science skills," according to the Sentinel. In Trenton, N.J., Giancarlos Alvarado is designing a videogame called Earthquake Terror: After Shock with his fifth-grade students, game news site reports. While we're on the subject, here's a library now loaning out videogames: the Guilderland Public Library. The Albany Times Union reports that the library sees videogames as "a gateway to other library materials, such as strategy guides and books that introduce teens to careers in programming."

    Labels: ,

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    MySpace, Facebook support NY law

    The headline was that New York introduced a new anti-predator law. The news was that Facebook participated with MySpace and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in the announcement. The law would, as a condition of parole, prohibit convicted sex offenders from accessing social networking Web sites, from accessing pornographic content online, and from communicating with anyone under the age of 18 over the Net, Dow Jones reports. Offenders would also be required to disclose their email, IM, and chat screennames and other Internet contact info with law enforcement and social sites so the sites can block them. Both MySpace and Facebook have worked with attorneys general for some time, but this is the first time they've appeared together at a major announcement by an attorney general and may preface Facebook's participation in the technical task force announced by 49 state attorneys general and MySpace on January 14. Laws similar to the legislation New York announced today have been passed in 11 states including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Virginia.

    Labels: , , ,

    Shimon Peres: Use social-networking sites

    At Israel's Holocaust memorial today, the country's very high-tech 84-year-old president asked students representing 60 countries, "Who here has heard about Facebook?" the Associated Press reports. "Nearly all in attendance raised their hands. 'You can fight anti-Semitism using social networks, like Facebook,' he continued." President Peres has his own blog and Web site but not (yet?) a social-networking profile. The AP adds that Peres met with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

    Labels: ,

    Analog adults, digital kids clash

    One night recently there was a light snowfall in the Washington, D.C., area and some high school students apparently felt they should have a snow day. When it didn't happen, one high school senior reportedly took it upon himself to get on the phone and call his school system's chief operating officer to find out why school wasn't shut down for the day. The COO's wife picked up the phone. She was "understandably miffed about the invasion into her private sphere, yet she returns fire with a shockingly disproportionate blast of rage," the Washington Post reports. But of course in these days of the user-driven Web that wasn't the end of it. According to the original Post story on the subject, the COO's wife called the student back and left a message that berated him "for using the home number and told him to 'Get over it, kid, and go to school!' [The student then] posted an audio link to his Facebook page, and a friend uploaded the message on YouTube. Within days, it was played tens of thousands of times on the Web and aired on national news." Both action and reaction are understandable and neither can fathom each other's perspective - one is hyper-public all the time and never not accessible via cellphone, social Web site, IM, etc., and knows no lines that might be crossed; the other actually has a "home phone" probably wired to a wall and another kind of line that was very definitely crossed by a young person she'd never met. The really tough part is, "she could not have imagined that her righteous tirade would be enshrined on the Web and on Page One of The Washington Post." It's getting harder to react badly to a situation in private, but having said all the above and published the story, the Post does say that "even today, most teens wouldn't dare call a school administrator at home." Columnist Marc Fisher adds that this kid was out to push buttons. What's different now is that he really did get a lot of attention.

    Labels: , , ,

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    Remixes & mashups: Study on fair use

    Teachers who deal with media think a lot about it. Parents of video producers and bloggers do too. So does everybody trying to understand the impact of the social Web on traditional media, including artists and the recording industry. What am I talking about? A part of copyright law that generates a lot of understandable confusion: "fair use." "Fair use is quite tricky because courts address it on a case by case basis after someone is sued. There is no list of what constitutes fair use," writes University of California, Berkeley, social-media researcher danah boyd. She's blogging about a just-released study, by media and legal scholars, that really advances the public discussion: "Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video" at American University's Center for Social Media site. The study gives examples of "a wide variety of practices - satire, parody, negative and positive commentary, discussion-triggers, illustration, diaries, archiving and of course, pastiche or collage (remixes and mashups) - all of which could be legal in some circumstances," the Center says. Danah adds that the authors "try to assess which way the courts might fall, depending on practice. They also offer potential defenses that creators can make if they were sued in an attempt to build best-practices principles." This is valuable material for any family or classroom discussion or debate about fair use and intellectual property in the age of digital media and the participatory Web, when this discussion has never been more important (see "The age of remixes, mashups"). For an online debate on fair use, see the arguments of Columbia law professor Tim Wu and NBC Universal general counsel Rick Cotton in this New York Times blog. See also MIT professor Henry Jenkins's book, Convergence Culture (Henry's at

    Labels: , ,