Tuesday, March 09, 2010

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More on ChatRoulette

Hopefully, by now that you have all digested the initial announcement of the appearance of the new video chat stranger danger. Let's take a step or two back and put this in perspective.

Many times in the past, I've said that for the most part, kids are safe and want to be safe. Indeed, the research backs up my contention. However, the research also points out that there is a small part of the teen population that is at risk. These are the same kids who would be at risk even if the Internet didn't exist.

Beth Martin of Everest Middle School had a talk with her 16 year-old daughter and her friend. She said, "They didn't seem fazed by it. They told me that fact that I was shocked showed how naive I was about the web. Their response was that kids should be smart enough to know not to do that. Wow! That shocked me too. I think they are right about a lot of kids but I think kids on the fringe would try this."

The fact is that when sites like this come along, not only the kids on the fringe, but many mainstream kids will check it out. Curiosity is natural. For most, their curiosity will be quenched and it will quickly fade. However, it is still important to talk to kids about it, but do so by recognizing that most are safe. We have to begin to build a culture based on trust that treats kid as intelligent beings. We have to get them to help each other and held us help the few who might be in danger.

Let them know you realize that only a small group of individuals will be endangered by this kind of site and that THEY know who these kids are. They are the ones in the best position to help. Ask them to be alert to friends who might be hurt by using sites like this. Ask them to help their friends avoid trouble. Ask them to contact a trusted adult if they think someone might be endangering themselves.

It may or may not be effective, but it WILL start building a community of trust and perhaps it will result in at at least one tragedy being avoided. Let's treat our teens as online partners, not naive sheep.

Incidentally, when I went online to check this out. This is what the people on the other end saw. My web camera software does face movement tracking and allows me to overlay (wear) hats, wigs, masks, and distort my face numerous ways.

When kids saw this, one of three things happened.
1) They clicked off immediately
2) They called me a pedophile
3) They gave me a thumbs up.

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posted by Art @ 4:54 PM   0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Chat Roulette: A Gamble We Can Live Without!

When I first started giving Internet workshops in 1995, there were a few
sites that I used to give people a snapshot of what the web was all about.

The most popular of these sites was called WebRoulette. You would click a button and be taken to a random web site.

But this post is not about WebRoulette. These sites still exist though WebRoulette has long since been bought by a casino site. Random web site generators still exist, but be careful. Some harbor spyware, but this post is not about spyware. It's about the 21st century version iteration of this phenomenon, Random Video Chats.

You read that right. If you go to chatroulette.com and click the start button, your web camera will start up in one window and you will be face to face with a random stranger in another.

I first heard about it in a Facebook post from Kerstein Creative that said, "The most unusual, intriguing, weird, frightening concept in social networking I've read about yet. (Can't say I've seen it, because I'm a little freaked out by it.)" and pointed to this article in the New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/news/media/63663/

After reading the article, I had to check it our for myself. The results were very much as described in the article. Here's a snapshot of what I saw. It really reflects the part of my block description that says "with great latitude given in the definition of human."

In a four minute period I saw 66 males and 7 females mostly in the teens and 20's. There were 22 connections that had their cameras blacked out and 6 "others". Others were cameras pointing at signs, walls, or other object.

The disturbing part was that of the 66 males, 6 were X-rated. There was one set of breasts displayed and unquestionably the most bizarre connection was this one.

Do I even have to say it? A web camera in the hands of an unsupervised teen, is an invitation to trouble. I understand that they might use it to talk to grandma or aunt Tillie, but do you want them talking to this guy? If your child has a web camera, at the very least, have a long talk with them!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

NH Proposes Amending Law to Include Cyberbullying

This is one of those posts where I have to point out that I'm not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, but it's not going to stop me from putting my opinion out there.

NH House Bill 1523 is designed to provide schools with clout to enforce the state's Public Safety and Violence Prevention Act.

It adds definitions for bullying and cyberbullying and requires schools to set policies and procedures for dealing with it. It also mandates training for staff and the involvement of pupils, parents, administrators, school staff, school volunteers, community representatives, and local law enforcement agencies in the process of developing the policy.

Overall, I think the law will do a good job of addressing the issue. There are some provisions that I really like, and two items that cause me a bit concern.

Having community involvement in the development of policy is an good idea and the inclusion of students in the process even better.

I also love the idea that the law puts the emphasis on staff training, rather than requiring specific curriculum. My stance on this is well documented. Cybersafety and cyberbullying are part of online citizenship which should be naturally infused throughout the cults schools that do what they should be doing, but doesn't prevent parents from suing if policy and procedures are not followed. To many schools make a show of creating policy and then ignore them.

The first thing that concerns me is the requirement of the schools to report incidents to the state. This wouldn't be a bad idea if the state was providing resources, training, and funds to help support the goals of the law, but with out that, it is nothing but additional paperwork and liability placed on already overburdened school.

The next thing gives me concern is the definition that includes a one time incident. It appears to be to be an attempt to deal with incidents like the Megan Meier case, but this will become a rallying point for free speech advocates and possibly a basis for a Constitutional challenge.

