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July 20, 2007

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Online victimization: Facts emerging

It was great to see the Associated Press's "Net threats result of kids' online behavior." It means newspapers and broadcast media worldwide just may run this story, and more parents will be getting facts instead of scary messages based on ignorance, politics, well-intentioned guesswork. Here are some facts we have now:

Fact No. 1: Posting personal info online isn't actually what makes kids most vulnerable to predators. "Rather, victimization is more likely to result from ... talking about sex with people met online and intentionally embarrassing someone else on the Internet," the AP reports. The first form of aggressive behavior - talking about sex with strangers online - is about predation, the second about harassing or cyberbullying, which affects a great many more teens (about one-third of all online youth, according to the latest Pew/Internet study - see this).

Fact No. 2: "Online victims tend to be teens with troubles offline, such as poor relationships with parents, loneliness and depression" (see "Profile of a teen online victim"). The kids most at risk online are already risk-seekers and -takers in real life.

Fact No. 3: A lot of sexual-victimization cases happen at the hands of peers, not adults, the AP reports, citing the work of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. It also cites a 2004 study by the CACRC finding that, even when offenders are adults, they "generally aren't strangers, and pedophiles aren't luring unsuspecting children by pretending to be a peer."

Certainly nobody's saying kids should completely relax about posting personal info about themselves. It's common sense that the more discreet they are the less info there'll be to use against them. But the reality is, sharing - thoughts, media, experiences - is what today's very social, user-driven Web is all about, and a lot of parents can breathe easier knowing that posting personal info online is not as high-risk as once thought.

So what we are saying is that it's time to look at the facts we now have and adjust our child-protection strategies accordingly at home, in schools, and in policymaking. We need to...

When Web participants become cybercitizens, with a sense of responsibility toward fellow participants and their collective space, the social Web will be a safer, better place for everyone on it.

Related links

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Web News Briefs
  1. Requests for teens' sex photos: Study

    Four percent of US online youths have been asked to send sexually explicit photos of themselves over the Net, and about 1.5% have done so, the Associated Press reports, citing a new study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center. That's not just extremely unwise; those photos could be considered illegal child pornography, distribution of which is a federal crime. One of the study's authors, Kimberly Mitchell, told the AP that kids need to know this. "Mitchell said kids also may not be aware of how quickly such photos can circulate, mistakenly thinking the image is only for the personal use of the requester," according to the AP. Here are the conditions that she and her co-authors identified as making kids more likely to receive these requests for explicit photos of themselves: "having a close relationship with someone known only online; talking with someone online about sex or having a sexually suggestive screen name; and experiencing physical or sexual abuse offline." The study, which is being published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is an analysis of data from a 2005 phone survey of 1,500 Net users aged 10-17, the AP reports (its authors said the numbers could be higher now, with greater use of camera phones, Web cams, and other digital-photo devices). The study's margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

  2. How teens use tech

    Teenagers say they only use email when they're communicating with adults. To them, "real" email is a feature of a social-networking site. "To hear the teen panelists tell it ... e-mail will be strictly the domain of business dealings," reports CNET's Stefanie Olsen, referring to panelists at this week's YPulse Mashup conference in San Francisco. They were Asheem Badshah, a teenaged president of, an essay-sharing site that launched this summer; Martina Butler, host of the [well-sponsored] teen podcast Emo Girl Talk; Catherine Cook, president of and soon-to-be freshman at Georgetown University; and Ashley Qualls, president of, creators of layouts and graphics for MySpace profiles. So how are they communicating? A whole lot by texting on cellphones. "In the last six to nine months, teens in the US have taken to text messaging in numbers that rival usage in Europe and Asia. According to market research firm JupiterResearch, 80% of teens with cell phones regularly use text messaging." Many teens also use multiple social sites ("Badshah said that to subscribe to only one social network means losing out on friendships with people who are active on other rival social networks"). [If a teen reads this, tell us if you agree/disagree with this or the article I link to here - sorry you have to use email (! ;-) But you're totally welcome to post in our forum, though:, soon to relaunch as]

  3. The wrong kind of spin control

    The term is "sock-puppeting," and its definition is "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one's self, allies or company," the New York Times reports. The CEO of the Whole Foods grocery chain engaged in sock-puppeting for eight years on Yahoo discussion boards. The Federal Trade Commission noticed and called him on it, and the case illustrates - for everyone, from cyberbullies to politicians to corporate executives - that online anonymity "is an illusion." And Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's actions could potentially destroy his company's bid to acquire another grocery chain, Wild Oats. The Times cites one business analyst as saying CEO sock-puppeting is "the tip of the iceberg." It's a good case study for cybercitizenship lessons in homes and schools, looking at the difference between ethical and unethical spin control.

