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Friday, April 04, 2008

Cyberbullying: Clarity needed

One of the most surprising things about this bullying story in the New York Times is that the boy is still at the same school in Fayetteville, Ark., after several years of victimization - and now, in the days of full-fledged online schools providing high school degrees. Distance learning is definitely an option for kids, in addition to switching brick-and-mortar schools, but maybe it's not an option for Billy Wolfe, and I'm editorializing.

What's really important to know is how unusual this tragic story is. There are many, many shades of bullying and cyberbullying, we're learning from solid research, and it's important to understand this so that we in no way discount less extreme experiences of bullying young people have.

"Bullying can happen once a week or once a month; it can be an isolated event or something that happens for years; it can be online, offline, or both. It is a varied behavior and it can be upsetting and have psychological impacts across the board; or not. You do not need to be beat up every day and taunted in every environment to be affected," wrote Dr. Michele Ybarra of Internet Solutions for Kids in a recent email to a few of us online-safety advocates.

Here are some brand-new findings from her latest "Growing Up with Media" study of 11-to-16-year-olds....

"School is overwhelmingly the most common environment that kids 11-16 years of age are bullied in," with almost a third of kids saying they've been bullied there. Eleven percent have been bullied online and 10% "in the community (e.g., on the way to and from school)." Six percent have been bullied by cellphone.

Only very small percentages of young people have been bullied monthly or more often - the most, 5%, at school, and 2% have been bullied that often online. Because being bullied monthly or more often is so uncommon, wrote Dr. Ybarra, "you can see how this particular subset of youth is particularly concerning from a health and development perspective."

In other findings, it's heartening to see that almost two-thirds of 11-to-16-year-olds - 63% - "are not bullied anywhere; 17% report being bullied in one environment, 9% in two environments, 5% in three, 2% in four, and a very concerning 3% report being bullied in all five environments assessed" (school, Internet, cellphone, community, and "other").

Michele also sent an important caveat for everyone concerned about cyberbullying: the need to be very clear on what we're talking about: "The term ‘cyberbullying’ (in my opinion) has been mis- and over-used to describe any sort of unwanted or untoward action that occurs online. The definition of bullying is something that happens repeatedly and over time, and is inclusive of an imbalance of power (this is a common definition in the psychology literature). Some of the things that we have heard about that have happened online fit this definition. Others are more akin to ‘harassment’ or ‘defamation’ or other things."

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Phones more & more for media-sharing

This was a big week for the mobile phone industry, at least the US one, because of CTIA, the industry's huge trade show. And the biggest story, according to the New York Times, was competition for Apple's iPhone, as touchscreens, Web browsers, and multimedia features appear on more and more cellphones - together! Like the iPhone, these are really becoming media players + mini-computers, as well as communications devices. These little devices are so fun to play and work with - of course for teens too, the earliest adopters (or wannabes) - but it's good to keep in mind that they're also very avid photo- and video-sharers, as well as texters on phones, and there are both upsides and downsides to all this phone-based socializing and media-sharing. Last year, I cited an M:Metrics study finding that 70% of 13-to-17-year-old cellphone users in Europe and the US are creating and sharing content on their phones, photo-sharing being the No. 1 activity. Italian teens lead the way as phone media producers, followed by teens in Spain and the UK (tied for 2nd), then France, Germany, and the US, respectively (see this item). But the US is catching up, and among the positives, we're seeing some negative trends (see "Staging fights for Web video-sharing" and "Naked photo-sharing trend").

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Growing gambling problem at college

"Shannon Shorr remembers seeing emails about the dangers of gambling as a freshman at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, in 2003, but he wanted in on the poker boom. He started '$5 house games' with friends and quickly moved into Internet poker," the Christian Science Monitor reports. Lucky for him, his story is more about wins than losses, but he did lose $3,500 early on, which he admitted was an awful lot for a college student. Forty percent of 18-to-22-year-olds gambled monthly last year, it adds. "In a survey of 119 colleges, only 22% had a gambling policy, Harvard researchers found in 2005," but changing because another study, from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, "showed rampant gambling among student athletes." Meanwhile, a hearing about the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was scheduled on Capitol Hill this week, the New York Times "Bits" blog reports.


