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Friday, October 03, 2008

40,000+ students polled on their Net use

The Rochester Institute of Technology refers to "a startling new reality of cybercrime," but it's much more about child and adolescent behavior than crime and it's not a new reality. What's unprecedented about this study is the size of its sample, 40,000+ children and teens, the way it breaks bullying and other online behaviors down by grade level, and the detail and number of its questions. Though it's a local and not a nationwide sample (14 school districts in the Rochester area), it's one that can be tracked from year to year - what researchers call a longitudinal study, which has obvious value. The RIT study also offers insights into parents' and educators' understanding of the situation.

Even the study's lead author, RIT Graduate Program Coordinator Sam McQuade, acknowledges this is not new behavior: "What has traditionally happened on the playground has now moved into cyberspace," he says in the study's press release. "The major difference is that children have a sense that they’re anonymous and invincible online. Therefore, they seem to lash out in ways that they may not in person."

Last week I heard Dr. McQuade present his research to the Internet Safety Technical Task Force at Harvard (see my post), unfortunately referring to children more in the language of law enforcement than of child development. But the study does, importantly, help advance society's thinking about children's online safety, which to date has focused almost entirely on youth victimization. With both positive and negative outcomes, young people are participants, if not shapers, of the social Web and therefore key stakeholders in their own well-being and in keeping the use of social media safe and civil.

Here's a sampler of some key findings....

  • Grades K-1: "48% of K-1 students interact with people on Web sites" as opposed to various other devices and "48% reported viewing online content that made them feel uncomfortable," with 72% reporting that to a grownup.
  • Grades 2-3: "Cyberbullying and victimization begins as early as the 2nd grade for some children" (McQuade told the Task Force that, at this grade level, "cyberbullying" means "someone was mean to me or I was mean to someone"). [See my post "Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual-world users."].
  • Grades 4-6: 27% are "completely unsupervised when they go online," and 7% reported being the victim of cyberbullying/threats," most of those "by one of their peers."
  • Grades 7-9: "59% of cyberbullying victims said their perpetrators were a friend they know in person.... The four types of middle-school online offenders are generalists, pirates, academic cheaters, and deceiving bullies."
  • Grades 10-12: These students spend 15+ hours a week online; "16% have experienced cyberbullying, 17% have been embarrassed online, and 15% have been harassed or stalked online." The "types of offenders in this age group," McQuade told us, are "hackers, fraudsters, pornographers, deceiving bullies, data snoops, pirates, academic cheaters - the majority of kids are engaged in one of these forms of offending."

    "I don't know how you can get out in front of this thing," Dr. McQuade told the Task Force, referring to the behaviors the study exposed (and "you" presumably being parents and educators). But I believe parents and educators have the knowledge and tools to help mitigate online peer harassment. How can I say that? Because this is about behavior, not technology. Together and separately at home and school, parents and educators have been dealing with behavior as long as there have been children! We have also known enough to bring in additional expertise when it's needed - that of counselors, social workers, lawyers, and sometimes law enforcement. These days we sometimes need the help of school IT people, tech coordinators, computer forensics specialists, and social-networking customer service people too. But the expertise of caring, engaged parents and educators cannot be discounted, remains at the heart of the solution, and - as we think all this through together with our children and apply what we already know - can go a long way toward getting "getting out in front" of unruly online behavior as much as the offline kind.

    "Today’s children are most frequently preying on each other online - and their parents rarely have any idea it's happening," McQuade said. "Preying" is a strong word, but the study's findings could be broken down this way: 1) that online bullying and harassment is the risk that affects a great many more youth than online predation does (it's a little dated, but see "Predators vs. cyberbullies"), 2) that the young people it affects are mainstream youth - anybody's kid - not the more marginalized youth who, research shows, are victimized by "predators" (see "Profile of a teen online victim"), and 3) that the line between the roles of bully and victim is very fine and crossed all the time (see the FL case in which the victim, who was unarguably bullied, had been harassing the kids who bullied her in IM). Sometimes bullying does turn into a crime, but the harassment often starts well before it has escalated into one; an incident is very rarely as clear-cut as the headlines make it out to be.

    Related links

  • Toward defining "cyberbullying" - followed by a response to and from author and researcher, Prof. Justin Patchin
  • The RIT study's executive summary and the press release with a link to the full report in pdf format (alternate URL and pdf doc)
  • Earlier in NetFamilyNews: "Why schools, parents need to fight cyberbullying together" and many other NetFamilyNews posts on cyberbullying among these search results.

