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Friday, May 23, 2008

CT students shared nude photos

In yet another state, middle and high school students in Westport, Connecticut, "have been sharing nude pictures of themselves electronically, the school district's superintendent told parents this week." The Greenwich (Conn.) Time reported that Superintendent Elliott Landon wrote in a letter to parents that the photos had been sent to "countless people" in and beyond Westport. He said "electronic transmission, or receipt of sexually explicit or pornographic material in which students are engaged 'when discovered, will be addressed through the criminal justice system'." The article doesn't say if the photos had been shared via Web or cellphones, but the superintendent suggested that parents monitor their kids' use of both. So far I've seen reports of this trend in at least nine states (see this about those).

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Retrial for music P2P case?

A woman who was ordered by a court to pay $222,000 in the US's first trial involving P2P file-sharing "may get another chance with a jury," the Associated Press reports. "The issue is whether record companies have to prove anyone else actually downloaded their copyrighted songs, or whether it's enough to argue that a defendant made copyrighted music available for copying." In the original trial, a federal judge "instructed jurors that making sound recordings available without permission violates record company copyrights 'regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown.'" Last week he said "that may have been a mistake." The recording industry has sued at least 30,000 people for distributing music online, the AP adds. "Some cases have been dismissed, and many defendants settled for a few thousand dollars." Meanwhile, The Register reports that the file-sharing of free music online "soars" while "licensed music [purchasing] flatlines." But that's not the explanation for the decline in music revenue, it adds. The reasons are cost-cutting by big retailers (e.g., Wal-Mart in the US and Tesco in the UK), "people burning CDs at home, and the unbundling of the album." In timely news on the subject of how digital music gets bought in the US, reports that 82% of Americans (69% of those under 35), still buy all (62%) or most (20%) of their music on CD. The numbers are from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Here's a guide for parents and educators on P2P file-sharing from's London partner, Childnet International, and a report on it from the BBC.

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Positive spin, social Web-style

Instead of "don't try this at home," this is more along the lines of "don't try this at work" - universities and other organizations trying to attract youth with videos on YouTube. It's tricky. For one thing, they kind of need to do this to counteract some of the less-than-savory images of schools being uploaded to YouTube and other video-sharing sites by the students at those schools - images of students engaging in various forms of school-policy violation, for example. In effect, schools are following the advice of experts on reputation management online: get proactive, put up a positive presentation of yourself so that what the search engines index will be what you say about yourself and not what others put up about you that's not so nice. The problem is, slick and 100% positive marketing videos by organizations are generally not what attract the big traffic numbers at YouTube (that's an understatement). In other words, as the Washington Post puts it, "like a parent trying to seem cool, sometimes the efforts are painful to watch." But wait, there's hope. Some schools are being smart, as for example, in "sponsoring contests urging students to create videos that show what they love about the school." Check out the article for more examples.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Felony charges for teen in nude photo posting

A 17-year-old boy in La Crosse, Wisc., has been charged with possession of child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child, and defamation for posting nude photos of a 16-year-old girl on his MySpace page, the Chicago Tribune reports. "According to the criminal complaint, Phillips was told he could be jailed for posting the photos but told police he would still keep them on the page." According to, the girl, his ex-girlfriend, had taken the photos of herself "but was upset and didn’t give him permission to distribute the photos anywhere else." The boy is being held in a county jail "on a $1,000 cash bond and has a preliminary hearing set for May 28." According to some reports, the photos were sent to him via cellphone (see this on nude photo-sharing). In a similar case reported last August, a teen was sentenced to 30 days in prison on child abuse charges (see this item).

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Online high school: Rapid growth

By 2019, half of all courses in grades 9-12 will be delivered online, according to Enrollment in online classes, according to the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. But for data closer to today, "enrollment in online classes last year reached the 1 million mark, growing 22 times the level seen in 2000," the Christian Science Monitor reports, citing figures from the North American Council for Online Learning. The efficiency of distance learning, the low cost of delivering, and its flexibility for students who do better outside of conventional school are reasons cited for its rapid growth. Of course, states are all over the map in what they allow and require. Check out the article for details and note the views of professor Luis Huerta at Columbia University and researcher David Reed at Arizona State University.

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Classroom surfing ban?

This isn't totally on-topic (kid-tech news), because it's primarily about adults: college students' in-class surfing habits, from a professors slightly angst-ridden perspective. But it could be on the horizon of high school teachers and students too. "I should be clear that there is no good a priori argument against multitasking. The case is at best an empirically-informed hunch about what is the best way to teach. I see some power to a parentalism argument that teachers should ban surfing because it impedes students’ ability to learn," blogs Yale law professor Ian Ayres. But, hey, he offers some good reasons. "Surfing and game playing in particular can be very distracting - both visually and in the signal they send to others that you don’t care about class." Do law professors always state the obvious?: "Multitasking also makes students less present as participants in class discussion. Surfing doesn’t stop students from taking notes, but it degrades the quality of their attention." The there's just one problem: "There is a growing sense of entitlement not just to surf but to keep your professor in the dark about whether you are surfing or not."

