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October 13, 2006
Here's our line-up for this second week of October:
- DC scandal: 'Teachable moment'
- Web News Briefs: Contact with strangers; $11m to libel victim; Powerful change agents?; Google + YouTube; Embellishing profiles; Latest patches; Socializing everywhere; Videogame war; Social networking at the library; Newest digital divide; Rock station that wouldn't die....
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DC scandal: 'Teachable moment'
The scandal over former Rep. Mark Foley's instant messages to congressional pages can definitely be used as an online-safety "teachable moment," for grownups as well as kids. It can help clear up some misconceptions a lot of us have about instant messaging, "stranger danger," and child sexual exploitation in general.
First, although IMs aren't captured and archived the way email is, obviously what people say in instant messaging can come back to haunt them (see the Washington Post on how programs like AIM and Yahoo Messenger come with archiving features). However, a lot of confidential conversation can happen between IM-ers if that archiving isn't turned on and monitoring software isn't installed, so it's good for parents to ask their kids questions about who they're IM-ing with (and definitely talk with them first - it's a whole lot better for continued parent-child trust and communication than surreptitious monitoring).
Second, the case has something to say about "grooming," how adults - very often people kids know - work to win young people's confidence with the goal of exploiting them. "While former Congressman Foley hasn't been accused of physical abuse, his alleged sexually suggestive emails and instant messages to underage boys have all the signs of classic grooming behavior," writes SafeKids.com's Larry Magid in a CBS News commentary.
Third, as prominent as instant messages have been in media reports, this Capitol Hill scandal "has almost nothing material to do with the Internet," points out Tim Lordan, executive director of the Internet Education Foundation in Washington. "As difficult as it may be to come to grips with, [Foley's] case represents the most common type of sexual predator - the person who has close physical proximity to our children and who stands in a position of implied trust with them. The vast majority of sexual predator cases continue to be perpetrated by those we least suspect - family members, family acquaintances and trusted members of the community. If media reports are accurate, Foley used his position as a US lawmaker to personally interact with the pages during ice cream trips, dinners out at upscale Capitol steakhouses, in the cloakrooms, down the halls of Congress, and with handwritten notes. The only reason his exploits have come to light is that some of his behavior was memorialized using Internet IMs and emails."
This, of course, is a national-level teachable moment. Over time we'll probably find that it's the smaller and sometimes tougher ones - involving our kids' own social lives - that will be the most effective way to help them learn safe, smart use of the Internet. A teachable moment might be something you see on his or friends' profiles, a call you get from a parent in her peer group, something about MySpace that happened at school or in the news. Sometimes we'll be the facilitators, sometimes other "teachers" will be (their friends, the sticky situations themselves, a school assembly, etc.). Safety tips and online-safety courses are fine, but the less relevant they are to our kids' own lives, the less their content will stick. Problems on the participatory Web need participatory solution development, which often needs multiple skill sets - teens', parents', counselors', tech educators, etc. It just seems logical that teen social networkers need to know that they're part of the solution too.
- For educating teens' on grooming and other influencing techniques, see "How to recognize grooming" and "How social influencing works."
- For more on teachable moments at home, see "Monitoring MySpacers."
- For some relevant research, see "Contact with strangers" just below "Non-stranger danger"; and "Net crimes against children: Reality check" (and here's the Associated Press on how the current scandal goes back further than we thought).
* * * *Web News Briefs
- Contact with strangers: Study
About 900 US 14-to-22-year-olds nationwide were asked if they use social-networking sites, and about 60% said yes. About 40% of those social networkers, both male and female, said yes when asked "whether a stranger, not known to them or their friends, had ever contacted them online without their consent in order to get to know them." The researchers asked if they'd ever actually met strangers offline. "Only 3.3% of young people who use social networking sites reported such meetings. However, the survey did not ask about the purpose of these meetings, which may well have had nothing to do with sexual predation," reports the Annenberg Public Policy Center in its paper on the study, adding that "the rates of stranger contact are remarkably similar for males and females." Notable also: "The rate of such meetings [3.3%] was actually quite comparable to those who do not use social networking sites, 2.9%, a statistically nonsignificant difference. Given that online stranger contact is more likely on social networking sites, it appears that the contacts made on these sites are somewhat less likely to result in offline meetings than those that occur because of other Internet uses, such as instant messaging, chat rooms, or dating services," the researchers found.