Leaving it out wouldn't preclude acting against a single incident. I think the law has enough in it to allow following up on that kind of case. While excluding it wouldn't preclude following up on a single incident that is severe enough, it lessens the likelihood of abusing the law and raising the wrath of free speech organizations.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Education and legislation go hand in hand. One must inform and help the other.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Common Sense Cyber Safety

The FTC has just launched Netcetera, a fee downloadable publication about Cyber Safety. It's aimed at parents and Teachers and offers good common sense information and advice. They will also send out free printed copies in English or Spanish. No scare tactics or sensationalism here. Just good solid information and advice. You can find out at the FTC http://www2.ftc.gov/opa/2009/12/netcetera.shtm and get it directly from http://www.onguardonline.gov/pdf/tec04.pdf

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Internet Safety Technology Task Force Report Commentary

Hi Folks. As you know, I’m the Educational Technology Director of WiredSafety. WiredSafety was a member of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force (ISTTF) that was formed last year, as part of an agreement between 49 Attorneys General and MySpace. I participated as one member of the WiredSafety team. The views express here are my personal views and not necessarily those of WiredSafety.

The ISTTF was run out of the Berkman Center at Harvard and headed by John Palfry who oversaw the activities of an amazing group of industry leaders, technology experts, Internet safety non-profits, and some of the leading researchers in the country. We were tasked to look into technology measures to keep children safe on social networking sites with a focus on finding reliable age verification technology. The final report was issued on January 14th, with headlines and mixed reactions from all quarters. I’d like to take a few minutes to give you my personal view of the situation at it stands.

If you have read the reports, most of the headlines focus on the finding that the Internet may not be a dangerous as the mainstream media has been presenting it and that cyberbullying and peer to peer confrontations pose more of a risk than sexual predators. The report indicated that most teens who want to be safe are safe, but there is a small population of at-risk youth that can fall prey to predators. In general, it stated that these teens, because of a combination of psychological and family life conditions, would be equally at risk off line as they are online.

Additionally, we concluded that while there were some technologies that provided ways for parents to keep their children safe, there was no technology that would scale up and be effective for the general population. For example, there were biometric devices that would sense physiological characteristics to insure the person using the computer was a child. This is something that an individual parent could do, but hardly something that could be mandated by legislation or implemented on a large scale.

The conclusions had the effect of upsetting some of the Attorneys General who have a quite different and understandable perception that is based on the significant number of arrests made through sting operations. They feel that the ISTTF has presented an erroneous picture of the situation. This is unfortunate, because I feel that a close reading and careful analysis of the report actually shows that both sides are describing very much the same situation from different perspectives.

It is much like the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant. A group of blind men are asked to describe an elephant. One touches the trunk, one the leg, one the ear, etc. Each person describes the elephant from their personal perspective, but none of them sees the elephant as he is.

Let’s take a closer look at the elephant, or in this case the children who we want to protect. The ISTTF had no accurate way to determine exactly how many youth fell into the at-risk category, but the most commonly used figure was 3% of the online teens. To some that may indeed seem like a small sample, but let’s do some very simple math.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 42 million children between the ages of 10 and 19. It is estimated that more than 90% of those teens are online. If 3% of those teens are at risk, that means we have over a million at-risk teens. That number is certainly not in conflict with the arrest figures and the perception of the AG’s. On the other hand it is not in conflict with the idea that cyberbullying and peer to peer interactions are a very serious problem.

Cyberbullying has resulted in suicides and in that larger majority of cases it results in other psychological trauma, absenteeism, physical symptoms and a whole spectrum or reactions. Additionally, it impacts a much larger portion of our youth population. Even the most conservative estimate is that 30% of the youth population suffers from cyberbullying.

At WiredSafety, we conduct thousands of information surveys of students and our figures, because they are done without parent and in unthreatening settings, indicate that 85% of teens have experience or participated in online bullying in the past year.

If we now look at the bullies, the bullied, and the sexual predator victims as a group, all indications (anecdotal) are that the vast majority of sexual predator victims and potential victims are likely to either be cyberbullies or cyberbullying victims. So we aren’t talking apples and oranges here. When we talk about the bullying problem, we find that the potential sexual predator victims are part of that same pool.

The AG’s want and rightly need to focus on getting the predators off-line, The can also work with the industry, parents, community, and educators to deal with the cyberbullying problem which as we know from the Megan Meier case, can become a legal issue.

Government policy makers can put in place legislation that helps identify the at-risk group. Industry can fund and train online moderators and counselors, as well as working with the online community to mobilize and report abuse.

Finally and equally important, it is need for education on all fronts. Parents, teachers, and students, especially those who don’t have online experience and technical savvy, must be aware of the risks, the danger signs, and the appropriate actions to take when they encounter them. While well thought out and effective legislation is important, the real problem is a behavioral one, it is education and intervention that is most needed and will do the most good.

Like the blind men, AG’s and the ISTTF are seeing different parts of the same problem. If combine the views and use it to create a bigger picture, I think we have solid footing from which to move forward with first steps being additional research and an action plan to address the problems.

If you would like to help WiredSafety, please take a few minute to take our online survey.


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posted by Art @ 3:13 PM   2 comments links to this post

Thursday, May 22, 2008

MyYearbook.com and Megan Meier

As an organization WiredSafety talks to thousands of teens each month. While no one can actually give an accurate statistic on how pervasive cyberbullying is, our conversations with teens lead us to believe it is more significant than the press leads us to believe. That may seem strange because to this date, the press has done a pretty good job of magnifying the problem of pornography and predators. While cyberbullying seldom results in suicide, Megan Meier's death put the spotlight on cyberbullying.

WiredSafety had been working with Tina Meier, Megan's mother, to launch the Megan Pledge to get teens to begin dealing with the issue on a peer to peer level. Yesterday, MyYearbook.com launched the online Megan Pledge on their home page. People are taking the pledge at the rate of more than 1400 an hour. Of course this rate will slow as all users login. The significant fact is that there are more than 34 pages of comments and many of them are cyberbullying stories. It doesn't take a university researcher to see that this is a serious issue.

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posted by Art @ 2:55 PM   0 comments links to this post