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Friday, October 02, 2009

'Red-light district' makes virtual world safer

San Francisco-based Linden Lab, which runs Second Life, has sequestered adult content and activity in the virtual world onto a new continent called "Zindra." Residents of the virtual world have to verify that they're adults before they can search for anything on Zindra or go there (here's the page that explains how the age verification process works). The entire "world" is now classified as either "Adult," "Mature," or "PG." As Linden Lab explains these, "Adult" is what most of us think of as adult content or activity – sexually-themed or explicit, inappropriate for minors. "Mature" seems to be more about the shopping and socializing, or non-serious, side of virtual life, where there's nothing really inappropriate for kids to see but also where grownups don't particularly want to mix it up with 13-to-17-year-olds (who themselves would probably prefer Teen Second Life for socializing). Linden Lab describes the "Mature" classification this way: "Social and dance clubs, bars, stores and malls, galleries, music venues, beaches, parks (and other spaces for socializing, creating, and learning) all support a Mature designation so long as they don't host publicly promoted adult activities or content." "PG," obviously, is for everyone – the label for all educational and business activity (virtual classes, meetings, talks, etc., where only time zones are a barrier for gatherings of people planet-wide).

"The other day, when I logged back in after quite a few weeks," writes digital-media maven Chris Abraham in about checking back in after all this happened, "Second Life told me so in so many words that if I want to party, I need to explicitly commit myself to that lifestyle; otherwise, I had better just be happy with PG-13. Second Life didn't kick out the brothels and porno theaters, it just put them on a different plane of existence." All of which makes high school classes and other educational programs (see links below) in Second Life much safer and more feasible now (e.g., this from ABC News Brooklyn on science class in Second Life).

For visual aids, here's a 3 min. video interview with Second Life creator Philip Rosedale with little clips from in-world and a PG13-rated look at Zindra (on its opening day, 7/4/09).

Related links

  • Machinima of Rochester Institute of Technology's virtual campus in Second Life (machinima is video taken in-world, so it looks like animated film)
  • "US Holocaust Museum in Second Life"
  • "The Virtual Alamo" museum in Second Life
  • A video at in the UK about student projects in and with virtual worlds and my post about it
  • "School & social media"
  • "Young practitioners of social-media literacy"

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  • Net-safety task force update

    The Online Safety & Technology Working Group, the first such national-level task force of the Obama administration, is well into the 12 months' work the law that formed it asked us to do (here's the text of the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act signed into law last fall). co-director Larry Magid, who leads the subcommittee about online-safety education, just published a summary of last week's meeting in – our second meeting (the first, kick-off, meeting was last June). [Disclosure: I am a co-chair of the Working Group.]

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    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    Anti-gay harassment tougher on middle-schoolers

    "For many gay youth, middle school is more survival than learning – one parent of a gay teenager I spent time with likened her child’s middle school to a 'war zone',” wrote Benoit Denizet-Lewis in the New York Times Magazine. He told of a middle school counselor in Maine who says anti-gay language is embedded in middle-school culture, and – because more LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] students are coming out in younger ages – schools are "playing catchup to try to keep them safe." These observations were borne out in a new study from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) showing that middle-school-level "LGBT students are significantly more likely to face hostile school climates than high school LGBT students, yet have less access to school resources and support." Some key numbers from the study: 91% of LGBT middle-school students and 86% of high school students surveyed had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation; 59% of LGBT m.s. students and 43% of h.s. students had experienced physical harassment because of their sexual orientation; and 39% of LGBT m.s. students and 20% of h.s. students had been assaulted in school because of their sexual orientation. See also "When Teenagers Question Their Sexuality", a Q&A in the Times's "Consults" blog" with psychiatrist Jeffrey Fishberger of the Trevor Project, which runs a national 24-hour crisis and suicide hot line for LGBT youth.

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    Google's Wave: All things to all users?

