Facebook’s ‘Nearby Friends’ feature: What you need to know

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New feature shows when friends are nearby (and you near them)

This post is adapted from one that first appeared on Forbes.com

Facebook is rolling out a new feature for its mobile app that allows you to  share your approximate location with friends. The opt-in feature (it’s turned off by default) enables you to find and be found by nearby friends. The feature can be turned on or off at any time and both parties have to have the feature enabled. When you configure the feature you can select to share with all your friends or a sub-set like only family or only close friends.

The feature is only available for users over 18 so, unless they lie about their age, it is not available to minors.


Listen to Larry Magid’s 1-minute CBS News segment on Nearby Friends

With this feature enabled, you might be able to know that a friend is nearby so you can meet up.

In addition to sharing your approximate location with a group of friends, you have the option of sharing yourprecise location with specific friends and you can decide how long your specific location will be shared. For example, I could decide to share my exact location with Susie Smith between now and 11:00, assuming Susie also had the feature turned on. I would only know her location if she shared it with me.

If friends are traveling you will able able to see the city and neighborhood that they’re in, according to a Facebook blog post.

Friends only

The maximum exposure is friends. You can not set it for friends of friends or publicly display your location. Users’ location history is permanently  set to “only me”  according to a Facebook spokesperson.

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Safety and privacy  
implications

The feature certainly can be misused to provide your location to someone who shouldn’t know it, but there are plenty of safeguards available, as long as you use them. As with any location app, you should only share your precise location with people you know and trust. Even sharing your approximate location could be inappropriate or even dangerous in some cases if people who you don’t want to find you can use it to figure out where you are. It can also have other implications. If your boss thinks you’re at an offsite meeting in Los Angeles but you’re sharing that you’re actually in San Francisco, it could have a big problem on your hands.

Not for minors under 18

This feature is for adults only. No one under 18 can use this feature, assuming that they have signed on with their correct age.

Other location sharing apps

Facebook is hardly a pioneer when it comes to location sharing. Glympse (also a ConnectSafely supporter) has long offered a location sharing app that even allows you to follow someone as they drive. By default, it times-out in 15 minutes but you can opt to share  your location for a maximum of four hours.

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Disclosure: Facebook provides financial support to ConnectSafely.org

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Anonymous isn’t synonymous with ominous

This post first appeared on CNET News

by Larry Magid

I’ve heard a lot of consternation about apps and sites that let users post anonymously and, indeed it is possible to use services like Whisper, Ask.FM, Secret, and Yik Yak to be annoying, mean, or downright cruel. But the same can be said for any tool that enables social interaction, whether it’s a social network, a phone, or even a place where people meet face-to-face. In fact, research has shown the in-person bullying is much more prominent than cyberbullying.

But just because a service enables people to post anonymously doesn’t mean that people will necessarily use it in an inappropriate manner. The overwhelming majority of both kids and adults who use such services do so in ways that are respectful to themselves and others. And, where problems do occur, there are often mechanism to deal with them. They’re not perfect and they’re not on all services but community guidelines and moderation — where present — can go a long way to assuring a pleasant experience on any type of social networking service.

Why people post anonymously

It’s pretty obvious why corporate or government whistle-blowers and dissidents in oppressive countries would post anonymously, but there are plenty of reasons why ordinary people would as well.

The word is out among both kids and adults that what you post online can follow you forever. Whether its Facebook status updates or tweets, anything you say in social media can be attributed to you and can come back to haunt you if its embarrassing, silly, or just taken out-of-context. But there are times when people want to “be themselves” without necessarily wanting to be on a stage for all to see and judge. It could be a silly comment or observation or perhaps a political comment that might pigeon-hole you or affect your relationships with others. Some have used anonymous services to express their love or admiration for another and many use it to discuss issues of both physical or emotional health that they might not want to be publicly associated with.

Even if you’re not a whistle-blower, you might have something to say about your boss, your teacher or principal or someone else in authority but you’re worried about repercussions. You might even be a victim of bullying looking for a way to express your hurt or anger without having to worry about revenge or other repercussions.

Secret co-founder on secret behind Secret

In a recorded interview (scroll down to listen), Secret co-founder Chrys Bader argued that “there’s a need to be able to express yourself and make yourself vulnerable in order to connect with those around you on a meaningful level.”

Secret co-founder Chrys Bader (Secret)

Secret co-founder Chrys Bader (Secret)

“When you’re on Facebook you’re standing on a platform in front of a mixed audience of your friends, family and acquaintances,” he added. “Se we try to our best foot forward.” When asked whether being anonymous is truly being self-expressive, Bader retorted, “If you look at someone’s Facebook profile would you necessarily say that’s that person? It’ s not necessarily who they are but who they project themselves as.” Bayder defines being oneself as being able to “express your own characteristics, your sense of humor, what’s bothering you. It’s catharsis.” He calls it “a loss for the world when people hold themselves back.” He mentioned a post where someone said they stepped out of a handicapped stall to be confronted by “a guy in a wheelchair with anger in his eyes.” That’s a confession that you probably wouldn’t want to attach your name to.

