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August 5, 2005
This week: something I suspect few parents have had brushes with. It's one of those heads-ups I always appreciate getting from parents, who kindly contact Net Family News hoping their challenges can help fellow online families. Thanks to "Sandra" for taking the time to walk me through her experience. Here's our lineup for these first days of August:
- A mom writes: Yaoi not for kids!
- Web News Briefs: 25% tax on porn?; Search engine update; A blog a second; Tech opps for students; Streaming's legal; Kid phones reviewed; For 'beautiful people' only; Laptop buying help; Student software; Denmark's national filtering; GTA game banned in Oz....
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A mom writes: Yaoi not for kids!
Like so many kids, when she was 12, Susanna (her mother asked me not to use her real name or current age) wanted to create her own Web site about her No. 1 interest in life: in Susanna's case, YuYu Hakusho. She wanted to build the destination site for anything anyone would ever want to know about this series of Japanese anime stories (see Wikipedia.org), which has aired in the US on the Cartoon Network. So she did a lot of research on the Web and - not surprisingly - didn't want to show her work to her mom, Sandra (also not her real name), until it was perfect, finished and ready to go public.
Fine, so far, until Sandra saw what some YuYu Hakusho fan-art (manga-style cartoon illustrations) depicted. But I'll let her speak for herself. Sandra first emailed me:
"I just read your article on 'chanslash' [underage, same-sex romance in fan-fiction on the Web]. My daughter stumbled on to a yaoi Web site, surfing for her favorite anime characters. Yaoi is the same as chanslash, but it involves anime characters, male, usually very young. The Web site that she was emulating (before I knew it) belonged to a 7th grade teacher! Even on her 'legitimate,' 'teacher's' Web site, she links to and encourages her students to investigate this trash as a legitimate art form. I tried spreading the news [in online discussion boards about parenting], but I ended up getting 'heckled off' for attacking anime. One parent thanked me for the search terms he'll use for his own porn collection! How can I help to stop this garbage on the Internet?"
Sandra later added some details in a phone interview. Her daughter "had just been doing Web searches of her characters and printing out all these stories she was finding." I asked Sandra if the fan-fiction stories were pornographic. "All of them, but she didn't know it. I was looking through it and said to myself, 'Wait a minute. What is this?... I thought, how could there be so much written about cartoon characters?... This is really about women sexually repressed. It's not real, it's fantasy. She had printed out both pictures and stories, but the pictures were regular [G-rated] ones at that point)...."
Let me interrupt the story for a moment with a bit of background on this sexually explicit content. It adds a new dimension to the chanslash phenomenon a mom and fan-fiction writer emailed me about last spring, because yaoi is images as well as text (images are tougher to filter). But this is not about all fan-fiction, fan-art, anime, or manga, just a small corner of it that young fans can stumble upon. In "Anime-ted Japan," the Christian Science Monitor offered the big picture on anime, a perfectly legitimate genre that does have a darkside. Publishers Weekly ran an article in March specifically about this little corner of it called "yaoi," which - though "not as popular in Japan as it used to be" - is definitely on the increase in the US (subscription required for the full article, but it can be accessed if you sign up for a free trial).
"Most publishers began releasing yaoi [in the US] last summer," Publishers Weekly reports, pointing to Tokyopop, Digital Manga, Broccoli Books, and Central Park Media. "But even a family-friendly manga house like Viz is taking a careful look at the genre," the article adds. Korean yaoi, too, will soon join the lineup, LibraryJournal.com reports. The explicit material often comes with sexual-content warnings, including in Web sites, but that's the only barrier; the curious can just keep clicking. Now there are yaoi fan conferences. The "Yaoi-Con" site has a disclaimer page with legal language clearly indicating that underage anime fans have shown interest and that some yaoi is illegal for minors. Speaking to the conference's popularity, rooms at the large chain hotel venue "Yaoi-Con 2005" in October were sold out June 30.