    It's most often called a communication and collaboration tool. Google says it's email if it were invented today, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The Wall Street Journal says "it blends elements of email, wikis, instant messaging and social networking." Computerworld zooms in on the social-networking part and cites the view of one analyst saying it will present Facebook with serious competition. Computerworld exhibits both predictable skepticism and realism where it says that Wave will be dealing with the "problem of 'good enough'.... People think whatever network they're using now is good enough so why bother switching and making sure all their friends and family members switch, as well?" Why realism? Social Web users tend to add tools more than switch to them for the very reason that, if all their friends are in one service (such as MySpace or Facebook), they're unlikely to leave - it's hard to get all your friends and relatives to move on en masse.

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    MySpace: Entertainment hub that tweets

    MySpace is taking steps in two directions, both solidifying its entertainment focus and expanding its social-media offerings. According to CNET, it "plans to launch a new video service sometime in the next several months with the help of sister site Hulu," in which MySpace parent News Corp owns a significant stake. The first step will be an overhaul of MySpace Video, adding more "feature films, TV shows, and music videos," CNET adds. On the social front, MySpace is syncing up with Twitter, TechCrunch reports. So – like Facebook users – MySpace members can opt to have their MySpace status updates automatically shared with all their Twitter followers (Twitter's version of MySpace "friends") and vice versa. "A couple weeks ago, AOL made its AIM lifestream go both ways with Twitter (and Facebook) as well. So we are definitely seeing a trend here," TechCrunch adds. Also on the social side,'s Larry Magid reports in CNET that the Department of Justice now has a MySpace profile partly to drive traffic to its new site" but also apparently to provide "unmoderated forum where users can comment and 'interact with the Department in entirely new ways'." [See also my "MySpace's metamorphosis?" this past August.]

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    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    The case of the password-requiring coach

    A coach requiring a team member's Facebook password is a serious problem all by itself. But this coach used that password to read private messages and then kick the team member off the squad for profanity Coach Tommie Hill found in the private message. I'm referring to a case in Pearl, Miss., cited in eSchoolNews. The student was nominated for a team spirit award "for the previous year, but the coaches said she did not deserve the honor. [She] also did not take certain academic courses because the cheerleading coaches taught them." The student and her family are now suing the coach and school for $100 million "for what the suit claims are violations of Jackson's right to privacy and freedom of speech."

    What's wrong with this picture on the privacy front? Viewing students' public profiles is fine simply because they're public. But in terms of protecting one's identity, privacy, and intellectual property, sharing passwords is one of the most risky behaviors in the online risk spectrum (see ConnectSafely's password tips). I'm stating the obvious in saying that teachers, coaches, and other adult mentors should be modeling safe, ethical behavior, not the opposite. What Coach Hill's behavior teaches students to do is set up a network of "G-rated" profiles and give her those passwords to avoid any repercussions from the "real" profiles – or set up "real life" profiles in another social network site. If not these, then there are other workarounds. CNN Live covered a similar story involving a private school in Georgia, interviewing a few of us bloggers about it. For more on how adults, for their own sake too, could model better behavior in social media, see this at Forbes.

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    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    25 billion+ videos viewed

    That was just this past August in the US, according to comScore's latest figures - yet another online video-viewing record. More than 10 billion of those views were on Google sites, with YouTube representing 99% of Google video traffic. In terms of people, "161 million US Internet users watched online video during the month, the largest audience ever recorded," comScore Video Metrix reports. The rest of August's Top 5 video-sharing locations were Microsoft Sites, Viacom Digital, Hulu, and Fox Interactive (MySpace). Now, for a little context, check out Clive Thompson in Wired on "How YouTube Changes the Way We Think" (and converse).

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    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Youth, adults & the social-media shift

    No wonder adults, born and raised in the 20th century's mass-media environment are struggling to wrap our brains around current media conditions – and what "Net safety" should look like under them. We're in the middle of a Gutenberg Press-style media shift, multiplied by 3. Author and media pundit Clay Shirky talks about the four previous media shifts that "qualify for the term revolutionary," all of which were either a) asynchronous one-to-many or b) realtime, one-to-one "conversations." They were 1) that Gutenberg-enabled first shift to mass media (text) more than 5.5 centuries ago; 2) then real-time, two-way or conversational media (telegraph/text, then telephone/audio); 3) then recorded mass-distributed media other than text (photos, sound, film); then 4) the one-to-many mass media we grew up with, recorded and sent through the air (radio and TV).

