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March 11, 2005
Here's our lineup for this first full week of March:
- Chanslash: The other Net porn kids access
- What parents can do
- Further reading on fanfiction
- Web News Briefs: Major study on kids' media use; Net-enabled run-away; IM worm; New game rating; Teen convicted in P2P case; UK file-sharers sued; Oz suicide-chat law; Phone targeting tweens; New-style phish attack....
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'Chanslash': The other Net porn kids access
"Chanslash" is probably not a word in most parents' vocabularies. But because of all the young Harry Potter fans out there - and how easily one mom and fanfiction writer says they can access chanslash in their search for ever-more Harry Potter material - it probably should be.
"Beth" in Texas is the mom I'm referring to (she asked me to use a different name in deference to the fanfiction community). She emailed me about chanslash the other day. She loves writing historical fiction, as well as "fanfic" stories about Tolkien-esque elves, so there is nothing negative here about the genre or even erotica ("I'm no prude," she said), just about two things:
- Its accessibility to children (responsible sites sometimes warn about adult-only content, but that's about the highest barrier anyone encounters, except for an occasional unenforceable requirement that registrants be 13 or 18)
- The fact that, when they come upon sexually explicit material, they're often encouraged to read more and to try their hand at it.
Fanfiction, as many people know, is stories written by fans of movies, TV shows, books, etc. (e.g., Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, anime, Harry Potter). It was around long before the Web, but it has since "exploded 1,000%," Beth said. [Statistics are difficult to find - see "Further reading" below.] Slash is same-sex romance fanfiction that's sometimes rated G but usually involves erotica (couples appear as, for example, Kirk/Spock in Star Trek stories). Chanslash is under-age slash.
How does Beth know kids are accessing this content? First, she explained that fanfiction is just as much about community as about writing; sites include discussion, chat, blogs - places where fans post reviews of each other's stories and links to their own.
"I started realizing how many kids were on these boards." How could you tell they're kids? I asked. "They'll say things like, 'Gotta go, my dad's calling' or 'TTFN - my mom said I gotta do my homework.' They're naturally open about themselves - what school they go to, their interests."
What concerns Beth is when kids run into erotica when searching for, say, a Harry Potter character they love. They'll find a story about a sexual encounter between Harry and Professor Snape and go to a board and say, "Whoa, I just read something I've never read about before." Beth said, "Instead of saying oh, honey, why don't you go read this story that's more appropriate for you, they practically cheer him on - 'Great! You've read your first slash - why don't you try to write one now?'
"I'm not homophobic. What disturbs me is the under-age orientation of the erotica," said Beth, who has been involved with fanfiction for four years. "I would just move on when I ran into it because I wasn't interested in reading it. But very slowly I realized the ages of some of the characters in these stories." Example: Boromir and Faramir, who, as any Lord of the Rings fan knows, are much-loved Tolkien characters who are brothers. "There are a lot of stories about them as lovers, some as boys too," Beth told me.
"The stories are very compelling." I asked her what she meant by that. "They're about being who you are and following your instincts - there's always an element of denial at first - then, in the end, love and truthfulness will win. What's meant to be will be, is the basic message." It puts under-age sex in a context of normalcy and goodness before - in the case of child readers - an audience of uncritical, not fully sexually developed people who are passionate about these characters, Beth said. "These are kids' heroes!"
A lot of the titles "do say up front that this is explicit content" she added, "which helps. At least it gives kids some warning." In these cases, they won't innocently stumble on a sexually explicit story about their heroes. "Of course, to some children that warning is also an invitation," and there's no one checking IDs at the "door."
Beth pointed out a scenario in which a child is surfing fanfiction with a parent right in the same room. "Mom might say, 'What are you doing online?' And the kid could say 'Reading about Harry Potter,' and she'd have no idea."
What parents can do
Beth emailed me: "One popular archive lists over 30,000 stories in their Lord of the Rings category. Harry Potter boasts well over twice that. This archive doesn't accept anything over an 'R' rating, but allows any pairing and most subject matter. Other archives tend to focus on particular elements, usually only hosting stories from one fandom, and many even restrict topics within that fandom.
"This is where parents and teachers can help 'under-agers' make wise decisions. Some archives sort by sexual pairing to accept only slash, while others allow only 'het' (heterosexual pairing), regardless of any rating restriction. There are family-friendly archives that enforce both a pairing and rating restriction and provide a positive creative experience for readers and writers.
"Tap into the good, but check the submission guidelines, and browse a selection of the stories posted before deciding if a particular archive or forum meets your family's needs."
I always appreciate hearing from parents about their concerns, solutions, and experiences - email me anytime via email@example.com.
- Numbers are hard to find. For a minimal sense of it, go to just one collection, FanFiction.net, click on any category in the directory (Movies, Books, Comics, etc.), and look at the number of stories next to each title.
- Here's one academic's stab at fanfiction stats.
- Educational digital storytelling - projects in schools throughout the US described at Techlearning.com.
