Apps that encourage positive comments

A pair of relatively new apps are designed specifically to encourage positive comments. To learn more, CBS News Tech Analyst Larry Magid (who is also co-director of and founder of  spoke with Pascal Lorne of Let and Calvin Liu, creator of Outpour.

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Safety & civility advice for anonymous apps

After School’s iTunes page promises to let you post anonymously

After School’s iTunes page promises to let you post anonymously

A growing number of apps allow people to post anonymously. Some of the better known ones include, Whisper, Secret and Yik Yak but there are new ones all the time, including After School, that’s been downloaded more than 100,000 times including by students from more than 14,000 U.S. high schools, according to

As Recode pointed out, After School’s seven-person staff can’t possibly police all of the posts on this growing service, though the company says it does employ software to look for particularly alarming words like “kill,” “cut” and “bomb.” As TechCrunch reported, the app has been associated with numerous bullying incidents.

There are also reports of gun threats, which prompted the Superintendent of Flushing (Michigan) Community Schools to write, “The purpose of the app continues to be in question and very concerning. Not only does it allow for individuals to post anonymous, and often times inappropriate statements and pictures, it also allows the app company access to personal information from an individual’s Facebook account.” The app was temporarily removed from the Apple app store and later reinstated with a 17+ rating.
Yik Yak has also had its share of criticism, which prompted the company to geo-fence the app so it can’t be accessed from high school campuses. was once the poster-child for anything goes posts, but was recently acquired by IAC with new management, a chief safety officer and a commitment to better police its service.

What all these apps have in common is the ability for people to post comments or ask questions without having to reveal their real name or, in some cases, without even having to use an account name or alias.

As I discuss in this post, there are some very positive aspects to anonymous apps, but of course there are some risks including the ability to use the app for bullying, to spread false or malicious gossip, to embarrass people, for unwanted sexual solicitation and harassment or, in some cases, to post inappropriate photos.

Nothing new

These concerns are nothing new — we’ve been talking about them since the Internet first became commercialized back in the 90′s. And while the specific details vary according to the app, some general principles apply for all apps, whether anonymous or not.

Know how to report. Some apps have reporting features that can alert the company’s customer service staff if someone is being abusive. Learn to find and use these features where they exist.

Call for help if you’re frightened. If someone threatens you in a way that gives you reason to fear for your safety, reach out immediately for help. Contact school authorities, parents or law enforcement if you are concerned about your safety.
You’re never completely anonymous or above the law. Even though these apps might be able to hide your identity from other users, there are ways to track people down through Internet protocol addresses, cell phone identifiers, and other clues. Both hackers and law enforcement (with proper authorization) have tools to find you.

Know what the app knows about you and your friends. It’s not uncommon for mobile social media apps to collect information about you and your friends. Pay attention to any disclosures and be extra careful about allowing the app to contact Facebook friends or people on your contact list on your behalf. Also be aware of the apps geolocation features, including tracking where are and sharing it with others.

You are responsible for your behavior. Users are both morally and legally responsible for how they behave on these apps. In addition to the possibility of prosecution, you can be banned from using the app by the operator if you violate their terms of service and there can be other repercussions from school and other authorities if you violate community rules of behavior.

Disagree respectfully. Anonymous apps often give people an opportunity to engage in spirited debate around just about any issue including politics, religion, sexuality — even your favorite smartphone or computer. These debates can be great, but they should also be respectful.

Don’t out others. Spreading rumors or revealing secrets about others is a form of bullying. Just because you know something about someone, doesn’t give you the right to share it without permission. Also, respect other people when sharing photographs. It’s best to ask permission before sharing a photo with anyone else in it and common decency to take down (or untag) a person who objects to being in a photo.

Don’t invite trouble. Sometimes people ask for trouble, by posting questions about themselves like “am I pretty” or “do you think I’m fat.” Sadly, there are people who will sometimes pounce on people who ask questions like this. Think before you ask any questions about yourself or others.

People online have feelings. This should be obvious but sometimes we forget that people on the other side of the screen are really people with genuine feelings. It’s not uncommon for folks who are pretty considerate when they meet others in person to forget their manners when they encounter them online. One thing to consider is that you don’t know the mental or emotional state of the person on the other end. What may seem to you to be just funny or mildly annoying could be emotionally devastating to that person, depending on how they interpret it and what is going on in their lives.