- $11m to online libel victim
The full amount awarded by a Florida court was actually $11.3 million. It went to "a woman who suffered a campaign of abusive harassment on an online bulletin board," VNUNET in the UK reports. "The case got to court following a personal vendetta by a former acquaintance" of the victim. The "vendetta" was in the form of "malicious accusations" on the discussion board. USATODAY reports that the award "represents the largest such judgment over postings on an Internet blog or message board," and in a separate article that "in the past two years, more than 50 lawsuits stemming from postings on blogs and website message boards have been filed" across the US. VNUNET adds that "the award may encourage web users to be more circumspect when posting comments on unmoderated boards and blogs," or social-networking sites, for that matter. This is not just about adults. I'm reminded of the Texas high school principal suing students for defamation. Parents need to be aware of what their kids are doing and saying publicly, which includes community Web sites.
- Social networks: Powerful change agents?
A young person with a heartfelt idea and access to 100 million people on a social-networking site can help change the world now. Bich Ngoc Cao was an employee of MySpace, and it was because of her that the site (now with more than 100 million people and 3 million bands registered) launched its Rock for Darfur campaign this week, the Washington Post reports. Rock for Darfur, whose logo was designed by Cao's younger brother, an art major, aims to raise money and awareness for the situation in western Sudan, where "more than 400,000 are dead so far, and more than 2 million Sudanese have been displaced by the Arab Janjaweed militia in what the United Nations has called an ethnic cleansing campaign against black Africans." Bich Ngoc Cao had been interested in the crisis in Sudan, took a class on the history of genocide at the University of Southern California, and then last spring "traveled from her home in Los Angeles to Washington for the rallies on the Mall," according to the Washington Post. "When she returned home, she approached her employer to figure out if they could do something for the cause." Who knows what might happen in Sudan if other social sites join in, then join up with other activists pushing for an end to the genocide? Social activism on social networks is blossoming. Other projects include YouthNoise.com, a social network that's entirely about social consciousness and activism and was founded by Save the Children, and a new one: Stand Against Violence. It's a campaign of ROCK SAFE, the safety awareness and social activism arm of MyCityRocks.com, which is a network of city-based, arts-focused social sites that got its start as HoustonRocks.com. Performing bands and musicians are a big part of the Stand Against Violence campaign's local rallies. This is a trend to watch, people: social networks as agents for change and humanitarianism.
- Google + YouTube: A plus for kids?
Google's planned acquisition of YouTube could be a step forward for youth online safety on the hugely popular video-sharing site. It'll probably take longer for YouTube to hire a full-time "online-safety czar," as News Corp. did not long after it acquired MySpace, because copyrights and intellectual property are the No. 1 controversy of this high-profile deal. "The purchase was announced after the two companies reached several licensing deals with media companies, which could help ease concerns about copyright violations on YouTube," the Wall Street Journal reports. But being acquired by a public company usually lends a measure of corporate responsibility, and children's online safety will probably be part of the equation at YouTube too. YouTube does not screen the thousands of videos people upload to it daily, and Google Video says it does (see Google's page on video content). The Wall Street Journal reports that YouTube's purchase price is $1.65 billion, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt indicates in the article that the social-networking aspect of YouTube (users create their own profiles) was part of its attraction for the search giant. The other part, of course, was growth and traffic. YouTube's traffic grew "nearly 2,500% from August 2005 to August 2006, from 2.8 million visitors to 72 million," according to comScore Media Metrix. Google and YouTube together "had a combined worldwide reach of 477 million visitors" aged 15 and up in August, the latest figures available.
- Embellishing their pages
"Nine out of the top 10 teen sites either offered content or tools for social networking site profiles, or were social networking sites themselves," Nielsen/NetRatings reports. The No. 1 site for teen social networkers is PLyrics.com, providing punk and punk-related lyrics they can paste into their pages. No. 2 site is Snapvine.com (still in beta!), which lets social networkers send voice messages via phone to their Web page so friends can hit "play" and listen. No. 3 is WhateverLife.com, providing custom layouts for their social-networking pages. Three years ago, Nielsen, says, the cool sites provided smiley faces and other embellishments for instant messages, now it's all about embellishing social-site profiles. Of course putting all this thought and effort into one's self-image online takes time. The amount of time teens spend online has increased 27% over the past three years. In September they spent an average of 26 hours, 48 minutes, online, up from 21 hours and 4 minutes in September 2003 (interestingly, 2-to-11-year-olds' online time has increased even more - by 41% - to "nearly 9 hours and 24 minutes" during this past month of September). Here's coverage from International Business Times.
