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Friday, December 26, 2008

Missouri's new cyberharassment law

Seven people have been prosecuted under Missouri's new online-harassment law, passed after 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying in 2006. "When a press report in 2007 revealed the role that 47-year-old Lori Drew played in Meier's harassment, local authorities felt pressured to charge Drew with a crime, but could find no law under which to prosecute her. So Missouri lawmakers drafted legislation to outlaw future threats or harassing communication that causes emotional distress," Wired's Kim Zetter reports, adding that, under this law, either misdemeanor or felony charges can apply. The seven current cases involve everything from harassing messages to physical threats, most involved text messages via cellphone, and - interestingly - none of the cases Wired cites involved social networking. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cites the view of author and cyberbullying expert Justin Patchin that laws like Missouri's "fail to deter such behavior by young people because most don't understand what cyberbullying is." They may be more effective, he added, in "protecting children targeted by adults," but the Post-Dispatch says he's "skeptical that such laws will be upheld in courts." At least 18 states now have laws targeting Internet harassment and cyberstalking, according to the Post-Dispatch. Here's the ReadWriteWeb blog on all this with a post about current efforts to reduce or end online anonymity.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Check out the SantaCam!

Would anyone who celebrates Christmas like to track Santa tonight? They can follow - sorry, track - his movement in Twitter! He's in Southeast Asia right now and wondered if his reindeer and sleigh could make it through the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (Rudolph's quite a hotdog, apparently). I learned about Santa's tweets in "Christmas 2.0" at the Toronto Globe and Mail. NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been tracking Santa on Christmas Eves since 1955 (great story on how that began in the Globe & Mail piece), but now with Google's help, there's a map and SantaCam video of his flight path here. Here's the SantaCam. What I love is that "kids can follow along in seven languages through the website or on a smart phone by using Google Maps." BTW, I just checked, and since I mentioned KL, Malaysia, he's moved on to Dhaka, Bangladesh (he definitely seems to twitter between rooftops). Oh, and here's TechCrunch on how to Twitter a last-minute gift to charity. Happy whatever Holidays to every last one of you!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ireland: Guide for parents on mobile bullying

Ireland's cellphone companies - Vodafone, O2, Meteor, and 3 - got together and created a parents' guide to protecting kids from phone-based bullying, the Irish Times reports. Available on the companies' Web sites and at retail stores, it explains the mobile operators' service called "dual access," with which "parents can check the numbers their child has been calling and texting, and keep an eye on the amount of money spent. Parents can also ask operators to block certain services." To see what mobile carriers on this side of the Atlantic are doing for parents, see this item last May. Also:'s "Tips to help stop cyberbullying," "Cellphone safety tips," "Mobile parenting," and - for more on the discussion in Ireland - "Cellphone cos. & bullying." [Thanks to the EC's QuickLinks for pointing the above story out.]

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Tech parenting from our POV

"Is it smart or sneaky for parents to have accounts on facebook or myspace to monitor their children's behavior?" "I won't let my teenager on Facebook or MySpace. Is that a mistake? Should I?" "Of the social networks, which do you consider to be the most safe, and which do you consider to be least safe?" Those are just a few of dozens of questions from parents around the US my co-director Larry Magid and I enjoyed answering in a one-hour, live online discussion at the Washington Post last week. It's now archived at the Post's Web site here. (Whew! The virtual version of thinking on your feet.) Do check it out and tell us what you think (or ask us your own questions) in the forum.

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Japan's cellphone novels

Are they the soap operas of the digital age, Japanese-style? [Maybe some American kid will break the gender barrier of Japan's cellphone novels and write the sci-fi version of Huck Finn's adventures on his cellphone. How 'bout it, English teachers?! Though maybe not till US cellphone companies make unlimited texting cheaper!)]

Anyway, they're serial text messages - sometimes 20 screens or 10,000 words a day - posted by mobile phone to a blogging site. Cumulatively, they become full-blown romance novels that, in book format, would be several hundred pages long. The best of them do become published books. By the end of last year, cellphone novels "held four of the top five positions on [Japan's] literary best-seller list," The New Yorker reports. [Though there is some controversy in Japan over the use of that word "literary," some argue that the world-famous Tale of Genji, written more than 1,000 years ago, was the original cellphone novel.] Maho i-Land (meaning "Magic Island"), "is the largest cellphone-novel site" with 1 million+ titles. Besides the potential readership and - possibly - income, part of the appeal for their writers may be that they can be written in bed (hmm, think about that too, English teachers). reports that the site - kind of a literary version of - "provides tools for people to write their own mobile phone novels." US versions of Magic Island, both in beta, are and, according to The New Yorker.

Interestingly, they're not hurting book sales; they've added a whole new genre, printed in gray or colored text and left to right on the page, as on a phone screen, according to The New Yorker (which adds that 82% of Japanese 10-to-29-year-olds have their own cellphones). One mobile novel (or keitai shousetsu) publisher speculated for ReadWriteWeb that the book versions are like "keepsakes" for the blog readers, many of whom had posted suggestions and critiques to the novel bloggers and "end up feeling as if they had a hand in helping craft the novel."

The stories they tell are strangely at the same time empowering to their writers and demeaning of women (the latter because so culturally conservative: depicting women "suffering passively, the victims of their emotions and their physiology; [yet] true love prevails"). The market for this is seemingly bottomless. The moral of one best-seller-cum-box-office smash hit: "not that sex leads to all kinds of pain, and so should be avoided, but that sex leads to all kinds of pain, and pain is at the center of a woman's life."

Two more of many fascinating cultural and literary notes in The New Yorker piece: 1) the anti-fame attitude and m.o. of even the most popular authors, shy of posting photos of themselves with their content (which is "consistent with the ethos of the Japanese Internet"); and 2) "In the classic iteration, the novels, written by and for young women, purport to be autobiographical and revolve around true love, or, rather, the obstacles to it that have always stood at the core of romantic fiction: pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, rape, rivals and triangles, incurable disease. The novels are set in the provinces - the undifferentiated swaths of rice fields, chain stores, and fast-food restaurants that are everywhere Tokyo is not—and the characters tend to be middle and lower middle class. Specifically, they are Yankees, a term with obscure linguistic origins (having something to do with 1950s America and greaser style) which connotes rebellious truants - the boys on motorcycles, the girls in jersey dresses, with bleached hair and rhinestone-encrusted mobile phones." I used to see this greaser look among some of the thousands of young people who gathered at Hachiko in Shibuya weekend evenings when I lived there even back in the late '80s.

It'll be interesting to see how much cellphone authorship takes off on this side of the Pacific - a mainstream or vertical interest like anime? We've seen teen bloggers become book authors, so why not teen texters? And will this be done in the classroom, along with podcasts, wikis, social networking, blogs, and virtual worlds? I'll keep you posted on what turns up!

Do cellphone novels repel or intrigue you? Post in the forum or email your thoughts to anne[at]!

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