Why you should ‘share thoughtfully. As we say in’s A Parents Guide to Mobile, both kids and adults “need to know that what they post is a reflection on them. Talk with them about respecting their own and others’ dignity and privacy by being aware of what they’re “saying” with both words and images.”

Remember that what you post may be permanent. Your posts may appear to go away, but chances are they’ll remain online for a long long time. And even if you delete them, there’s always a chance that someone could have copied and reposted it.

This post first appeared on

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National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s ‘Tell a Trusted Adult’ video

A great way to teach young children the importance of reaching out for help if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. This is an effective video the explains what a “trusted adult” is and why children need to trust their own judgement when they feel that someone may be acting inappropriately.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 10.38.16 AM

Watch video here

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Online safety is not just about ‘life’

One of the sessions at the Family Online Safety Institute conference that was held in Washington in November focused on re-defining online safety. During the session, a couple of smart people who I respect a great deal suggested that we should drop the word “online” from online safety and drop “digital” when we talk about digital citizenship. It’s not about the online world, they say, “it’s about life.”

I respectfully disagree.

The argument

I’m not sure I can do justice to their argument, but I’ll try and hope to spawn a conversation where others can perhaps better articulate the argument that there is really no need to focus on online risks and harms because, at least for youth, there is a blurring of online and offline life. One argument – and I agree with this one – is that negative online behaviors, such as cyberbullying, are reflections of offline behaviors and, indeed, research has shown that cyberbullying is often an extension of school-based bullying. There is also the argument that the antidote to many potential online dangers is the same critical thinking that’s always been important to protect yourself, long before the Internet came along. I agree, which is why I sometimes start my Internet safety talks by saying that most of what I’m about to say could have been said by your great grandmother – treat people respectfully, think before you act and be aware that not everything you see or hear is true.

Things my great grandmother couldn’t know

But there are some things my great grandmother could have never anticipated and, as wise as she might have been.

For example, the Internet has unleashed cadres of criminals who make their living stealing our personal information and our online credentials in an effort to defraud us. Sure, criminals, including bank robbers have been around for centuries, but they were not able to rob banks from across the ocean and they weren’t able to empty people’s accounts simply by pressing a few keys. Knowing how to create and use strong passwords, to use security tools and configure devices for maximum protection is not something any of us learned in elementary school. And they’re not skills we would need if we weren’t digitally connected These are specialized skills that we need to go online and use mobile devices and they are part of what I call “online safety.” Banks too have to learn to new ways to protect themselves. Strong safes and armed guards, though not perfect, worked reasonably well when Jesse James was alive, but they’re useless against cyberthieves.

New privacy threats

All generations have had privacy threats but never before has it been possible to sift through thousands of personal messages, follow someone’s every move or track their location without having to dispatch a spy to literally follow them around. Even tapping a phone, in the landline days, required sending someone over to a house to attach alligator clips to the line or getting a court order to get the phone company to set up a tap. Now it’s possible to do it remotely just by installing malware on someone’s smartphone. Knowing how to use anti-tracking tools, to configure your privacy settings on apps and sites and to understand encryption is not something they taught in one-room school houses – it’s part of what we need to learn as digital citizens and very different from what our grandparents needed to know.

Bullying and sexting

And while I agree that cyberbullying is just bullying online, it does add some dimensions, such as the ability to stick around forever or involve far more people than are likely to witness a schoolyard brawl. I’m not saying it’s worse than physical bullying – it probably isn’t – and I know it’s less prevalent, but it’s nonetheless different.

There same arguments can be made about sexting – its been around since at least the invention of the Polaroid camera, but the ability to distribute images online to hundreds of people at a time is something our grandparents never had to worry about. The same is true with other reputation busters. When I was in college it was common to drink beer in the dorm room, but we never had to worry about the administration or our parents seeing pictures of it on Facebook.

There is also disinhibition, which can allow people to forget they’re interacting with real people. Just as being surrounded by thousands of pounds of metal can make a mild-mannered motorist into an angry driver, interacting with people through screens instead of in-person can have an impact on how you treat them. It shouldn’t, but it can.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. Yes, the net is part of life and yes many people, including most young people (and plenty of adults, myself included) are so engaged in technology that it’s often difficult to distinguish between online and offline life. But that doesn’t change the fact that what happens online can have different characteristics than analogous things that happen in the so called “real world.”

