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Friday, April 17, 2009

Teen social-networking fatigue?

Now that parents are flooding Facebook, might it be losing cachet for teens? The fastest-growing age breakdowns in the past three months were women 55-65 (175.3% growth), 45-54 (165%), and 35-44 (154%), according to (the site also just passed the 200 million mark for users worldwide, the San Jose Mercury News reports). Not that it's a quid pro quo, but people who follow this stuff are wondering if there's a new "place" on the horizon where teens might prefer to hang out - for example, maybe the part of the wireless spectrum that text messaging uses. The indicators of texting's popularity (teens are sending and receiving 2,274 a month, on average, the Washington Post reports) suggest that it may be stealing some of users' Facebook time. But a sudden mass migration is unlikely (people don't just leave social sites - not if their friends don't leave). More likely is that "FB passion among youth is fading," as social media researcher danah boyd observed in Twitter and Facebook the other day.

Responding to that, YPulse founder and youth marketing blogger Anastasia Goodstein wrote in her blog that "it may be that teens aren't necessarily going somewhere else; they’re just spending less time on social networks and more time socializing in real life, texting, etc. That makes sense to me, that Facebook (and for many teens MySpace) will need to move over and make room for the growing number of other tools in their social toolbox - an important one, nonetheless, because it does represent a tool *bundle* (email, real-time chat, asynchronous wall comments, etc.). So it may be kind of naïve and adult to think there has to be a single new place or technology teens will adopt en masse, (though social networking was like that back in 2005, that was then, this is now). [Other noteworthy FB numbers: though no longer the fastest-growing, 18-to-25-year-olds are still the biggest population segment of Facebook by far (43%), parents may be interested to know that 13-to-17-year-olds make up only 12% of the FB population.] There's more on social-networking fatigue, enthusiasm, and ambivalence at Yahoo News. And from the "This just in!" Department: comScore just released data showing that Facebook now accounts for about a third of all online social networking worldwide and 4.1 out of every 100 minutes we all spend online, The Guardian reports.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A new online safety: The means, not the end

We really need to rethink online safety. When you talk with teens in your family or classroom, do you see what I'm seeing: that, because of the predator panic US society has been experiencing and widespread school policy to block social media, they have practically tuned out the term "online safety"? Because it has for so long been equated with "deleting predators" and it can't really help them deal with the complexities of their online/offline social lives, it's in danger of becoming irrelevant to them.

That puts "online safety" in danger of becoming a barrier rather than a support to young people's constructive, enriching use of social media and technologies. If that happens, it also becomes a barrier to their full participation in participatory culture and democracy.

Certainly the social Web itself isn't participatory democracy 2.0; however - witness the prominent role of social network sites in the US's latest presidential election (see just-released Pew/Internet research) - it has clearly become an important tool of participatory democracy and, as such, needs to be part of citizenship and media literacy education in school (to remain relevant to social media's most fluent practitioners - teens - schools cannot afford to discourage or block social media's use). Online and offline citizenship and social media literacy are themselves the lionshare of online-safety education for youth who are not at risk in offline life (more on this below and in "Social media literacy: The new Internet safety").

To help keep school relevant to students, make online safety meaningful to them, make their use of social media more constructive, and close what author and media professor Henry Jenkins calls the participation gap, we need to: 1) put online safety into the context of full, healthy participation and 2) redefine it as freedom from a set of risks that restrict youth from free expression and civic engagement through social technologies and media.

The three forms of safety that enable full participation are:

  • Physical safety - the one we have focused on the most, freedom from physical harm by predators and bullies
  • Psychological safety - freedom from cruelty, flaming, and other forms of harassment and cyberbullying involving ex-friends, mean kids, bullies, colleagues, etc. (picture a wise drama teacher whose rule it is that students check all personal judgment/criticism at the door before they engage worry-free in otherwise compromising, goofy warm-up exercises).
  • Reputational and legal safety - these can overlap with the psychological kind, where, for example, online defamation can harm someone's reputation; they provide for freedom from restriction or repercussion as a result of online communication or production by one's self or others (repercussions ranging from school discipline to loss of employment to criminal charges for sexting).

    All of those freedoms - including from physical harm - are fostered when youth receive training in citizenship, ethics, empathy, new media literacy (employing the critical-thinking filter to what one "says," uploads, or produces as much as reads, downloads or consumes). Such training couldn't remove all online risk any more than it could remove all danger from offline life - particularly for at-risk youth. It can't speed up teenage brain development, which necessarily involves risk taking and assessment and continues until their early-to-mid-20s. But it would go way beyond legislation, stranger-danger messages, parental-control technology, or any other-imposed safety measure, because it develops the internal "filter" that is always with them.

    These freedoms are not the goal; they are means to achieving it. We need to shift the public discussion from the more negative safety from to the much more positive safety for or toward active civic engagement online and offline as an essential goal of education in a free society (see the impressive array of skills involved in new media literacy at

    Educator and author Will Richardson says it better. Referring to social Web technologies, he recently wrote in ASCD's Educational Leadership magazine that, "for a host of reasons, we're failing to empower kids to use one of the most important technologies for learning that we've ever had. One of the biggest challenges educators face right now is figuring out how to help students create, navigate, and grow the powerful, individualized networks of learning that bloom on the Web and helping them do this effectively, ethically, and safely." Safe, ethical, full participation is also one of the biggest opportunities, as well as challenges, we all - students, educators, parents, policymakers, society itself - face right now.