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  • Texting in traffic - careful, people!

    A California lawmaker is proposing legislation that bans text messaging while driving, and "federal investigators are looking at the role that a train engineer’s text-messaging might have played [in California last month] in the country’s most deadly commuter rail accident in four decades," the New York Times reports. Texting is getting increasing scrutiny as a dangerous activity for multitasking. "Though there are no official casualty statistics, there is much anecdotal evidence that the number of fatal accidents stemming from texting while driving, crossing the street or engaging in other activities is on the rise."

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    Teen uber-texters

    You do know that American cellphone users send more text messages than they make calls on those phones, right? That was the case almost a year ago. "Since then, the average subscriber’s volume of text messages has shot upward by 64%, while the average number of calls has dropped slightly," the New York Times reports, citing Nielsen Mobile data. But forget about all that. It's the teen-texting data that really makes heads spin: 13-to-17-year-olds send or receive 1,742 messages a month. (It's downhill from there - 18-to-24-year-olds average a mere 790 a month.) The Times adds that "a separate study of teenagers with cellphones by Harris Interactive found that 42% of them claim that they can write text messages while blindfolded."

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    Jury duty & social-network profiles

    Trial consultants are getting a lot of help from social-networking profiles when they're picking jury members these days, the Los Angeles Times reports. They learn how prospective jurors vote, spend money, "if they've spoken out on controversial issues," and what skeletons might be in their closets, er, profiles. "Consultant Anne W. Reed of the Reinhart law firm in Milwaukee finds the Internet most helpful when vetting younger jurors," the Times adds. She "thinks online research can spare shy jurors the discomfort of answering probing questions in open court, but she said it had to be done discreetly to avoid any sense of invaded privacy." Hmm - what's asked in an open courtroom is more of a perceived invasion than what's dug for in blogs and social sites.

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    Thursday, October 02, 2008

    Good online-safety law passed

    Actually, online-safety education is only one part of the just-passed "Broadband Data Improvement Act" designed to improve our understanding of how much of the US has high-speed Internet access so the government can "ensure the continued rollout of broadband access, as well as the successful deployment of the next generation of broadband technology," as one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), put it, reports. The bill charges the Federal Trade Commission with establishing (within 90 days of enactment) an Internet safety and tech working group of experts in public and private sectors, creating a nationwide Net-safety public-awareness program, and promoting best practices within the Internet industry. The news media may not have noticed this part of the bill, but the Family Online Safety Institute, the Consortium for School Networking and the International Society for Technology in Education, and the National PTA certainly took note. Search for the bill's full text here (I'd give you a direct link, but all links are temporary in the Library of Congress search engine).

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    Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    UK's new national online-safety council

    The UK has unleashed a new Net-safety watchdog, the BBC reports. Called the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, it's the panel called for in British psychologist Tanya Byron's Action Plan, which resulted from the year-long study she conducted at Prime Minister Brown's request. Announced by British Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the council has representatives from more than 100 organizations in both public and private sectors, including social-network companies and children's advocates, according to the Children's Office press release. The council's charged with educating the public about safety on the social Web and, among other things, establish what we call "best practices" - as the BBC puts it, "voluntary codes of practice, with an examination of how websites handle videos or messages posted by users." View video of Byron's own look back at her report's development here. Here's my original post on the Byron review last April.

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    Euro social networking: Full speed ahead

    The social Web has solid support from the European Commission. In fact, the EC's now looking ahead to Web 3.0, which means "seamless, anytime, anywhere business, entertainment and social networking over fast reliable and secure networks" and "the end of the divide between mobile and fixed [phone] lines," said Viviane Reding, EC Commissioner for Information Society & Media, in a September 26 speech in Luxembourg, according to VNUNET. Europe "must lead the next generation of the Internet," she said. The EC is encouraging SN industry self-regulation and has created a task force to that end, reports. Participants include MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Bebo, Amsterdam-based Hyves, Berlin-based StudiVZ, and Paris-based Skyrock; "a number of researchers and child welfare organisations. The EC reportedly plans to unveil best-practice guidelines for social-network sites on Safer Internet Day next February 10. For context, reports, social networking has grown 35% in Europe in the past year. It added that 56% of Europe's online population visited social-network sites last year, and the number of regular users is projected to increase from 41.7 million now to 107.4 million in the next four years.