Why we need online safety

There are plenty of analogies to demonstrate why there needs to continue to be a focus on “online” safety vs. just safety:

  • When you go to the beach or a pool, you need to be careful not to drown or get sunburned, but when you walk in the woods, you have a totally different set of risks. Both are “life,” but if I were preparing my daughter for a beach trip, I would give her very different advice than I would if she were headed to the mountains.
  • Sports teach a lot of life skills, but if you’re a little league baseball coach, you need to warn your kids to beware of being hit by a ball or a flying bat. High school football coaches have to warn how to make sure you’re not injured when being tackled. The risks are simply different as are the things you do and equipment you use to minimize those risks.
  • Cars are part of life and safe driving does involve the same type of good judgement that will keep you safe in other activities, but no-one would disagree that you need special skills to safely drive a vehicle.

Online safety shouldn’t be taught in a vacuum

Having said this, I agree that online safety isn’t a stand-alone subject. When we learned to write, we didn’t take a course in pencil safety but our teacher might have warned us to be aware that you can hurt yourself with a pencil. Cooking classes focus on how to make great food but – at some point in our lives – we did learn that knives can be dangerous. We learn to drive so we can get from place to place and enjoy the ride but, along the way, we learned auto safety. It wasn’t a special class – it was part of driver’s education.

Online safety too needs to be integrated into all subjects. There is no special expertise when it comes to being safe online, but its something we learn as we leran to use technology to enhance our lives.

So, yes, it is about “life,” but it’s also a unique set of skills that we need to live our lives in the 21st century.



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Survey finds parents mostly OK with kids’ use of tech

A survey released today by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), found that “93% of parents feel that their child is at least somewhat safe when he or she is online,” while only 37% say their child is “very safe.”

The survey found some ambivalence when it comes to using smartphone apps and playing online games where 38% felt that the benefits outweigh harms.

The study, Parenting in the Digital Age, which was conducted for FOSI by Hart Research, is based on an October, 2014 national survey of 584 parents of children age six to 17 who access the Internet.

Concern over social media

When it comes to social media, only 26% feel that the benefits of their child having a social media account outweighs harms, while 43% say “harms outweigh benefits”and 31% say that they’re about equal.

I find this number interesting considering the number of children who have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Maybe things have changed since danah boyd and other researchers released a 2011 study that found that of the estimated 7.5 million kids under 13 on Facebook (according to Consumer Reports), 95% of the parents whose 10-year-old was on Facebook knew about it and 78% actually helped the kid sign-up. Of course, Facebook use by kids may be diminishing, but there are plenty of social media apps and services, including Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Snapchat, Tumblr and Yik-Yak that are popular among teens as well as pre-teens who, according to most services’ rules, are not supposed to be using them.
Parents feel they have control

Whether it’s true or not, parents do feel that they have some control over their kids’ use of tech. Just under two-thirds (64%) said that they are confident in their ability to keep track of their child’s technology use, but for parents of teens, the number drops to 58%. Nearly three quarters (73%) of parents with younger children feel OK about their ability to keep track of what their kids are doing with technology.

Nearly all (95%) of parents say they “monitor” their child’s use of technology at least “somewhat closely,” while 55% say they monitor it very closely. That number drops to 41% for parents of teens, while 68% of parents of kids between 6 and 9 say they monitor tech use very closely. Of course “monitor” is a very broad term that can range from tight controls to an occasional check-in. A slim majority (53%) of parents say they have used parental controls such as online filters while 47% report using controls to turn off in-app purchases. The use of the term “have,” though is also a bit vague. It’s not clear from the survey whether these numbers represent ongoing monitoring or, perhaps, the use of a filter sometime in the past.

In an open-ended part of the survey, parents were asked to express their concerns and a significant percentage (28%) worried about “stalkers, child molesters, predators, bad people lurking online” or “contact with strangers.” Inappropriate content was also high on the list of concerns with 23% expressing worry about the child accessing content that isn’t age appropriate. Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) expressed concerns about tech keeping their kids away from exercise while 8% mentioned cyberbullying.

Perception vs. reality

The concern over stranger danger is interesting given that the actual risk (as opposed to perceived) of a child being harm by a stranger they meet online is very low. I also found it interesting that only 8% of parents expressed concerns about cyberbullying given the amount of attention it has received, though based on the actual (vs. perceived) occurrences of cyberbullying, the number is about right.

