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February 9, 2007

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Kids' exposure to porn: Study

I just received another email from Jessica, parent of three teens in Michigan, with more than four dozen URLs of X-rated pages in a social-networking site. I haven't looked at them all (I pass them along to the site's customer-service department), but the URLs themselves are highly suggestive of sex-related content - e.g., two of the more mentionable ones here are "gurl-frm-hell" and "DUDEWITHCAM." [More about Jessica's experience in a moment.]

I'm telling you this because it bears out researchers' latest thinking about online porn - that exposure to it may now be a norm of teenage life. But let me quote the researchers exactly, with some important advice they pair with this finding: "Exposure to online porn might have reached the point where it can be characterized as normative among youth Internet users, especially teenage boys. Medical practitioners, educators, other youth workers, and parents should assume that most boys of high school age that use the Internet have some degree of exposure to online pornography, as do girls.... Frank direct conversations with youth that address the possible influences of pornography on sexual behavior, attitudes about sex, and relationships are needed." That's from the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center (CACRC) in their just-released analysis in the journal Pediatrics of a 2005 study. [Here's TechNewsWorld's coverage of this much-covered analysis.]

The key new issue highlighted by Jessica's effort to expose and stop porn in social sites is that much of it is user-produced. This is the challenge of the youth-driven social Web: not just how to protect young people from porn operators and predators but, in essence, how to protect them from themselves and each other? The cold reality is that teens (and plenty of adults) are porn operators too - the homemade variety. [Here are Jessica's post in the forum about her findings.]

Back to the data

It shows that unwanted exposure to porn has been growing. The CACRC reports that 42% of US 10-to-17-year-olds said they'd been exposed to online pornography in the past year, and 66% of that group "reported only unwanted exposure." Thirteen percent went to X-rated sites on purpose, but a much larger number, 34% were exposed to online porn they didn't want to see (up from 25% about five years before this survey), due to things like pop-up ads, spam email, clicking on unintended search results, or misspelling Web addresses the browser window. [The authors did say that not all unwanted exposure was inadvertent; in some cases, curiosity leads kids to X-rated sites, and then they find the exposure is unwanted. Peer pressure can be another catalyst - the fact that kids are encountering porn at "friends' houses" showed up in the data.]

"Although there is evidence that most youth are not particularly upset when they encounter unwanted pornography on the Internet," the researchers wrote, "unwanted exposure could have a greater impact on some youth than voluntary encounters with pornography. Some youth may be developmentally and psychologically unprepared for unwanted exposure, and online images may be more graphic and extreme than pornography available from other sources."

Tips for preventing exposure

Filtering can help reduce unwanted exposure, the study's authors say. But don't use it in lieu of talking with your child. And anyway, "this accidental access is really quite avoidable," says Nancy Willard, author of Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens and director of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use. Here are some tips from Nancy:

One more tip we use at our house: Kids use only filtered search. Most search engines offer filtering. Click on Preferences near the search box of most any search site, including Google, then - in Google's case - choose strict or moderate filtering, then click "Save Preferences." The companion rule: No one changes search settings - ever (saved preferences stay that way, even after a computer's turned off, unless someone resets them).

One family's strategy

As for working with teens, a parent in Oregon emailed me her strategy for dealing with the online porn issue at her house:

"The technique I have used for my 15-year-old son has been to tell him that it is perfectly natural for teen boys and men to want to look at sexy pictures of girls (he is straight). And girls frequently like to read sexy novels (an activity that's frequently overlooked). I have asked him to avoid looking at online porn because sometimes this material can get really bad, but if he wants some pictures, all he has to do is tell me or ask the father of his good friend (I'm single, so he doesn't have a dad, and this has been cleared with the friend's father) to purchase some magazines for him. But he has to keep them hidden in his room.

"You can see the horrible position I have put him in :-). I have essentially given him permission and so have removed all incentive to engage in 'sneaky behavior.' But because he knows that his mother understands this is normal behavior, this appears to have significantly delayed the behavior." The mom later told me she adopted this strategy because it's so important to her to keep open communication with her son; she feels (and I think she has a point) that "sneaky behavior" could put him at risk of even worse exposure.

That's just one family's approach - email me yours ( or, even better, post about it in our forum!

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Web News Briefs
  1. International child-porn bust

    "Nearly 2,400 suspects from 77 countries allegedly paid to view videos depicting [child] sexual abuse online," the Associated Press reported. Within 24 hours of receiving a heads-up about some of the videos an Austrian network administrator who'd stumbled upon them in a routine scan, "investigators recorded more than 8,000 hits from 2,361 computer addresses" in all those countries, including the US. The lead investigator said his team believes "the videos were shot in Eastern Europe and uploaded to the Web from Britain. A link to the videos was posted on a Russian Web site, which is no longer in operation, and hosted on a server in Austria. Some of the material was free, but the Russian site charged $89 for access for a 'members only' section." The article points out that, even with the size of this group, finding this activity is needle-in-a-haystack work.