Unlike some anonymous services, Secret doesn’t share your secrets with just anyone. When you join Secret you become connected with everyone in your contact list who also has the Secret app. “So,” said Bayder, “when you post a secret, it’s delivered to people who have you in their address book and you’re seeing secrets from people in your address book.” If one of your contacts “hearts” something it could be shared with their friends as well.

Anonymity and kids

Secret is mostly aimed at professionals and, since it doesn’t ask age, Bader doesn’t know how many kids are using the service but he said there are clearly some teens using it (youth under 13 are prohibited by the sites terms of service). Yik Yak, another popular anonymous app, bans people under 17 but there are lots of reported cases of teens using the service and reported cases of anonymous bomb threats that led to school lockdowns. Yik Yak’s response was to geofence the app so that it couldn’t be used in or near middle schools and high schools. The company reportedly also asked Apple to classify the app as 17+ which enables parents to prevent their kids from downloading it.

An anonymous app just for high-schoolers

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Mandeep Dhillon releases FessApp for teens

With its FessApp, for iOS and Android, Polymath Innovations took the opposite approach. They have launched an anonymous app specifically for high school students. Polymath co-founder Mandeep Dhillon is no stranger to online kids. He was the founder of Togetherville, a social-networking site aimed at young children that was acquired by Disney in 2011 and he spent a year as Disney’s vice president of Strategy.

Dhillon’s new company, he said in a recorded interview (scroll down to listen), “is very much about trying to build community for high school students.” He said that “anonymity in our context is not the same as having no responsibility.” Even though students can engage anonymously with each other the company, said Dhillon, “requires users to sign up with their real identity” so that they can be held accountable for their actions.

They currently sign up people through Facebook which helps the company validate the user’s age and high school. It’s not perfect (people can lie about their age on Facebook) but it’s pretty hard to fake an entire social graph on Facebook so it’s a reasonably good proxy for validation. Students who sign up with a fake Facebook account, said, Dhillon, “won’t be associated with students that go to their school if their school’s not validated.”

The service also moderates conversation to protect against bullying and other violation of its terms of service which bans “any material that could be considered racist, threatening, violent, bullying or unlawful in any way.” Like Secret, FessApp discourages people from shaming or identifying specific individuals in their posts.

Anonymity, said Dhillon, “allows students to engage in a very open and honest way.” Fess is short for “confessions” and students use the app to vent about a variety of subjects including “their grades, their parents, or the anxieties of being a student although way from being lonely or worried about relationships or being invited to the prom.” Others in their network can comment on the student’s post and they can engage in an conversation about it. When it comes to bullying — which can take place in any type of community — FessApp “gives people an opportunity in the community to step in and flag content and say this is inappropriate.” Like Secret, FessApp is something of an antidote to the public nature of Facebook. “The Facebook theater can be exhausting. Constantly being under the spotlight, trying to find ways to get attention on these platforms can really drive you crazy.,” said Dhillon. With FessApp, students can say what’s on their minds without having to worry about it sticking around forever.

Bullying experts weigh-in

Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said that “anonymous posting can be beneficial for those who are exploring particular beliefs and ideals that they wouldn’t necessarily want to go public with just yet.” One example, said Patchin is a person who is “trying to figure out who I am politically, religiously, morally, etc. Posting publicly may be too high of a price to pay for this exploration.” He also reminded me that “some of the greatest works of literature were initially published anonymously.”

Patchin said that “anonymity becomes a problem when one is using it as a cloak from behind which to lob attacks at others. If this happens, those who are being targeted for attack should make a copy of the hurtful content for their own records and then contact the administrator to ask that it be removed.”

Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor and former director of safety for MySpace who now runs SSP Blue — a safety, privacy and security consulting firm, pointed out that “anonymity is extremely important for law enforcement” which depends on anonymous tips for many of its investigations. The Catholic church’s use of the confession booth is another example that encourages anonymity.

Being yourself, regardless of age or who you are

Both Dhillon and Secret co-founder Baden talked a lot about how their apps free people up to be who they are. At first that sounds a bit counter-intuitive because — with anonymity — people don’t know who they are. But the person doing the posting does and, without fear of long or short term consequences, it actually is intuitive that people will say what’s on their minds. For the most part, that’s a good thing but of course there will always be a small percentage of people who abuse it. That’s where community comes in.

Anonymous doesn’t mean invisible

Secret and FessApp know who you are and if you break the law using their services, there is a chance you’ll be caught. Companies that offer phone-apps can track your phone number and user ID and even if you’re logged on to a website, it is often possible to track down your Internet protocol (IP) address. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement to obtain warrants that require service providers to disclose the identity of users who think they are “anonymous.” In other words, you hide but you can’t run. At least not forever.