With any survey on risks and harms it’s always important to remember that people don’t necessarily perceive risk accurately. It’s not uncommon, for example, for surveys to find concern over a growth in crimes during a period when crime rates are dropping or concern over economic decline during periods when the economy is actually growing.

So, the takeaway here is to understand parental concerns, but also understand actual risks as measured by data from organizations like the Crimes Against Children Research Department, the Centers for Disease Control, the Justice Department and others who keep up-to-date records on risks and harms.

On the positive side, it’s great to see that parents are in-touch with their kids’ use of technology and, for the most part, agree with the characters played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in the movie “The Kids Are All Right.”

This post first appeared on

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook and other social media companies

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Time to redefine and de-silo online safety efforts

I’m in Washington DC to attend the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) annual conference that gets underway on Wednesday. This year’s theme is Redefining Internet Safety, and while I don’t yet know how others will redefine it, I do know that the professionals involved in helping people be safer and more secure online have a lot of work to do. I’m one of them as co-director of and founder of

Camps need to merge

For one thing, we need to de-silo our approach. For the longest time the Internet safety community has been divided into three camps: child safety, privacy and security.

Safety, Privacy and Security

In the nineties, the child safety folks focused mostly on the dangers of pornography and predators but – based on research about real risks – the messages have evolved to focus on cyberbullying and harassment; reputation management (including sexting), and teaching children how to protect their personal information.

The privacy advocates have also had to evolve their messaging as threats have changed. These days we need to worry about the vast quantities of information that are collected – and sometimes shared – by our mobile devices including location, our contacts, our calls, our emails and text messages and the apps we use and websites we visit. We are also dealing with tracking and profiling, including third party tracking technologies that know what we’re doing and share it for marketing purposes – albeit usually without sharing personally identifiable information.

Security has also evolved. Security experts are now less worried about hackers wiping out your data and more worried about them emptying your back accounts. Mobile has also changed the security landscape, though most mobile phone users do little or nothing to protect their mobile devices. We’ve also seen the rise of “social engineering” whereby instead of breaking into your machine, a hacker will trick you into revealing usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and other information they can use to exploit you.

The reason I think it’s time to de-silo these fields is because all of these threats are related. We can no longer talk about “Internet safety” without talking about privacy and security. And even the line between privacy and security is blurred now since privacy leaks can lead to security vulnerabilities and vice versa.

Kids and adults are in this together

Another silo that needs to be challenged is the distinction between adult and child protection. Several years ago, John Morris who was then with the Center for Democracy and Technology and is now Associate Administrator and Director of Internet Policy for the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration (NTIA), commented at a FOSI event that if a policy is necessary to protect kids, it’s probably also necessary to protect adults. He wasn’t arguing for more regulations, but more thought about whether children actually benefit from many of the policies and regulations that have been put in place specifically for their benefit. Speaking for myself (and not necessarily Morris), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a case in point. It’s intended to protect children from revealing personal information to marketers, but its impact is to prevent children under 13 from using social media, or to lie about their age.

The broader question is not to focus on the age of the person who may be at risk, but the risk itself, whether it’s marketers harassing you to purchase their products or online trolls and bullies harassing you just because they can. And don’t think that cyberbullying and harassment is mostly a youth problem. A recent Pew study found that 40 percent of adult Internet users had experienced harassment, which is a higher percentage than youth who had experienced cyberbullying. Harassment and bullying are somewhat different but the general conclusion remains that age is by no means a protective barrier against online harms. Whether you’re a young adult woman at greater risk of sexual harassment, a senior citizen at greater risk of financial exploitation, a business person at greater risk of a data breach or a child at risk of cyberbullying, the fact is that we’re all in this together.

Rights too

We must also consider youth rights as well as protection. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child correctly focuses on both children’s safety and children’s right of free expression and participation and the Internet safety movement should do likewise. We can and must find ways to help children protect themselves from harm while expanding — not restricting — their right to access and contribute to media, including social media.


The Internet safety field also needs to look at the antidotes. For the longest time there has been a call for Internet safety education but – based on a study conducted by Crimes Against Children Research Center, the leading school-based programs that they evaluated had failed to move the needle. That doesn’t mean we give up, but it does mean that we look at research (including some of the proposals from that study) to inform future educational endeavors. And, speaking of de-siloing, we no longer need to separate Internet safety education from other life skills. Yes, the Internet does pose some special risks when it comes to privacy, security and safety – but the solutions are not all that different than protecting ourselves from other risks, including thinking critically before you act, not believing everything you see or hear and understanding that our actions – and our words – have consequences to ourselves and those around us.

