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Friday, November 07, 2008

Invisible publics

In this digital-media age, teens' invisible audiences are many: relatives, employers, marketers, school officials, government agencies, and possibly even stalkers. Another way to think of some of these publics - not just marketers - is as "data miners," mining on an individual level (mining individuals' private thoughts made public) as well as mining profiles in aggregate. Yet, I'm seeing it said in a number of research papers and analyses that teens are either not aware of these invisible publics or choosing not to care. In a paper in FirstMonday - "A privacy paradox: Social networking in the United States" - Susan Barnes looks at the implications, asking if social networkers really have any privacy. She mentions privacy scholar Oscar Gandy’s "metaphor of a Panopticon - an architectural design that allowed prisoners to be monitored by observers" and writes that "online social networks allow for high levels of surveillance.... Social-networking sites create a central repository of personal information. These archives are persistent and cumulative." New information is not replaced in this global archive of innermost thoughts; it's just moved down. So, instead of the well-used definition of privacy that might make teens' eyes glaze over, parents and teens might consider this as worth protecting: "Privacy isn't just about hiding things. It's about self-possession, autonomy, and integrity." Barnes is quoting Simson Garfinkel, author of Database Nation. Parents, note that many teens already practice this approach by adding fictional elements to their online profiles (see "Fictionalizing their profiles"). Barnes makes this point too, while pointing to potential social, technical, and legal solutions. I agree with her that "it will take all levels of society to tackle the social issues related to teens and privacy," and that "awareness is key."

Related links

  • The Digital Natives Project's Diana Kimball takes you (anyone) on a "field trip" through Facebook's privacy controls.

  • I'd be very interested to know - via anne(at) - if what you hear from your kids when together you dig into this subject (in a single family discussion or over time) is not the rough equivalent to: "Young people today are already developing an attitude toward their privacy that is simultaneously vigilant and laissez-faire. They curate their online personas as carefully as possible, knowing that everyone is watching - but they have also learned to shrug and accept the limits of what they can control." That's from Clive Thompson in the New York Times Magazine.

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  • Who'll see what I post 20 yrs from now?

    That's a question that needs to hang around 24/7 in the back of social networkers' and bloggers' minds, because - according to the authors of just-published Born Digital (Basic Books, 2008) - "at no time in human history has information about a young person been more freely and publicly accessible to so many others.” This comes as no surprise to many parents, but few of us know the reasons. Here's one good one from authors John Palfrey and Urs Gasser: Teen "social norms suggest that more information about yourself will attract more friends." So a few interesting questions you could ask your kids in a dinner-table conversation (from a blogger in the Digital Natives blog) are: Will sharing their thoughts and everyday life online make them more popular? (Remember, it's normal if they feel that way - this is a commonly held view among youth - just explain you read it was a social norm and are honestly interested in your child's take on it.] "Do [they] understand the gravity of what and how much information [they] expose of themselves on the Internet?" And do they "ever take into account that [their] information is owned by the companies offering the services [they] are using? (Parents and teens can look at any social site's Terms of Service for information on how users' own content might be used; hopefully the site enforces them.)

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    Mobile parenting

    I especially liked Nos. 4 and 6 in Marian Merritt's blog post about how parents can help their kids keep mobile phone use safe and affordable. If you use cellphone parental controls (she speaks to those, and I wrote about them last May here), "tell your child you are installing and using parental controls and show them the details on what you'll be limiting." She adds that this is not the time to be spying on your child." I agree, for the simple reason that, if you did monitor them surreptitiously and found something untoward, you'd have to talk with them anyway, and then it'd be really hard to keep anger and communication breakdown at bay. There is one exception, though: If your child is spending an unusual amount of time online and is being secretive and uncommunicative, monitoring software might be justified to ensure s/he's not at risk. For more on mobile parenting, see our "Cellphone Safety Tips" at A couple of other posts on the subject: "Teen uber-texters" and "Cellphone etiquette."