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    Real help for exploited kids

    This is about thoughtful, helpful legislation that, according to the New York Times's editors, offers "a blueprint that federal lawmakers would do well to follow." New York's governor, David Paterson, just passed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act, which presumes "young children arrested for prostitution are victims of sexual exploitation." These are children likely to have fallen into prostitution "after being driven from their homes by abusive or neglectful parents." Those born in New York will be given the kind of protection that US federal law has long given exploited children who come from foreign countries and now needs to provide for those born on US soil. Under New York's new law, "sexually exploited children will be placed under state protection and sent to safe houses for services that are usually unavailable in detention, including counseling and medical help." The law doesn't go into effect until 2010 while the services it calls for are being set up.

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    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Mobile Web's arrived

    "The mobile Web is here, and it's huge," reports Chris O'Brien in the San Jose Mercury News. This from a reporter who started covering telecommunications in 1999 and heard at countless mobile industry trade shows that "next year is when the mobile Internet really takes off." As evidence, sure there's the iPhone nearing its goal of selling 10 million unites, the coming new, non-business-y versions of the BlackBerry, Google's new Android OS for mobile phones, and the "countless developers rushing to build new applications" for phones. "But more than anything, my recognition of this moment is based on personal experience." He got the BlackBerry curve and "I've been completely shocked at how indispensable it's become and how it's changed the way I work and communicate," and he's not a gadget freak and this isn't his first BlackBerry. This one's his mobile computer, where he manages all his email in odd moments, reads his news, comments on friends' profiles, sends his Twitter tweets, posts to his blog, snaps and sends loads of pictures, and - through GPS-enabled software called Telenav - finds the nearest ATM or coffee spot wherever he is. Add game-playing, which is not on Chris's list, and you're looking at how our kids use phones. Good filtering between their ears is increasingly the best online-safety "application." See also "Tweens are into phones", with Nielsen Mobile research showing that 26% of US 8-to-12-year-olds owning cellphones (46% using them) and 77% of US 13-to-17-year-olds owning them.

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    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Online harassment or bullying?

    Does online harassment become cyberbullying when it's repeated aggressive behavior? Is it bullying only if it's related to a child's experience at school? Are insults posted in social-network profiles harassment while posting of compromising photos of a peer constitutes bullying? These are tough questions still being debated. What does seem to be emerging is the sense that "bullying" is more severe (causing more emotional distress and potentially involving physical threats) than "harassment." Ultimately, the definition may be as much about the victim as the perpetrator - how capable he or she is of shrugging off the mean behavior. Justin Patchin, co-author of the new book Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard, emailed me about my post on defining cyberbullying last week. He posted a thoughtful response in his own blog at, suggesting that online harassment may by default included the repetition factor just because mean posts and images can be re-posted and shared on the Web and mobile devices. About linking online bullying to offline life, "we agree that those incidents that have proven most hurtful typically involve a personal relationship (the target knows the offender in real life)," Professor Patchin writes. "That doesn’t mean, however, that we should simply disregard those behaviors that are carried out among “strangers” online. They too can result in harm." Absolutely! I also think technology can be used not only to express an existing power imbalance between harasser and victim but also to help *create* the power imbalance a would-be bully wants to set up. While we're on the subject, check out this Las Vegas Sun editorial about how some Nevada schools are intelligently working with student activists to address online harassment in the context of violence and intimidation and to teach conflict resolution. The Sun's editors commend Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), a national organization that has nearly two dozen chapters in Nevada (here's more on SAVE).

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    Turning music biz upside down - again

    First there was iTunes selling single tunes at 99 cents a pop; then you could rent digital songs for a monthly subscription; now there's the way of MySpace, with free tunes "brought to you by...." (right, advertising). The new MySpace Music just launched . With it, the Washington Post reports, the free tunes "can be played only on personal computers connected to the Internet.... Anyone who wants to transfer a song to a portable device like Apple Inc.'s iPod will have to buy the music through Inc.'s year-old downloading service, which sells songs for as little as 79 cents apiece." The music sold via MySpace won't contain DRM-style copy protection, which makes it more share-able - as MySpace leverages what the social Web is all about: sharing stuff with your friends. The site lets its users create "an unlimited number of playlists containing up to 100 songs apiece, a sharing concept similar to music services already offered by Imeem and," the Post reports. Warner Music, Sony BMG, Universal Music, and EMI Music are all participating, as are Sony ATV/Music Publishing and The Orchard. Independent labels (representing about 9% of the US digital-recorded music market) want in too, apparently. The Financial Times reports.

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