And finally, there is a need to focus on kindness – something really basic that’s been part of life forever. Whether we’re interacting online, by phone, in person or by pen and paper, being kind and considerate can go a very long way towards creating a friendly and civil online environment. And it can start early, with social emotional learning as a key part of child development.

One Good Thing

To that end, is sponsoring the One Good Thing Campaign where we’re asking people – young and old – to send us a short video, Tweet or email telling us about positive things the’ve done or witnessed that makes the Internet a better place or uses connected technology to make the world a better place.

For more about redefining Internet safety, see Anne Collier’s post: The next version of ‘Internet safety': A look under the hood

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Media guidelines for reporting on youth risk surveys

There is an old saying that figures don’t lie but liars figure. That’s a good thing to keep in mind when examining how some companies market the results of surveys.

OK, perhaps lying is too strong a term, but I’ve seen too many press releases that promote the results of a survey but don’t tell the entire story, and surveys whose methodology — including the questions asked and how the sample was derived — simply doesn’t pass muster. Unfortunately, all too often journalists and bloggers pick up on these press releases without critically examining the methodology or digging further to make sure that the actual data confirms the headlines.

In many cases, when a company or research organization announces the results of a survey, the press release provides a brief summary of the survey but not much detail beyond that. Before I write about a survey, I ask to see the underlying report. It should include a summary of the methodology, including how the sample was derived, the actual questions asked, and how they were answered. Sometimes, after examining that report, it’s clear to me that the methodology was flawed or the summary isn’t fully supported by the underlying data.

 Common mistakes

My examples deal with studies about online safety and privacy – issues I pay close attention to as a tech journalist and as co-director of, a nonprofit Internet safety organization.

Take a recent study conducted by Harris Poll, which issued a press releaseshouting that “6 in 10 Americans Say They or Someone They Know Have been Bullied.”

The words “someone they know” caused me to question this headline. Asking people if they’ve been bullied is legitimate, but adding “someone you know” muddies things. Frankly, I was surprised the answer wasn’t closer to 10 in 10. If someone asked me “have you or someone you know been killed in a plane crash?” I’d have to say yes because one person I knew did die in that manner. But that doesn’t mean it’s happened to me, and it certainly doesn’t make it common.

The press release also reported that “this is an issue affecting a great many Americans, and there’s a very real perception that it’s getting worse.” But when I looked at the underlying data, I found 44 percent of adults said they had been bullied when they were in school and 10 percent had bullied others. When asked about their own kids, they reported that 9 percent had been bullied and only 2 percent said their kids had bullied others.

That’s not worse — it’s actually much better. Based on their own data, Harris’ headline should have read “Parents Report Far Fewer Kids Are Being Bullied Now Than When They Were in School.”

It’s important to differentiate between perception of a problem and the problem itself. If a survey, for example, finds that people are concerned about an increase in crime, that’s interesting data about perception. But it doesn’t necessarily mean crime is on the rise.

A 2010 study conducted by Harris for Internet security firm McAfee came with a press pitch promising “shocking findings of teens’ online behavior.” But when I read the actual report, the data was far from shocking. As I wrote in my post about the study, it was “actually a reassuring portrait of how most young people are exercising reasonable caution in their use of technology.” So, instead of regurgitating their “shocking” headline, my headline was “Study has good news about kids’ online behavior.”

In 2013, Microsoft released a survey report prepared by comScore about kids’ access to devices and online services. The methodology section claimed that “with a pure probability sample of 1025 one could say with a ninety-five percent probability that the overall results would have a sampling error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.”

Sounds very scientific, but the survey wasn’t even close to a pure probability sample. It was an opt-in survey linked from Microsoft’s Safety and Security Center page, Facebook ads and StumbleUpon. The survey results and questions didn’t appear biased, but a dead giveaway that it failed as a representative sample was the gender breakdown of 76% male and 24% female. Had the sample actually been representative it would have been close to 50/50.