Sandra continued: "We got rid of it all [all the story printouts] and it was gone for about a year. But later I found pictures she herself had drawn [Sandra told me Susanna is quite the artist, where anime style is concerned] and found she had actually started selling them. It wasn't hard-core, but it got serious. She got obsessed with it. We shut her down, took away her computer. But she would find workarounds." The family is still working through all this.
And what about that 7th-grade teacher? I asked. Sandra had contacted her through her Web site, Yaoishrine.com, and the teacher "repeatedly denied that it was, in fact, she who was running these sites," Sandra told me in an email. "It was only then that I discovered that she was not only pointing the kids in the direction of yaoi, she was actively sharing it with them!"
On the phone, I asked Sandra what she meant, and she said the teacher was the adviser to the student anime club at the high school where she taught. Sandra soon found that the teacher's site, Yaoishrine, which Susanna had been trying to emulate ("because [in her research] everybody said it was the best and she wanted the best," Sandra said) had been taken down. But much of it had been archived by the Internet Archive's WayBackMachine, and Sandra found, among others, this quote from the teacher in it: "For me, yaoi was a surprise. I didn't know it existed. I had never been exposed to slash as a young woman. I hadn't really uncovered my own sexual identity, nor did I know people who had uncovered their own.... It wasn't until a student of mine handed me a volume of Kizuna that I even knew such things existed.... I was absolutely transfixed...."
As of this writing, Sandra's efforts to speak with the teacher's school administration, the district, a school board member, the California Education Department, and the California PTA have raised no response beyond asking her to resend an email or "have you contacted the police?" (she has, but no action resulted, possibly because this material is not illegal child pornography), and she hasn't yet met with anyone in person. Then she contacted Net Family News at least to get the word out to other parents.
- The commercial YuYuHakusho site from FUJI TV and FUNimation
- "Fabulous Fiction," an award-winning fan-fiction blog by 13-year-olds, aimed at inspiring peers to read
- "Anime-ted Japan," reported from Tokyo in June for the Christian Science Monitor
- "Yaoi manga: What Girls Like?" at Publisher's Weekly last March
- The teacher's site about yaoi, archived by the WayBackMachine
- "Chanslash: The other porn kids access," in my March 11 issue.
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Web News Briefs
- 25% tax on Net porn?
That's what a group of US senators is proposing, but First Amendment experts say the legislation is unlikely to pass constitutional muster, CNET reports. For example, CNET cites the view of Prof. Jamin Raskin, who specializes in constitutional law at American University. The basic principle, Professor Raskin says, is that if you can't ban a certain category of expression, you can't tax it, and anti-Net porn laws so far haven't held up in the courts (e.g., the Communications Decency Act, struck down by the Supreme Court in '97, and the Child Online Protection Act, blocked by a federal court in '99). The new legislation in question is the Internet Safety and Child Protection Act of 2005, whose principal sponsor is Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas. The bill "would apply only to adult sites subject to controversial record-keeping requirements regarding the identities of people participating in sex acts displayed on Web sites," according to CNET. The sites would have to pay the 25% tax on their revenue and use verification before displaying any pornographic content. The Washington Post fills the picture in a little more: Among the bill's sponsors are Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan, Sen. Tom Carper (D) of Delaware, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut, Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, Sen. Ken Salazar (D) of Colorado, and Sen. Mark Pryor (D) of Arkansas. Reps. Jim Matheson (D) of Utah and Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. The Post also turned up a little more information on The Third Way, of which Senator Lincoln is an adviser. She highlighted data the think tank had pulled together on kids' exposure to porn when she introduced the Internet Safety bill last week.
As for violence in games, a commentary in the Christian Science Monitor by two professors cautions against lawmaking that challenges the Constitution without clear evidence that violence in games causes violence in real life. "Correlation does not equal causation," write Profs. Robert Richards and Clay Calvert, co-directors of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment.