  4. Teens in Net prostitution ads

    Two high school students and a 19-year-old "ringleader" advertised themselves as "party girls" available as a threesome in an online classifieds sites, the Pioneer Press reports , citing an FBI investigation. The 19-year-old "was arrested by the FBI last month and charged in US District Court with sex trafficking of minors, a federal offense." The Pioneer Press adds that the case is just the "latest in the Twin Cities involving sex rings" using free online classifieds to advertise; "but this time, the participants are minors." These teens fit the profile of online teens most at risk for sexual exploitation (see the profile). The Press adds that investigators are debating whether teen prostitution is on the rise because the Internet, but "the majority of juvenile prostitutes is still thought to be runaways, illegal immigrants and children from poor urban areas. But an August 2003 Newsweek exposť examined the increase of juvenile sex workers in suburbs. The story focused on a Twin Cities girl from an affluent home who relished the fast cash and picked up men at the Mall of America."

  5. Social networkers: Future businesspeople

    I know I'm telling you nothing you don't know: Users of Facebook and MySpace will grow up to have careers. But what I really mean by that headline is that their social networking now is very likely preparing them for those careers, at the very least in the business world. John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, "the world's biggest maker of data networking equipment," told the Financial Times that "social networks, collaborative Web sites like wikis, teleconferencing and other technologies that allow interaction on a large scale" are "set to usher in a new phase of productivity growth that could surpass that achieved during the late-1990s Internet boom." In an interview with the FT, he referred to a new phase of creativity as well as productivity - that will last a minimum of 10 but probably 15 years - enabled by many-to-many communication of photos and video as well as messages.

  6. 'Caution: Falling rocks [teachers]'

    Veteran tech educator David Jakes seems to have struck a chord in his blog post about technophobe teachers labeled as "falling rocks" by colleagues and students in many schools. There are a number of very substantive posts from other educators underneath his article in "They're called rocks because they won't budge, and you just can't get them into new things, things like technology.... So," Jakes writes, "the most appropriate thing for people to do is to move on to those who are more open, more willing, more capable." Wrong, he says, then explains why. Then he offers five ways to "get these teachers on board. One commenter says there are good teachers who integrate technology and there are bad one who do, and vice versa, which makes a lot of sense. In our family's experience, one really fine language arts teacher didn't teach much with technology but used it as a peripheral tool to enrich communication with students, which they really appreciated. Her bottom line was to respect her students and do whatever it took to support learning and communication that worked for them; it was a very effective strategy.

  7. myNBC for TV fans

    It's a social site for networking by fans of shows like "Heroes," "The Office," and "The Biggest Loser," a New York Times blog reports. Some analysts think it'll be successful, other think NBC should focus more on getting its content onto existing social networks - on "taking their programs to where people already are." I think, on this very fragmented medium called the social Web, both are right. I'm right now at the YPulse Mashup (conference) about "Totally Wired Teens" and hearing social media researcher danah boyd say that it's going more the way of "mobility" than "immersion" for online teens (fluid movement among multiple sites, media, technologies, and devices rather than immersion or brand/site/tech loyalty). I agree, so I think "mobility" means engaging with other "Heroes" fans in more than one place online. [For a great commentary on what happened at the Mashup, see PBS blogger Rob Glaser's report.]

  8. Young music fans choosing vinyl

    Go figure. Just when we thought that music downloads had pretty much killed off CDs, The Guardian reports that, "in a rare case of cheerful news for the record labels" there's a "vinyl revival" afoot in the UK (and quite possibly in the US too). It says two-thirds of all UK singles in the UK now come out on in the 7-inch record format, "with sales topping 1 million. Though still a far cry from vinyl's heyday in 1979, when Art Garfunkel's Bright Eyes alone sold that number and the total vinyl singles market was 89 million, the latest sales are still up more than five-fold in five years." The Guardian adds that it's not unusual to young people to buy records even with nothing to play them on. It quotes an industry analyst as saying they'll buy the digital version to listen to and the record as art, something tangible in their hands, maybe as a memory of a great concert. Another sign that today's media sharers (as opposed to mere consumers) don't abandon sites, formats, technologies, etc., they just fold new ones into the mix.

  9. Parents liking social networking too

    Some parents are setting up accounts at sites like MySpace and Facebook to keep an eye on their teens, then finding themselves becoming avid social networkers too, KABC in Los Angeles reports. One mom told ABC she found MySpace a great way to find people she went to high school with, another said she was now "hooked" on social networking herself. "A recent survey shows 40% of MySpace users are now between the ages of 35 and 54. And Facebook reports its fastest growing age group is 25 and older," according to KABC.

  10. Cyberbullying: Local view

    A county official on Long Island made a public statement saying Suffolk County is working hard to "persuade parents to monitor for cyberbullying as aggressively as they would for sexual predators," Newsday reports. The county had pretty high-profile exposure to the problem late last year, when a video of a local teen girl being beaten up by three peers appeared on YouTube (see "Teens' fight video"), a case that Newsday says received worldwide attention. "No law in New York specifically addresses such online behavior, though 22 other states prohibit it," according to Newsday, which adds that "the Nassau district attorney's office, cyberbullying may be considered misdemeanor aggravated harassment, which can be punished by up to a year in prison." [See also "Acting out for the videocam."]

  11. Xbox: 'Family-friendly'

    Could the Xbox be going the way of the Wii? Microsoft has announced "several efforts to broaden the appeal of their machine to families," the New York Times reports. The efforts include more Xbox games for children and families and "a deal to distribute films from the Walt Disney Company on Microsoft's Xbox Live Internet service."

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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