  2. Facebook & a sex scam

    It was the first time Facebook has been accused of being used by a sexual predator to contact a minor, its chief security officer Chris Kelly told the Chicago Tribune. Last week in suburban Chicago, "authorities arrested a [23-year-old] man who they say used Facebook to pose as a teenage girl in an elaborate scheme to lure a 15-year-old boy from Evanston to his home for sex." The Tribune says Facebook believes the man "may have circumvented safeguards by "hijacking" a female high school student's profile last year (by obtaining her user name and password), using it to trick the boy into believing he was going to meet a peer. The 16 million-member service "is made up of 47,000 networks - individual schools, companies or regions - that are each independent and closed to non-affiliated users," the Trib reports. Kelly was quoted in this article and in CNET's coverage of his appearance at the RSA conference: "There's going to be crime in any large community, offline and online. But you can put up lights in parks to prevent criminal activity." A lot of social sites are working on those park lights right now. [Here's an alternate link for the Trib story at]

  3. Facebook video on cable too

    Facebook video sharers soon will have the chance to co-create a TV series called "Facebook Diaries." Comcast and Facebook are teaming up to start a contest in March in which users "submit short video segments about their lives. Throughout the contests, Facebook users will be encouraged to upload, view, share and rate the videos," XChange Online reports. The best videos will get featured on Facebook and in Comcast's social site They'll also "form the basis for" the new series's 10 half-hour episodes that will air online and on TV. According to the Associated Press, the series will be produced by R.J. Cutler, "known for his edgy work gathering stories from regular folks in shows such as 'American High,' a nonfiction TV series chronicling the lives of suburban teens at an Illinois school."Facebook video sharers soon will have the chance to co-create a TV series called "Facebook Diaries." Comcast and Facebook are teaming up to start a contest in March in which users "submit short video segments about their lives. Throughout the contests, Facebook users will be encouraged to upload, view, share and rate the videos," XChange Online reports. The best videos will get featured on Facebook and in Comcast's social site They'll also "form the basis for" the new series's 10 half-hour episodes that will air online and on TV. According to the Associated Press, the series will be produced by R.J. Cutler, "known for his edgy work gathering stories from regular folks in shows such as 'American High,' a nonfiction TV series chronicling the lives of suburban teens at an Illinois school." And this week in the Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg demonstrates just exactly how "anyone can be a video producer."

  4. Teen video viewing

    More than half (53%) of US teens view online videos occasionally, and 22% view videos weekly or more often, according to new findings by JupiterResearch. The teens who watch them frequently "tend to be both active online and socially influential," Jupiter says. Like adults, teens tend to rely on friends' recommendations to find online videos. That's the top source, followed by personal blogs, social networking sites, and search engines. A late-2006 Jupiter study found that about 20.6 million US teens were online last year, "79% of all US teenagers." Here's eMarketer's coverage.

  5. Web 2.0 for indie films

    At, you can kibbitz online about the indie film you're watching, as you watch it. "Currently in its free beta stage, Jaman offers about 1,000 foreign and independent films for download," the Kansas City Star reports. "Movies on Jaman come from Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America. The company says it has the largest online selection of Sundance Film Festival movies." Movie downloads are free while Jaman's in beta, but in the next month or so, the pricing will be "$1.99 to rent a movie for a week or $4.99 to buy it." A competitor is

  6. Video ringtone-sharing

    Yet another social-networking niche! But a very logical one, given kids' love of media-sharing with cellphones (70% of 13-to-17-year-olds in Europe and the US share content on their phones, M:Metrics found). Now think about the online-safety implications. The promo for, aimed at people in their teens and 20s, "shows a teenage girl holding up her phone with a video of herself: 'Hey Frank, what's up, what's going on? Come on, answer your phone. You know you want to'," the Kansas City Star reports. Nothing about safety or privacy in the company's FAQ. It just says, "You can share any Vringo you shot yourself with the whole community. You can choose the option from your handset, to upload a Vringo you shot and make it available to every one."

  7. 1 million online students

    That's the total number of seats, K-12, in all online classes across the US, a figure that "has grown more than 20 times in seven years," the Los Angeles Times reports. It cites figures from the North American Council for Online Learning projecting growth of 30% a year. "Nearly half the states offer public school classes online, and last year Michigan became the first in the nation to require students to take an online course to graduate from high school. In California, a state senator introduced a bill last week to allow public high school students to take online classes without depriving schools of the state funding they receive for attendance." Why do students enroll? "Online schools are also popular with home-schooled children, with students who are devoting large blocks of time to such activities as ballet, acting or tennis, as well as students who don't enjoy a traditional school atmosphere or who need to work.... Paul Riscalla, 17, a senior at Orange Lutheran who lives in Orange, splits his time between online classes and the traditional school so he can work 40 hours a week at two jobs and play drums in a rock band."