- Search engine update
When Dogpile.com announced this week that it had added MSN Search to its collection, it also announced something any Web researcher should know: The top search engines turn up very different results. Dogpile cited the results of a University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University study "showing a surprising lack of duplication in the top results of the major search engines," Internet News reports. "When the researchers ran 12,570 different queries through search engines at Yahoo, Google, MSN and Ask Jeeves, they found that only 1.1% of the results appeared on all four engines, while 84.9% of the top results were unique to one engine." Dogpile is what's called a "meta-search service," meaning that the search results you get come from several regular search engines - in this case Google, Yahoo, AskJeeves, and now MSN Search. Parents will want to note that Dogpile.com does offer filtered searching (what I'd call a fundamental online-safety measure for connected households with kids), but it's a little harder to find than, say, MSN's or Google's SafeSearch (under "Settings" and "Preferences," respectively). When you're at the Dogpile.com home page, click on "Advanced," then scroll down to the bottom of that page to find "Adult Filter," then click on "Preferences" to turn the filter on and keep it on (unless/until someone changes the setting). To make this online-safety measure work, of course, it usually needs to go with a rule about how kids use only designated (filtered) search engines and may not turn filtering off (or they lose Internet privileges or some such consequence).
- A blog a second
That's blogging's rate of growth, the BBC reports: Somewhere in the world, a new blog is created every second, according to blog tracker and search engine Technorati.com's fairly conservative figures. Last summer, the rate was every 5.8 seconds, as TheRegister.com reported back then. That's 14.2 million blogs right now, up from 7.8 million in March. So the "blogosphere" (or blogging world) has doubled in five months. The Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy" looked at blog-measuring last May. For parents new to the concept, the New York Times has "Blogs 101." Other links that you might find helpful: "Bloggers vulnerable to hacks" and "A dad on kids' blogs: How father and daughter worked through the issues."
- Tech opps for students
Aspiring game designers can now get some training (and degree credits, too!) at US colleges and universities, reports Washington Post columnist Robert MacMillan in what's turned out to be a kind of series on the subject. Yesterday he pointed to a story about Michigan State in the Detroit Free Press, saying that MSU's program "comprises 15 credit hours gained over a sequence of four classes on the history and social aspects of video games as well as a primer on game design" (sounds like a student will have to intern at a gamemaking company to learn advanced design, but it's a start). Then Robert heard from readers around the country about game design programs at University of Louisiana, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Southern California, Case Western Reserve University, and Montgomery College in Maryland, and wrote about it today. As for the technology students take to school with them, the New York Times helpfully points out that different schools have different policies. For example, the Citadel in South Carolina doesn't support Macs, and Carleton College in Minnesota requires computers "new enough to work on our network." Here are some students' own views on tech at school, courtesy of the Times.
- Streaming: Legal listening online
Here's a new-old approach, at least for digital music fans who spend a lot of time at their computers for school or work. I say "new-old" because music streaming over the Web has been around for quite a while, but now it's really taking off, according to Slate. Why? It's free and it's legal. Entire albums are being streamed by record labels because they're finally getting it that piracy isn't really an issue with streaming - people will sample, enjoy, then go buy the CD. But Slate has some "tips for beginners" like "don't pony up for a subscription site ... paying for streams is for suckers ... [and] Google is a good first stop. Try typing in 'full album streaming'." Check out the piece for more tips. Meanwhile, file-sharing is not dead after the Supreme Court's decision against Grokster, it's just going underground. The New York Times describes the "darknet" - for anonymous file-sharing - that's been in the works. Today Agence France Press reported that "a test version ... has been made available for download at the Freenet Web site, Ian Clarke of the project said." In other P2P news, the San Jose Mercury News reports on BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen's plans to commercialize the technology; TheLocal in Sweden reports that Internet service providers in that country say Sweden's month-old law banning file-sharing has had "no effect"; and the Grokster decision certainly isn't the end of headaches for the P2P services, US lawmakers have warned them, Wired News reports.