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    Tragic end to Canada's search for a boy

    In a deeply sad follow-up to last week's feature, hunters this week stumbled upon the body of a boy believed to be 15-year-old Brandon Crisp of Barrie, Ontario, the Toronto Globe & Mail reported. An autopsy is being performed today (Friday), but police said they believed the cause of death to be hypothermia. Brandon had left home weeks ago on his bike, angry after a family argument about videogame play. The bike was later found broken. For parents seeking expert advice on videogame addition, please see "Don't just take away the Xbox."

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    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Harvard prof on RIAA anti-piracy tactics

    The number of challenges to the US recording industry's approach to copyright infringement is on the rise. But a new challenge, by Harvard law professor Charles Nesson, has "opened a new front" in the battle between the RIAA and music file-sharers, Computerworld reports. It challenges the constitutionality of the statute the RIAA has used in thousands of cases against file-sharers. Nesson argues that it's a criminal statute unlawful to use in civil cases. "He also challenged the constitutionality of the steep penalties for copyright violations that are provided under the act. The penalties range from $750 to $30,000 per infringement, with a maximum of $150,000 for certain willful violations," according to Computerworld. Nesson likens the tactics to the creation of a "private police force giving out million-dollar tickets ... using the courts as "collection agencies." So far legal challenges to the RIAA's campaign "have tended to focus on the constitutionality of the statutory fines provided under the copyright act," Computerworld adds. BTW, for your kids or students, here's a fun, animated explanation of fair use in copyright law, "A Fair(y) Use Tale" at YouTube. It's by Prof. Eric Faden of Bucknell University and, as he puts it, "delivered through the words of the very folks we can thank for nearly endless copyright terms." See also "Defending remixers, future artists."

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    'The parents' fault. Not.'

    Those are the words of tech educator Will Richardson, who in his blog tells of a conversation with a high school principal. Richardson had said in his presentation that no one was teaching young people how to use social-network sites well. So the principal told Richardson he was teaching them - when he hauls them into his office, shows them the nasty stuff he'd found on their profiles, and watches the "genuine astonishment" on their faces that he'd found their profiles. Clearly that cluelessness was their parents' fault, the principal indicated. Richardson thought not, but the solution is not the one-shot "parent awareness night" or "some type of scary Internet predator presentation by a state policeman." He continued: "For the life of me, I can't understand what is so hard about opening up the first and second and third grade curriculum and finding ways to integrate these skills and literacies in a systemic way. If you want kids to be educated about these tools and environments, then maybe we should, um, educate them." Hear, hear! But here's a literacy we can integrate into our kids' lives too: life literacy, learning how to function in community (online as well as offline), learning treat others as we'd like: Tech-etiquette basics like "no texting or talking during dinner." [See also "Cellphone etiquette."]

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    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    US's record youth vote

    Voters under 30 traditionally tend to vote similarly to those over 30, MSNBC reports. Not in this election. "Young voters preferred Barack Obama over John McCain by 68% to 30% - the highest share of the youth vote obtained by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age in 1976," MSNBC cites CIRCLE (a non-partisan organization that promotes research on the political engagement of Americans 15-25) as saying. "Early reports" are indicating that this election's youth turnout exceeded that of 2004, "which was itself a year with a big surge in voters ages 18 to 29," according to MSNBC. Rock the Vote, too, says it's seeing a record youth turnout this year. It worked with Facebook to register 50,000+ new voters this year, ZDNET reports. Among other developments, "just after midnight on Nov. 4, about 1 million people used the Causes application to simultaneously set their Facebook status with a unified message to remind their friends to vote. Facebook is calling it one of the largest online rallies in history, with more than 1.5 million people participating." As for election-related Internet use overall, ZDNET reports that around the time Obama was being declared the winner, "an Internet usage record was being broken." Citing Akamai figures, it adds that "at the peak, there were more than 8.5 million visitors per minute visiting news sites around the globe - with more than 7.5 million of those visits occurring from Web connections in North America."