Then there was a much-cited study that found that 69 percent of kids had been subjected to cyberbullying, based on a sample of nearly 11,000 young people between 13 and 22.  With such a large sample, one might think this would be an incredibly accurate study, but when I looked into the methodology, I saw that “the survey was available in the ‘Ditch the Label’ virtual help desk on Habbo Hotel between the dates of 28th August to 10th September 2013.”

In other words, this was an opt-in survey reached from the page of an anti-bullying organization on a U.K.-based social network. That’s like conducting a crime survey from a police station or trying to estimate the global cancer rate by interviewing people in an oncologist’s waiting room.

Expert advice

It’s been a while since I’ve designed surveys, so I consulted with David Finkelhor, a University of New Hampshire professor who’s director of the school’s Crimes against Children Research Centerand an authority on survey design and methodology. Finklehor said that it’s “incumbent on journalists to find out if there are other surveys or studies on the issue, because frequently there are some that come to other conclusions.”

His other advice:

  • Look critically at the questions, and don’t assume the headline of the press release accurately reflects them.
  • Look at the sample. Is it relevant to the questions asked? Does it truly reflect the population it claims to represent? See if the sample might favor people who are interested in the subject, concerned about it, or experienced with it. Be especially leery of “opt-in” samples where people can volunteer, or where the subject matter is advertised ahead of time.
  • Ask who’s funding the survey. A lot of surveys are funded by advocacy groups or businesses that want to generate some concern about an issue.
  • Ask somebody who knows something about surveying whether this is a good scientific effort. A lot of surveys aren’t.
  • See if the questions were written in an “advocacy fashion” to make something look big or small. Warning signs include vague definitions of the issue, wording such as “anybody you know” that inflates the numbers, or questions asking if something has occurred over a long period of time.

Finklehor said “it should be a requirement” for organizations that go public with survey data to offer breakdowns of that data including the questions, a description of the survey design including how the sample was selected and whether respondents were reimbursed, how the questions were answered, and how many people who were asked to participate declined. It should include the questions, the response categories and the percentages.

Finklehor tends to put more trust in surveys published in refereed academic journals, but you shouldn’t assume that a survey is accurate just because it’s associated with a university. You need to look at who on that campus actually conducted the survey (I’ve seen some surveys cited that turned out to undergraduate class projects with extremely small samples) and examine their methodology.

Journalists don’t have to take advanced courses in statistical research to understand surveys, but they do have to apply the same critical eye they’d bring to any other source material. Examine the methodology and the motives, and don’t write an article based only on a press release or a brief summary.

This post by Larry Magid first appeared on the website

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Digital citizenship applies to adults as well as youth: Conversation with Rebecca Randall of Common Sense Media

Much of the focus around this week’s celebration of Digital Citizenship Week centers around children and teens. But, guess what? Adults are citizens too and need to be included in the conversation.

I thought about this when I was speaking with Rebecca Randall, Vice President of Education for Common Sense Media. Rebecca is one of the architects of the organization’s digital citizenship curriculum that’s delivered in primary and secondary schools around the country. Yet, much of what she had to say applied to adults as well as kids. I wound up asking Rebecca about the incidents that led Zelda Williams (Robin William’s adult daughter) to quit social media for awhile and later return to Twitter and other social networks.

Zelda Williams and Monica Lewinsky

It’s a story of both cruelty and kindness. In the after-math of her father’s suicide, Ms. Williams was subjected to mean tweets and posts prompting her to say on Instagram, “I will be leaving this account for a bit while I heal and decide if I’ll be deleting it or not.” She added, “In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary. …”

Yet, as Rebecca Randall pointed out in our podcast, Ms. Williams was also the beneficiary of kindness from complete strangers, which helped convince her to return to social media, starting with the tweet. “I just want to say thank you for all the stories and letters I’ve been receiving, especially from those who’ve also lost loved ones.” You can follow Ms. Williams at @zeldawilliams.

Another famous person, Monica Lewinsky, recently began speaking out about cyberbullying, based on her experience as a young adult who had her “reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet” after it was disclosed that she had a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton while he was president. “Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too,” she said at the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 summit.