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Supreme Court upholds PROTECT Act

In a 7 to 2 vote, the US Supreme Court upheld "an expansive federal law that punishes people who peddle or seek child pornography, saying Congress's remedy for a growing problem on the Internet does not violate free-speech guarantees," the Washington Post reports. "PROTECT" stands for Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today, and the law not only makes the exchange of child-abuse images illegal but also "any attempt to convince another person that child pornography is available," the Post adds, so it even covers solicitations that don't contain images. Even though critics say the law is "overly broad," this is really good. See why in the Post article or coverage at the New York Times.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Videogame fitness training?

Now there's a concept: a videogame that aims to get people in shape. People of all ages to get in shape. This is great for kids whose motivation for doing things like learning or getting active is helped by videogame play. But there are qualifications, reports ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid at "The Wii Fit screen recommends that you achieve a BMI [body mass index] of 22 but
fails to point out that BMI doesn’t distinguish body fat from muscle mass. Based on their BMIs, Barry Bonds and Arnold Schwarzenegger would be considered obese." But then there's the balance board combined with the Wii controller's motion-sensing capability. "In addition to weighing you, the balance board can help determine your posture and center of gravity based on the way you’re standing on it," and these help in determining fitness too. The $89.99 game and accessory offer various ways to "play": aerobics, yoga, strength training, and balancing games. All pretty good, Larry says, but - as with any form of dieting or fitness training, the key is the will to stick with it, and even the Wii can't provide that. Even so, it helps when the process is fun.


2 key US court actions involving MySpace

Two recent federal court actions are signs of growing recognition in US society that social-networking sites are not the cause of behavior in them which sometimes leads to tragic results. They're just another "place" where the behavior occurs. Where the confusion lies is in the role that the social Web does play. It can have the effect of amplifying and perpetuating the impact of content and speech on it, so responsible social-networking companies (and mobile carriers, virtual worlds, multiplayer games and communities) have the responsibility to help mitigate that behavior by 1) educating the public at the preventive end and 2) supporting parents, schools, and law enforcement at the remedial end, after things happen.

In the first case, existing law is being unprecedentedly applied in a way that puts the public focus on sites' terms of service as, basically, a set of user safety regs that need to be observed by all as a protection to all. In the second case, the decision by a federal appeals court to reaffirm a law that puts social-networking sites in the same category as telephone companies, as communication pipelines or venues, reaffirms the concept that on Web sites, too, people, not so much the places where people interact, are accountable for people's interactions. Given the age of the child involved, this case too puts the spotlight on site terms of service. Here are the cases:

1. Indictment in Megan Meier case

Lori Drew, the mother who allegedly helped create a fictitious MySpace profile that led to 13-year-old Megan Meier's suicide has been indicted. She has been "charged with conspiracy and fraudulently gaining access to someone else's computer" by a federal grand jury. Drew and some of Megan's peers had set up the profile of a fictitious 16-year-old boy and, through it, developed a relationship between the "boy" and Megan, who her family said had been treated for attention deficit disorder and depression. The profile's creators carried on the "relationship" for months, then faked the "boy's" breakup with Megan, leading to her suicide. Investigators in Missouri, where all this occurred, couldn't find a state law to apply to the case. Later, "federal prosecutors in Los Angeles launched a grand jury investigation ... to determine whether Ms. Drew or others defrauded Beverly Hills-based MySpace by providing false information to the site," the Associated Press reports, describing an unprecedented way of applying the law ("both Megan and MySpace are named as victims in the case, US Attorney Thomas O'Brien" told the AP).

This is a case and an approach to watch going forward, because in effect it adds "teeth" to social-networking sites' terms of service, which both parents and teens need to be aware of and which sites need to enforce. [Earlier coverage: "Extreme cyberbullying: US case comes to light" and "Missouri cyberbullying: Case not closed."]

2. Court rejects family’s suit against MySpace

A federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a Texas family's $30 million sexual-assault case against MySpace. The court ruled that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 "bars such lawsuits against Web-based services like MySpace," the Associated Press reports. The case was dismissed by a federal court in Austin last year (see this item). The girl had created a profile on MySpace when she was below the site's minimum age of 14 but characterized herself as 18 and - after meeting a 19-year-old man who apparently got her phone number by claiming he was a high school football player - said she was assaulted by him after she went out on a date with him in 2006 (my original item on this was "Teen sues MySpace").

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Online aliases: The new privacy

Young people are increasingly finding the need to put up firewalls between private and public online lives. They're "assuming online aliases" on social-networking sites "to avoid the prying eyes of parents, college recruiters, potential employers, and other overly interested strangers," the Washington Post reports. "They are also being more selective in who they allow in as 'friends' by paring back the size of their social circles" or friend lists. As well, they're increasingly fictionalizing parts of their profile and blog personas so associations with their real-life identities aren't as quickly or easily made. All this is good. It's a sign that teens have various means of self-protection online - not just social sites' privacy features. It's also a sign young people are employing critical thinking at a time when it has never been needed more. Critical thinking is the sort of "filter" that can only improve, and it goes with them everywhere, offline as well as online!

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