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    Videogamers and/or future composers?

    The latest edition of Guitar Hero, "World Tour," is not more of the same, Mike Musgrove at the Washington Post reports. In it, you can go into "studio" mode, lay down your own tracks, then "click a button and 'publish' the song online so that any other player with a Web-connected game console can download and play your song, just as they would play any other song in the game. If other players like your creation, they can vote for it and you can get the satisfaction of watching your song climb the online charts at the game's online service, called 'GH Tunes'." Even more cool than this, though, is that it's part of a trend. "Many of the hottest new titles appearing this holiday season include software tools that allow users to express themselves and share their work with an online audience." Examples: create your own characters in Spore, design and share your own games in Xbox Live's "community games" (coming soon); write and share your own adventure story in LittleBigPlanet on PlayStation 3; and compose tracks based on your movements with Wii Music.

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    Videogame for SAT prep

    This makes sense: Up nationwide test scores by trying to make preparing for SATs fun! "Two of the country's largest test-prep course providers are pairing with video game companies for the first time, to give students another way to practice," the Akron [Ohio] Beacon Journal reports. One of the games, designed with the help of Kaplan, helps students with "simple math, reading, and writing games." It runs $40. Portable prep makes even more sense: A $30 version for the Nintendo DS should be available now. "Princeton Review Inc. is also collaborating on a test-prep game," the Beacon Journal adds.

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    Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    Videogames & aggression: New study

    A just-published article in Pediatrics looked at three studies - one in the US and two in Japan - which found that "playing violent videogames is a significant risk factor for later physically aggressive behavior and that this violent videogame effect on youth generalizes across very different cultures." The authors added that the research "strongly suggests reducing the exposure of youth to this risk factor." But context is important. The study's lead author Craig Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, told the Washington Post that the findings "should be understood in the larger context of a child's life." Playing 5-10 hours of a violent videogame isn't going to change a "healthy, normal, nonviolent child" into a violent one, Anderson said, adding that extreme aggression usually results from an array of "risk factors." The Post points out some such risk factors identified by the US surgeon general in 2001: "gang involvement, antisocial parents and peers, substance abuse, poverty and media violence." The study in Pediatrics reported that videogames are played in 90% of US homes with children 8-16 and "US average playing time of four hours a week in the late 1980s is now up to 13 hours a week, with boys averaging 16 to 18 hours a week," according to the Post. Here's coverage at Wired's geekdad blog and Health magazine. See also "US teens' gaming highly social."

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    Monday, November 03, 2008

    M.U.S.I.C. in class

    With the US election tomorrow, it seems a fitting time to read Thomas Paine and Jimmy Cliff at the top of a middle-school assignment about social justice and perseverance, followed by 7th-graders' interpretations. New York City teacher John Chase's 8th-graders' even more powerful responses to songs about social responsibility and empathy indicates how much the assignment resonated with them (put this into an anti-cyberbullying lesson, teachers and advocates!). Music - or rather M.U.S.I.C. (Musicians United for Songs in the Classroom), a nonprofit organization Chase formed - is literally bringing history to life, or rather to his students' everyday lives and connections with the people in them (including their teachers!). Here's the Paine-Cliff assignment in Chase's own words in his MySpace blog, where so many musicians and students are: "Last month 7th-grade students studied the American Revolution and learned about the 'power of the pen' and Thomas Paine's essay, 'The American Crisis.' We also listened to and discussed Jimmy Cliff's song, 'The Harder They Come.' I then asked my students to practice being Paine or Cliff, and compose a personal mission statement, poem, or lyric to inspire and motivate people to 'fight on' in our times." Here's the story on Chase and the M.U.S.I.C. program, as well as the past summer's project, with comments from musicians involved. In his bio Chase quotes Maya Angelou as saying, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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