11-year-old school network admin

A small private school in Arkansas was struggling to keep its network of 60 aging donated computers going on a shoestring budget, so one of its students helped out. "The first thing Jon found as he leapt into the role of network was that he had to map out the network to find out what was on it," NetworkWorld reports. So he simply bought some software that could do that at his local electronics store, and that helped him uncover "an ungodly amount of computer viruses and spam." Then he evaluated some more software and got things into shape. He was also being his mom's knight in shining armor - she was the school librarian and had just had "computer support" added to her duties. Thanks to a poster in for pointing out this story (the post was in turn pointed out by a researcher colleague in Portugal, Daniel Cardoso - don't you love how information flows online?).


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Growing comfort with teen social networking

Americans have a "growing comfort level with young people using Internet technologies such as social networking sites, chat rooms and email," according to a new study from the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee (CICAC) and 463 Communications. The nationwide survey found that 27.7% of Americans said social networking and chat should be restricted to adults, down from 35.3% of people surveyed in an identical study in 2007. As for access to email, 14.7% said people should be adults in 2007, compared to 2.4% now, and for general Web surfing, the numbers were 17.4% last year and 4.2% now. "Despite an evolving comfort level with youth use of the Internet, the survey revealed significant concerns with social networking technologies. For instance, a significant majority of those surveyed, 63.2%, believed that children under 16 years old should not have use social networking sites and chat rooms," the CICAC reports. Many US-based social-networking sites have a minimum age of 13; MySpace's is 14.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

India to ban SNS? April Fool's, maybe

Could be an April Fool's joke on the part of India-based, but the site reports that India's Home Affairs Ministry is considering banning overseas-based social-networking sites and requiring domestic ones to "maintain records of all user activity including 'change of status, profile picture, favorite sitcoms etc.'." Here's the part that's suspicious in comedic terms: "Intelligence operatives are of the belief that Jehadi terror cells could work out a sophisticated system of communication by 'throwing sheep' at each other using a site such as whose servers the Indian government cannot access." Foreign sites such as Google's Orkut, MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, and LinkedIn would be blocked by a government directive to Indian Internet service providers. Popular India-based social sites the story mentions include,, and If all this is serious, other government certainly will be watching to see if this kind of control over the participatory Web is possible, but I have a feeling teen users would find workarounds.

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SN profiles: Inaccurate impressions

A University of Texas researcher has found that social-networking profiles don't give very accurate pictures of their owners. "Psychology associate professor Samuel Gosling and collaborator David Evans created You Just Get Me, a Facebook application and Web site, to determine how well people understand each other by looking at a personality profile," reports The Daily Texan at UT. You Just Get Me users answer 40 questions about their personality and then compare their answers to how other users view them. Users rate each other based on first impressions, such as how lazy, ingenious, quiet or rude a person seems." Interestingly but not surprisingly, the researchers also found that the project teaches its subjects something about how well they understand themselves.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Social-media gender gap: Research

Females increasingly rule the social Web, research by the people behind reputation lookup site found. According to a blog post by its CEO, "young women are much more active on these sites then young men. And for people above 30, men - especially married men - aren’t even joining social networks. With the notable exception of usage and VCs in the Bay Area friending everyone on Facebook, married men are not hanging out on social networks. Married women, however, are joining social networks in droves. In fact, women between the ages 35-50 are the fastest growing segment on social networks, especially on MySpace." They're not just socializing, though, they're also producing media (text, graphics, photos, etc.) and decorating profiles and pages. It's not that young men don't spend every bit as much time in front of a computer - sometimes more - but young men, he says, spend those hours more in "videogames such as World of Warcraft, first-person action games," and offshore poker sites, where they can actually win and lose money. As for seeking out the opposite sex: "Now young men understand that they can’t spend ALL their time playing video games (though some do) as they still need to interact with the opposite sex. Sex is one of the strongest drivers of online usage and many men see social networks as a gateway to potentially filling that desire. Men, in general, tend to look at things more transactionally than women. Once men get married, they see increasingly less value in being on a social network." The Pew/Internet project released similar findings last December (see "Boys & girls on Web 2.0" and "Teens rule the Web").

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