- Rock 'n' roll slash, described at Canadian music site ChartAttack.com (links to a story in LiveJournal.com, a popular site for teen blogging).
- "Join the Craze," invites Computertimes.com's entertainment editor, who loves Pride and Prejudice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction.
- "Fandom" explained at the Winchester Sun in Kentucky
- Definitions of "slash" at fanfiction site TheForce.net and Wikipedia, the grassroots encyclopedia, and a definition of chanslash at WritersU.net.
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Web News Briefs
- US kids' media use: Major study
US children's homes are "media saturated," according to a study just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, "Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds." That's an "upgrade" from 1999, when Kaiser's first study said young people's were "media rich." A typical American child 8-18 is likely to live in a home with 3 TVs, 3 VCRs, 3 CD/tape players, 2 video game consoles, and a computer, found the study, conducted at Stanford University, and "the computer probably has an Internet connection and an instant messaging program." But here's the rub: the media access in a typical child's bedroom. More than two-thirds of 8-to-18-year-olds have a TV in their own rooms, more than half a VCR, and 49% a game console that connects to a TV (83% have a game console in their homes); 31% have a desktop computer, 12% a laptop; 20% are connected to the Net in their rooms, 18% have instant-messaging; 40% have a landline phone in their rooms, 39% a cell phone, and 55% have either or both. As for rules about this media use: "Fewer 8-to-18-year-olds live in a home where an attempt is made to regulate media behavior than live in homes where no such attempt is made."
As for computer time (p. 30), on average, US kids spend more than twice as much time on the computer now than they did in 1999, and the proportion of children using the computer more than an hour a day has gone from 15% to 28% during that time. Chat and email use have remained about the same - instant-messaging, which barely existed in '99, has gone from zero to kids' second most time-consuming computer activity, at 17 minutes a day (after games, at 19 min.). Gender differences aren't great. Girls' top 3 activities are IM (20 min.), Web sites (this includes blogs/online journals - 16 min.), and games (15 min.). Boys' are games (22 min.), IM (14 min.), and Web sites (12 min.). The study covered so much more, including kids' multitasking and household "media norms" (e.g., no TV till homework's done and Web-surfing supervision). The subhead in KFF's press release reads, "Kids Say Parents Don't Set or Enforce Rules on Media Use." Here's the Associated Press's coverage.
- Net-enabled run-away
It's one of those nightmare stories: A girl runs away with a man she "meets" online. The 14-year-old was "discovered Saturday morning in a McLean [Va.] home, and the 22-year-old man who allegedly took her there is now on the run," the Washington Post reports. After having been sexually assaulted "without force," she is now safe, back in her grandparents' home in another Virginia town. The part that parents need to hear (and which bears out recent research) is that the police reported that she "was not abducted and was not held against her will for five days." We somehow think that telling our children "don't talk - or communicate online - with strangers" is good advice. The problem is, teenagers who do talk to people online, people who are in fact strangers, don't think of them as strangers. The research, published by the American Psychological Association, was done by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center (see my 8/27/04 issue). For more insights from one of the study's authors, Janis Wolak, see my series, "Rethinking 'stranger danger' for teens."
- IM worm: Don't click!
Now here's encouraging news for parents of IMers (stated with a touch of sarcasm): The headline reads, "MSN Messenger used for viral gang warfare." ZDNET UK reports that MSN and its Messenger users are again being victimized by a "gang" of worm writers who "not only attacking end users, they are also verbally insulting each other." They are sending around worms (like viruses) that take control of people's computers. They spread by "sending [instant] messages that contain Internet links to malicious bots." Once the IMer clicks on the link, s/he automatically downloads the bot, which "allows an attacker to take full control of the infected computer." The worms also send that message to everyone on the recipient's buddy list or list of contacts that are then online. So tell your children not to click on links their IMing buddies seem to be sending them! They could well be this worm-message inviting them to click to something their friends would never send. Parents, this advice may really need to be burned into their memories, because it can be awfully easy to click away when one is caught up in the lively give-and-take of instant-messaging.
- New game rating
"E10+" spells better guidance for parents on children's games. Now there's an older-child part of the E-for-Everybody rating in the categories at the US's Entertainment Software Rating Board, Reuters reports. E10+ games will have "moderate amounts of cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes," according to the descriptor the ESRB will apply to this category. "The ESRB said it expects that most top sports, racing and adventure games would continue to take an E rating, while racing games with graphic crashes and fighting games with superheroes would likely take an E10+." The ESRB rates just about every game published in the US.