Cyberbullied by Howard Stern

I haven’t had as much focused media attention as Lewinsky or Williams but — as a broadcast, online and print journalist — I do put myself in the public spotlight and I know what it’s like to be abused by fellow adults. While he was doing his terrestrial radio show, Howard Stern would frequently play clips from my CBS tech reports and over modulate the sound to exaggerate my lisp (here is one example). It was hurtful and embarrassing. I’ve struggled with that lisp since childhood (it used to be a lot worse) and managed to build a radio career despite it and the last thing I wanted was to have it repeatedly pointed out by a famous radio personality. I also know what it’s like to be ridiculed by anonymous strangers. It happens all the time in the comments below my online articles – sometimes with people making fun of the way I look or talk or accusing me of accepting bribes from tech companies because they disagreed with my review of a product.

Can affect anyone

You don’t have to be a public figure to experience trolling and ridicule. As Rebecca Randall points out in this podcast, just about anyone can experience their “15 minutes of fame,” but thanks to the Internet it can remain online for a lifetime.

Listen to Larry’s conversation with Rebecca Randall, Vice President of Education for Common Sense Media

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Digital Citizenship Week is a time to recognize youth rights

As we celebrate digital citizenship week, there will be a lot of discussion about good online behavior, including treating others with respect. And that’s certainly a very important part of what it means to be a good citizen, whether “digital” or otherwise.

But it’s also useful to look up the definition of “citizen” and for that I turned to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

noun \ˈsi-tə-zən also -sən\

: a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of that country

: a person who lives in a particular place

As you can see, at least this short definition starts out with rights and protection and I would argue that any discussion of digital citizenship needs to include rights as well as responsibilities.

When it comes to children, those “rights” are actually codified by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world except Somalia, Southern Sudan and the United States (1).

The rights outlined in the Convention cover a wide variety of issues but are very clear when it comes to children’s free speech, right to access media, right of assembly and right of privacy.

These include:

  • Freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice (article 13)
  • The rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly (article 15)
  • No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honor and reputation (article 16)
  • Access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources (article 17)

What this means at home and in school

Despite these rights, it’s very common for adults to want to control what children see and say online. To some extent this is allowed by the Convention which does call for “the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being,” but from my reading of the document, that applies to material such as pornography or, in the case of some children, material that promotes violence or self-harm. It clearly doesn’t apply to mass media or social media, especially when you consider article 13’s specific reference to “through any other media of the child’s choice.” Yet, there are many schools in America, as well as in the countries that have ratified the Convention, that ban the use of social media on school grounds.

Right of privacy

The Convention also gives children the right of privacy and while it’s not entirely clear how this applies to parental or school supervision, it is certainly arguable that neither parents nor school authorities have the right to monitor children’s speech without due cause. I’m not saying that parents should never be allowed to look at their children’s text messages or web history, but I am suggesting that any such monitoring be done only if deemed necessary to protect the child and only with the child’s knowledge and (ideally) consent.

Honor and reputation

It’s not entirely clear to me what the United Nations meant by honor and reputation, but it’s pretty easy to understand how those terms apply in today’s world. Whether it’s protection from peer harassment or bullying by teachers or other authorities, young people have the right to be treated with dignity.

Trust and common sense

At the end of the day, it’s about trust and common sense. To begin with, it’s important to remember that even though the word “child” (and the terms of the Convention) refers to people between the ages of birth and 18, any policies regarding children’s access to material (including even so-called “harmful” material) need to consider their age and maturity. What’s appropriate for a 4-year-old isn’t usually appropriate for a 14-year-old. It’s also important to trust our children unless they give us good reason not to. Most kids are good citizens, most kids don’t bully or harass others and most kids are responsible in their use of media. Of course there are exceptions but that’s true with many adults as well and, at least in theory, our legal system protects the rights and freedom of all adults unless they have been convicted of a crime (and even there they have many rights).


(1) Wikipedia has a good discussion on the history of the debate arguments for and against U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

(2) Campaign for U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

(3)  UN bringing child rights into the digital age

(4) Protecting children online needs to allow for their right to free speech

(5) Of young people’s (not just digital) citizenship (by Anne Collier, ConnectSafely)




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Larry Magid speaks with Mike Ribble about the meaning of ‘digital citizenship’

Lots of people love to use the term “digital citizenship,” and while Mike Ribble doesn’t claim to have coined the term, he is often closely associated with it. Digital Citizenship in Schools (now in its second edition) was not only the subject of his doctoral dissertation, but the title of a book.

To commemorate Digital Citizenship Week 2014, I had a half-hour conversation with Dr. Ribble about digital citizenship — what it means, how it affects young people and how it can include rights as well as responsibilities.

You can listen here:

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