- Microsoft's latest patches
This was patch week for October, and parents of bigtime Web explorers and downloaders deserve their monthly heads-up. Microsoft patched a record 26 security holes in Windows and software for PCs and Macs. According to Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs, they include 16 vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office and Office components, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Six of this week's updates apply to "fully patched Windows XP systems" and two to Vista, the next version of Windows hardly any of us have yet. But Brian says the biggest problem is with the Office flaws, since they're "most serious (or 'critical') in the 2000 versions of each software title," which a whole lot of people have and which require people to do extra patching. "The must add a second stage ... by heading over to the Office homepage and letting Office Update scan their machines." Usually patching's pretty automatic, or people could go to Windows Update.
- Socializing all over the Web
This is something we've been saying in online-safety talks, and it's good to see other people making the point: Social networking is all over the Web, certainly not limited to the site your child's peer group hangs out in. "The trend tabbed 'social networking' is vastly broader than MySpace, and its components are quickly being incorporated into hundreds if not thousands of Web sites, ranging from autos to music and even shopping," reports PopMatters.com. "The sites are defined by content - photos, product reviews and the occasional rant - that users contribute, helping to build a sense of community and participation." In this article, refreshingly, you read about 55-year-old social networker (more a business networker, actually) Ralph Dahm, who prefers LinkedIn.com (see last week's item about how more than half of MySpace users are 35+). Where I differ with the writer, though, is where he suggests that for kids social networking's for amassing long friends lists ("so they can appear popular"). I think there are almost as many reasons kids use these sites as there are kids.
- Videogame war
The "war on terrorism" is being fought in the world of videogames too. First there was "Quest for Saddam," now there's a "Quest for Bush," which allows players to assassinate the US president. "Quest for Bush is a 'mod' - or modification - of the 2003 game Quest for Saddam by California-based Petrilla Entertainment. The company sold about 3,000 copies of the game," the Washington Post reports. The anti-Bush game, released by the Global Islamic Media Front, "a radical organization that has ties with al-Qaeda," is "the latest - and most extreme - addition to a small but growing list of Islamic videogames, monitored by the Defense Department and much blogged about in gaming circles." Both sides are probably presenting alternate realities in more ways than one.
- Teen social networking at the library
Some public libraries aim to be teen hangouts too - the in-person kind that is. And they're doing so partly by supporting online social networking at the library. The ultimate goal, of course, is "to get teens into reading and writing," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, and a program called "Blog It" at Hennepin County libraries is one way to get there, librarians say, because blogging is "a literacy activity," as one librarian put it. Blog It encourages teen patrons to write and develop a voice in a safe way. Meanwhile, new social-networking sites for book lovers may turn out to be a support to libraries' embrace of the social Web. They're virtual book clubs - for example, LibraryThing.com, MySpace Books, and a Seattle start-up called Shelfari.com (where you set up your own virtual "bookshelf" instead a mere profile - your reading profile, in effect, maybe a little like a compilation CD representing all of one's favorite tunes). The site "allows people to list book titles, write reviews, recommend books to friends and find like-minded bibliophiles," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.
- The newest digital divide
There are a growing number of "digital divides." There's the one publicly discussed since the Web's early days (between tech haves and have-nots), the newer one between digital natives (kids) and immigrants (adults), the one between the social networks' commuters (the ones who use them every day) vs. tourists (adults looking in on them), and now indoors vs. outdoors. "Today's youngsters and their parents are more wired and more scheduled than earlier Americans, leaving less unstructured time to spend outdoors," the Christian Science Monitor reports. "For the kids, that can mean missing out on childhood bonds to nature. Alarmed, conservationists and government officials are looking for ways to reverse the trend." The Monitor mentions Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, who cites studies showing that "exposure to nature boosts attention spans, reduces stress, and could be an antidote to the rising problem of childhood obesity." Clearly a balance - between scheduled and unscheduled, indoor and outdoor, and tech-enabled and tech-free time - is needed. It's quite possible, though, that kids are all by themselves moving into a new phase in which the shiny-new luster of tech-enabled socializing fades into being just a part of blended in-person/virtual social lives - see "Some youth rethink online communications."
- Rock station that wouldn't die
The blend of Internet community spirit and music can be a powerful thing - witness Rock Safe, MySpace's Rock for Darfur (see Spin), and now LaLa.com's partnership with WOXY, an "independent alternative and modern rock station" that started up back in 1983 and keeps getting brought back to life. This time, LaLa.com - a CD-swapping and music community site - came to the rescue to put WOXY's DJs back on "the air" (in cyberspace) and allow members to, in effect, create their own virtual radio stations, a CNET blog reports.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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