    Readers, please jump in - agree, disagree, edit, augment, or comment here, in our forum, or via email to anne(at)!

    Related links

  • As the goal, safety sells youth short. How? Consider the playground metaphor, described by Barry Joseph of Global Kids, a youth-education nonprofit organization in New York asked if safety is all we want from playgrounds for our kids. "What makes a playground safe? Recreational equipment that isn't broken, for example. Barriers to keep out drug dealers or predatory adults. Authority figures to police the space. How would this playground change if it were redesigned to not just keep youth safe but also support their development?"
  • Prof. Henry Jenkins's list of factors that block "full achievement" of a participatory society, a "partial agenda for media reform from the perspective of participatory culture"
  • The skills of new media literacy - learn more at the "Learning in a Participatory Culture" conference at MIT on May 2
  • "Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project," fall 2008
  • "Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies," the final report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, January 2009
  • "Social media literacy: The new Internet safety" at NFN


  • Facebook users have lower grades?

    "Correlation does not equal causation," the researchers say, but a recent survey of college students found that "Facebook user GPAs were in the 3.0 to 3.5 range on average, compared to 3.5 to 4.0 for non-users," reports. Online socializing seems to be in the same category as other extracurricular activities, such as sports or music (in the case of music, probably at the same time!). "For instance, students who spend more time enjoying themselves rather than studying might tend to latch onto the nearest distraction, such as Facebook.... Student who work more hours at jobs spend less time on Facebook, while students involved in more extracurricular activities were also more likely to use Facebook." LiveScience also reports that over 85% of undergrads use Facebook, versus 52% of graduate students.

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    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    How a family's handling YouTube fame

    The two-minute "David After Dentist" video has gotten more than 18 million views since 6-year-old David's dad posted it on YouTube. David is now, in effect, a child star. Chris O'Brien at the San Jose Mercury News talked to David's father about how the effects of this apparently unsought near-instant fame. The original idea was to take a video of David after he'd had a tooth pulled so Mom, who couldn't be there, could see that David "was OK, if a bit loopy. The family found it funny, and put it on [Dad's] Facebook page, where only a limited number of friends and family would be able to view it." More and more people asked to see, so David Sr. posted the video on YouTube and, within three days, it had been viewed 3 million times. Some harsh comments about child exploitation have been posted on their YouTube page, but most have been positive. "They held some family meetings to discuss the phenomenon and asked how he felt ('Like a rock star!' he told them). They established some boundaries and parameters about how they would respond." Now, as a family, they package up "David After Dentist" t-shirts for fans. I wonder if David Jr. will one day join a support group for grown-up child stars. Then again, maybe half the grownup world will be child stars by then - no support groups needed!

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    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Law would decriminalize sexting in VT

    Legislation has passed Vermont's Senate and is pending in the House that would decriminalize but not legalize teen sexting. The bill would take child-porn charges off the table in cases where teens send or receive nude images of themselves or peers, Yahoo Tech News reports. The bill wouldn't legalize sexting, but "would carve out an exemption from prosecution for child pornography for 13-to-18-year-olds on either the sending or receiving end of sexting messages, so long as the sender voluntarily transmits an image of himself or herself." Yahoo adds that Vermont prosecutors could "still use laws against lewd and lascivious conduct and against disseminating indecent materials to a minor." The Vermont legislation makes sense for most sexting incidents - those involving impulsive, self-destructive, or "romantic" consensual behavior among peers - but some legal scholars feel serious charges may need to remain an option in cases where malicious or criminal intent's involved. The Yahoo article details criminal charges teens face for sexting in a number of states.

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    School admin's legal nightmare in sexting case

    The story of a high school assistant principal accused of possessing child pornography in a student sexting incident illustrates how unjustly child porn law can be applied. Even in the current "environment of prosecutorial excess, [this] case [of a 60-year-old former Fullbright exchange teacher, Peace Corps volunteer, and 30-year veteran educator] stands out as likely the first to entangle an adult who came in possession of an image that even police admit wasn't pornographic, and who did so simply in the course of doing his job," Wired blogger Kim Zetter reports. He "spent $150,000 and a year of his life defending himself in a ... legal nightmare triggered by a determined county prosecutor and nurtured by a growing hysteria over technology-enabled child porn at America's schools." It's a long, complicated story, so pls go to Zetter's post for the details, but she reports that a Virginia judge finally through the case out of court on March 31.

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    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Teen claims to be Twitter worm creator

    A US high school senior in Brooklyn, N.Y., owned up to creating a worm that attacked Twitter over the weekend, PC Magazine reports. Apparently designed to increase traffic to his site, it spread links through some 10,000 tweets, or updates, to Twitter users' pages. CNET reports that among the worm's updates were: "Mikeyy I am done...," "MikeyyMikeyy is done," and "Twitter please fix this, regards Mikeyy." The 17-year-old taking credit for the exploit, Michael Mooney, "told reporters that he created the worm out of boredom and is hoping that it will result in employment from a security firm rather than prosecution," according to PC Magazine. Twitter founder Biz Stone blogged that the worm compromised about 100 accounts, which Twitter later secured.

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