- Teen convicted in P2P case
It's believed to be the first criminal conviction under state law for illegally downloading music and movies. Parvin Dhaliwal, a University of Arizona student, pleaded guilty to possession of unauthorized copies of intellectual property, the Associated Press reports. He was sentenced to "a three-month deferred jail sentence, three years of probation, 200 hours of community service, and a $5,400 fine," according to the AP, and the judge also ordered him to take a copyright class at his university and to avoid using file-sharing services. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization, commented on how unusual it was for state courts to be involved in a case about copyright, which is usually a federal-level issue. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office said the young man's case was referred to them because he was a minor at the time. What led up to this? A federal task force that "monitors the Internet caught on to the student and got a warrant," then found "illegal copies of music and movies on Dhaliwal's computer, including films that, at the time of the theft, were available only in theaters. They included 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' 'Matrix Revolutions,' 'The Cat In The Hat,' and 'Mona Lisa Smile'," the AP added. Parvin may have been part of what Wired magazine calls "the shadow Internet." Other examples may be three young men described as "Robin Hoods of cyberspace" who just pleaded guilty to putting copyrighted games, movies, and software on the Internet "so that people around the world could make copies for free," according to the Associated Press.
In other music news, Russian prosecutors decided not to take legal action against AllofMP3.com, a cheap online music provider, "because Russian copyright laws do not cover digital media," the BBC reports. But record industry organizations in the US and Europe aren't finished trying to shut the site down, CNET reports. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has been asked to investigate two other, US-based, cheap-music sites, Mp3DownloadCity.com and MyMusicInc.com, the Associated Press reports.
- UK file-sharers sued
It has begun in Britain now too. Twenty-three file-sharers paid an average 2,200 pounds ($4,232) each to settle out of court with the British Phonographic Industry, which sued them for copyright infringement, the BBC reports. "The UK Internet users, ranging from a student to a local councillor [17 men and 6 women between 22 and 58 years of age], have admitted putting out up to 9,000 songs each for other fans to download." Three more cases may actually go to court. Some of those who settled were parents acting on behalf of their children, the BBC adds. Fifteen used the Kazaa peer-to-peer network, four used Imesh, two used rokster, one used WinMx and one was on BearShare.
Over in East Asia, some 100 Chinese music celebrities appeared before a near-capacity crowd at Beijing's Capital Stadium Saturday night, asking for public support in China's "fight against rampant music piracy," the official People's Daily reports. "Organizers said 150 million more [fans] watched on television." In Korea, Bugs Music, the country's online music provider agreed to "sell 60% of the company to local record companies to settle its lengthy copyright dispute with the music industry," the Korea Herald reports. [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing the Asia stories out.]
- Oz: Proposed suicide-chat law
Maybe the rest of the world will follow suit: The Australian federal government has introduced legislation that would impose fines of up to $110,000 (about $88,000 US) on people "who use the Internet to encourage others to commit suicide," News.com.au reports. "Under the law people, discussing methods of euthanasia over the Internet could also be committing an offence." The operative word is "methods"; the discussion of euthanasia itself would not be at issue, the article adds. There are online communities focused on suicide which "support" people of all ages who are considering it - see "Japan's Net suicide tragedy" and a 2004 series about online suicide in Wired News, with Part 3 focusing on teenagers: "A Teen Dies: Who is Responsible?" (here are Parts 1 and 2).
- Phone targeting tweens
Actually, kids 9-12 might prefer the "real" phones that teens use (maybe with a choice of skins and ringtones). But the Firefly is a phone some kids and a lot of parents will like, because - in addition to its flashing lights and big buttons - it "has lots of controls that allow parents to limit whom kids can talk to," USATODAY reports. "The phone has no keypad, so all phone numbers must be preprogrammed." Right now it's available only in the southeastern US from SunCom Wireless, but in May people will be able to get it through FireflyMobile.com "for $100, including 30 minutes of talk time." Next summer Target stores will be carrying it. But watch out, parents, USATODAY has one source saying it's a "sucker purchase for every paranoid parent"! Personally, I'd like to see cell-phone companies providing parental controls for regular phones. How 'bout you? Send me an email!
- New-style phish attack
Phishers (online scammers) have found a new way to relieve us of our personal information: sending us to bad Web sites. It's the early days of this new exploit, called "DNS poisoning," which automatically sends people unawares to fake sites, so not that widespread, but it never hurts to be alert. The exploit attacks what are called DNS servers, ZDNET UK reports, not family computers. They're the servers out on the Net that translate the Web addresses or URLs we type into our browsers into the IP numbers of Web sites. The numbers that get swapped in are those of fake Web sites which we go to instead of the ones we thought we were clicking to, and which request "updates" or "verifications" of our bank account numbers and such. Some PC security experts are calling this new exploit "pharming" instead of "phishing." Adults are more likely to fall victim than kids, because so far the attackers are going after financial info, but the technique can be used to send people to all types of sites, and experts warn that it can only get more sophisticated. One safeguard is some software I've reported on in the past - see "To foil phishers." And for "traditional" phishing prevention, there's the Washington Post's little phish-detection quiz. In any case, tell your kids to be careful about what they click to from emails, instant messages, and ads in Web sites. In online communications, sometimes hackers pose as "friends" or people on one's buddy list - I'll write more about this soon.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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