- Kid 'n' phones
The good news is they have parental controls, the bad news is they're not easy to program. USATODAY's Ed Baig looks at Firefly and TicTalk, cellphones targeting tweens (9-to-12-year-olds) but maybe best for the lower end of that spectrum. Control is more about who kids can call than the amount of talking, but TicTalk can be programmed to limit time spent talking with people at specific phone numbers. Check out the article for further detail. Then there are the big kids - the ones leaving for distant schools in the fall. Net phoning, or VoIP (for voice-over Internet protocol), would certainly be the cheapest way to go, but before you go that route, read "Talk is Cheap, But Not That Cheap" on the realities of VoIP in the New York Times. If you're thinking cellular's the way to go, check out "Tough Course: The Calculus of Cellphones." Writer David Pogue is such a card: "When your child heads off to college for the first time, be prepared for some intense emotional displays: prolonged farewell speeches, physical clinging, hysterical weeping. Your child may show some emotion, too." But he gets serious and wades through the complexities of picking a plan, saying at least there are more family-plan options now.
- For 'beautiful people' only
Heard of BeautifulPeople.net? Teenagers you know probably have. It's a cross between HotorNot.com (people rating) and Friendster.com (social networking) or maybe Match.com (online dating). As USATODAY puts it, it's "the electronic equivalent of the junior high cafeteria, with the popular kids - i.e., members - voting on whether to offer seats to the hopeful hordes." As the site itself describes the process, "Once you have uploaded your profile, you will be rated by existing members of the opposite sex over a three day period. They will judge whether your picture and profile are deemed attractive enough to grant you coveted access." What a marketing ploy! According to USATODAY, the service started in Denmark, moved on to the UK, and has just launched in the US. To look into this scene a little further, there's RateMe.com, RateMyBody.com, and RatingSpot.com; or just look up "rating sites" in a search engine.
- Buying a laptop: Help
If you're thinking of buying a laptop for a student at your house, there's some great advice in tech news this week. Laptops are cheaper and more mainstream now, Washington Post tech writer Rob Pegoraro points out, but they're no easier to purchase. "Manufacturers routinely skimp on features and capabilities - to save themselves a few dollars or so they can 'upsell' you other products and services - and it's up to you to spot what got left out." Worry less about processor speed and more about memory, pay attention to weight and battery life (of the one that comes installed, not the battery they want you to buy in addition), and think about a DVD-recordable drive, if only for backing up that hard drive, Rob suggests, among other valuable, practical tips. USATODAY's Kim Komando recommends laptops for college-bound people and tells why, but she fails to mention one important consideration. Yes, they're conveniently mobile, but they're also easier to steal. Make sure this is a consideration, and type "laptop security" into any search engine's window to find solutions.
- Student software
The 2005 crop of back-to-school tech products was much in the news this week. Microsoft's just-released Student 2006 - a $100 DVD "packed with organization tools, templates and content to help middle and high school students in a variety of subjects," USATODAY reports - got both top billing and mixed reviews. Well-known tech educator Kathy Schrock told USATODAY that having all those tools in one place means kids can focus more on the content of their reports, graphs, etc., where the focus needs to be. But the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg wrote that, though "a sound idea," Student is "really a thin veneer thrown over several existing Microsoft products [Encarta, Office, and Internet Explorer], rather than an integrated program designed from the ground up" (see the article for his conclusion). The Washington Post says Microsoft really did its homework in putting Student together but "could have gone deeper in many areas." Basically, the depth is in technology (that's complicated to learn). For content depth, check out two other products USATODAY mentions: Destination Math: Mastering Algebra ($59.99) and Instant Immersion: Spanish ($29.99). Another USATODAY piece looks at the question of computers for the preschool set.
- National child porn filter in Denmark
Denmark is joining Sweden in implementing nationwide filtering of online child pornography, DR NYHEDER reports in its English-language news. The filter "will block access to most child porn sites while at the same time informing people who try to enter these sites that they are breaking the law." Sweden introduced nationwide filtering in May "with great success," according to DR, adding that "some 10,000 attempts to access child porn on the Internet are currently blocked every day" in Sweden. Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.
- GTA basically banned in Oz
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was effectively banned in Australia when the country's Office of Film and Literature Classification revoked its MA15+ rating after discovery of its hidden sexually explicit content, the BBC reports. MA15+ meant the game could only be sold to gamers over 15, and revoking the rating means San Andreas "can no longer be sold, hired, or advertised in Australia."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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