    Media shift on steroids
    The Internet, Shirky said in his talk last June, does two revolutionary things, but I'd say three. Shirky's two are: 1) blends real-time two-way conversation and one-to-many mass media to create real-time, many-to-many media or conversations and 2) is the distribution platform or pipe for all other media as well. The third piece is implied in Shirky's first one, but I think it's so significant or even radical, especially where online youth are concerned, that it deserves to be highlighted: the "many" in realtime, many-to-many media are the producers, marketers, and distributors as well as the consumers of media now. Anyone can be any of the above now, and many active social-media users are often all the above simultaneously. What determines the size of "viewership" is not control of the distribution channels so much as viewers' attraction to the content and desire to help spread the word (these days, though, often it's a hybrid of both conventional and new-media conditions, e.g., singer Susan Boyle's success on both the "Britain's Got Talent" TV show and YouTube).

    E.g., the new 'TV'
    University of Southern California media professor Henry Jenkins zooms in on just one medium, television, in a fascinating piece at the Huffington Post about how it is not just something watched on TV sets anymore and how it's distributed as much by social networks (real-life social circles) as by broadcast networks. And he gives lots of examples of transmedia properties (TV shows' own videogames, comic books, podcasts, and Web series). As I read, I thought of Japan's cellphone novels: serial novels "written" via cellphone, one screen at a time, the best of which go from blogs to books and probably eventually old-style TV shows and movies.

    Big adjustment for adults
    But just as interesting about this media revolution is the way we adults are handling it vis. our kids. I think youth use digital social media more fluidly because they're experimenters, and digital media are experimental – they require active not passive use. To really make these media work for you, you don't just take delivery; you need to experiment, play, produce, and collaboratively mess around with music, text, video, blogs, sites, games, virtual environments, and all the devices they're on – which is really fun and compelling for youth. Maybe because "our" media are much less demanding, we grew up thinking of them as mere entertainment, and we project that view a lot onto our children's media experience. We're binary in our thinking: we somehow think they're either working or playing, and we trivialize or even fear and block their use of media.

    Our one-way, top-down media also had relatively few companies producing them and controlling their distribution, with government regulating those companies. So at a recent meeting on Capitol Hill, I noted that some of us adults think that problems in today's media can simply be fixed by people in authority (parents, companies, regulators, etc.), and distribution of bad stuff, e.g. adult content (which is no longer produced and distributed only by companies or only by adults), on all these dispersed, multi-directional media can be controlled or blocked at the "source." But now the source – whether or good or bad content – is often a kid. As for professionally produced media, certainly government can still regulate some of it, but only media produced or mass-distributed by responsible companies, aka conventional media – not the media that parents are generally most concerned about.

    Media companies ≠ media producers
    Youth produce all kinds of media, most of it ok, neutral, or constructive, some nasty, less of it unethical, and even less illegal. It's complex, like their lives, not given to simple characterizations - see the New York Times's commentary on a New Jersey high school's "slut list," a case in which teen behavior around social status, gender, and sexuality deserves more consideration than the media through which those behaviors are acted out. What youth do communicate and produce in digital media largely mirrors their real-world social lives, though they often fictionalize and sometimes exaggerate parts of them (see "Fictionalizing their profiles").

    That deep, rich, disturbing picture is, for many of us, harder to look at than the professionally produced, regulated images of our past. But in many ways it's good that this reflection, communication, and production are much more exposed than ever before – so people can conduct research, parent better, consider technical and other protections, and find ways to help young people respect and protect themselves. Two things are certain: Government can't regulate the producers of the new media environment, and 2) those producers' ears will tune out media-safety messages coming from the media environment of their parents.

    Related links

  • An example of a mass-distributed, many-to-many video conversation in YouTube: MadV's "One World" (see Clive Thompson in Wired)
  • "School & social media"
  • "Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth"
  • "How teens use social network sites"
  • "*Serious* informal learning"

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