  8. Teaching digital commuters, not tourists

    This is a metaphor I used in our book, MySpace Unraveled, in which the commuters, approach the Web and social networking entirely differently from the way we adults do - kind of like the way commuters and tourists approach huge public spaces like Penn Station in New York City. I suggest that the tourists can't shape the entire public discussion, set all the policy, and teach entirely from their perspective. Commuter input is needed. Building on that is a blog item by tech educator David Warlick in After talking with Karl Leif Bates, Duke University's manager of research communications (kind of an interpreter for the public of current research), David blogs about the different ways two generations of scientists approach science. For one thing, Bates told him, the younger ones collaborate electronically much more - physical distances are nothing to them. The second observation was really interesting: Warlick writes that Bates told him "science used to be reductionist in nature. I asked what that meant, and he said that science was about drilling down to components, cutting out and examining bits of the world, reducing it to its barest fundamentals. He said that the younger scientists spend more time synthesizing, that they seem much more interested in systems and networks, not so much how things operate independently, but how they operate as part of a larger organism, ecosystem, or cosmos."

    Check out how David uses this as a metaphor for how computer skills are taught in schools. And I will use it as a metaphor for the way we have taught online safety so far. We can no longer separate it out as a "curriculum" - not in teaching digital commuters, for whom there is no distinction between "online" and "offline." Online safety on the social Web will not work if it's reductionist. But tell me what you think, via or, ideally, for all to see at

  9. Sex-offender registry upgrade in UK?

    As in a law working its way through the US Congress right now, the United Kingdom may soon require sex offenders to register their online contact info too. "Home Secretary John Reid said he was also considering making paedophiles add their chatroom names to their other details on the Sex Offenders Register," the BBC reports (hopefully IM and social-networking screennames are included too). According to Home Office figures, there are about 30,000 registered sex offenders in England and Wales. Secretary Reid's announcement came "a day after three men were jailed for using a chatroom to plot the rape of two young girls" and was also timed to Safer Internet Day, celebrated around the world this week. The BBC says "as many as two-thirds" of British teens are using social-networking sites, particularly MySpace and Bebo. For more on the US's proposed law, see my 2/2 issue.

  10. Steve Jobs: Drop copy protection

    This could be huge for young music video producers everywhere. The Apple CEO's advice to the recording industry came in "a rare open letter," CNET reports. According to the Wall Street Journal, he wrote that digital-rights-management (DRM) technologies aren't "deterring illicit copying of music." And DRM's a problem the music industry needs to fix, Jobs writes. What's interesting, a CNET source said, is that Apple has benefited more than any other company from the use of DRM systems. But Jobs says Apple had to use DRM just to be able to get iTunes off the ground. "There are alternatives, Jobs wrote. Apple and the rest of the online music distributors could continue down a DRM path; Apple could license the FairPlay technology to others; or record companies could be convinced to license music without DRM technology. The company clearly favors the third option," CNET reports. Parents and teachers will note that even if DRM goes away the need to thinking through the ethics of digital-media use won't. The need to work together on digital ethics and citizenship might even grow. In related news, the New York Times reports that British recording giant EMI plans to offer "a broad swath of its recordings" for sale online sans DRM; the Washington Post, though, has the recording industry's general reaction to Jobs's message.

  11. MySpace now mobile in UK

    The UK is only the first stop for Vodafone Live, enabling MySpace users to socialize from their mobiles, the BBC reports. They'll just need to download the MySpace Mobile software. Then users will "be able to edit their MySpace profiles, post photos and blogs and send and receive MySpace messages." Europe is next for the Vodafone Live rollout. Yet another sign that online socializing is here to stay, is moving beyond the Web at the speed of light, and is making children's self-protection and education more important than ever. Helio was MySpace Mobile's first partner in the US, early last year. Here's Reuters's coverage. [See also last week's "Mobile socializing: Accelerating trend."]

  12. Videogame health benefits

    Some benefits to videogaming are beginning to pop up here and there in the news media. The one concerning eyesight, for example got a lot of coverage: "People who played action video games for a few hours a day over the course of a month improved their vision by about 20% percent," NBC6 TV in South Florida cited researchers at the University of Rochester as finding. And The Dartmouth looked at whether videogamers and couch potatoes had a lot in common. It depends on how you play them, the paper reports, especially Wii Sports for Nintendo Wii (you choose whether to just wave your hand or get your whole body involved). Certainly Wii boxing and Wii tennis don't replace their real-life counterparts, but they do get heart rates up. The article also looks at NBA Live and DDRMAX2 (Dance Dance Revolution) for PlayStation2. Meanwhile, the Wii is outselling the PlayStation3 in Japan these days, CNET 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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