Podcasts:

Scroll down to listen to the full interviews with both Chrys Bader and Mandeep Dhillon

 

 

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How to protect your family from Heartbleed security flaw (Slideshow)

First, don’t panic. This is a serious problem but you need to put it into perspective. While there is clearly a vulnerability, there are so far no reports of the flaw being exploited. And even though this flaw has been around for the past two years, almost all the major sites have fixed it — in some cases in the last few days.

There have been reports of hardware — routers and other equipment — that could be affected but, so far, we have only heard about devices used in big organizations. To be safe, visit the website of the company that makes your router to see if there are any updates.

What you can (and can’t) do

When it comes to protection, there is very little that individuals can do. It’s up to site and service operators to fix their systems.  If you’re unsure about systems you use, click on the test site links (below) to check and also be sure to look at CNET’s report on the top 100 sites.

Test sites:

Change your password if you site is now secure

If you can confirm that the sites you’re using are secure, this is a good time to change your password. Actually you should change passwords every few months anyway. Make sure you’re using a unique password for each site and make sure that it contains upper case letters, numbers and symbols and don’t use a dictionary word or a common name. This sounds hard, but ConnectSafely’s Tips for Strong Secure Passwords has easy to use suggestions. Also,scrll down to view ConnectSafely’s slide show.

Monitor your accounts

The Department of Homeland Security advises that you “Closely monitor your email accounts, bank accounts, social media accounts, and other online assets for irregular or suspicious activity, such as abnormal purchases or messages.”

Beware of ‘phishing’ schemes

Also, beware of “phishing schemes.” You might get  email that appears to be from banks and other sites, “disclosing” that the site was vulnerable and asking users to reset their passwords. These could be phishing attacks designed to trick  you into revealing your log-on credentials to thieves. And some of these attacks are very sophisticated, taking you to sites that look identical to a company’s real site.

If you get such an email DO NOT CLICK on any links. If you feel that it’s time to change your password (and you should once you know the site is no longer vulnerable), type in the site’s URL in your browser and navigate to the password reset page. It’s less convenient than clicking on a link but a lot safer. Here are tips for safe, secure and unique passwords.

Slideshow

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.36.13 PMFirst, don’t panic. This is a serious problem but you need to put it into perspective. While there is clearly a vulnerability, there are so far no reports of the flaw being exploited. And even though this flaw has been around for the past two years, almost all the major sites have fixed it — in some cases in the last few days.

There have been reports of hardware — routers and other equipment — that could be affected but, so far, we have only heard about devices used in big organizations. To be safe, visit the website of the company that makes your router to see if there are any updates.

What you can (and can’t) do

When it comes to protection, there is very little that individuals can do. It’s up to site and service operators to fix their systems.  If you’re unsure about systems you use, click on the test site links (below) to check and also be sure to look at CNET’s report on the top 100 sites.

Test sites:

Change your password if you site is now secure

If you can confirm that the sites you’re using are secure, this is a good time to change your password. Actually you should change passwords every few months anyway. Make sure you’re using a unique password for each site and make sure that it contains upper case letters, numbers and symbols and don’t use a dictionary word or a common name. This sounds hard, but ConnectSafely’s Tips for Strong Secure Passwords has easy to use suggestions. Also,scrll down to view ConnectSafely’s slide show.

Monitor your accounts

The Department of Homeland Security advises that you “Closely monitor your email accounts, bank accounts, social media accounts, and other online assets for irregular or suspicious activity, such as abnormal purchases or messages.”

Beware of ‘phishing’ schemes

Also, beware of “phishing schemes.” You might get  email that appears to be from banks and other sites, “disclosing” that the site was vulnerable and asking users to reset their passwords. These could be phishing attacks designed to trick  you into revealing your log-on credentials to thieves. And some of these attacks are very sophisticated, taking you to sites that look identical to a company’s real site.

If you get such an email DO NOT CLICK on any links. If you feel that it’s time to change your password (and you should once you know the site is no longer vulnerable), type in the site’s URL in your browser and navigate to the password reset page. It’s less convenient than clicking on a link but a lot safer. Here are tips for safe, secure and unique passwords.

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The evolution of online safety: Lessons learned over 20 years

When I wrote the original version of Child Safety on the Information Highway (click here for 20th anniversary updated version), in 1994, “online safety” was largely defined as keeping kids away from porn and predators and the solution was pretty much focused on parental controls.

But, over the past two decades, there have been a lot of changes in both online and mobile technology and some research that gives us a better picture of risks and prevention strategies.

Porn and predators are still part of the picture, but — now that we have some research — we know that the risk of a child being harmed by someone they meet online is extremely low, especially compared to other risks. If a child is going to be harmed by an adult, it is far more likely to be someone they know from the real world such as a relative, family friend or other trusted adult.

As for porn, there is no question that kids who want to find it probably will, but after more than 20 years of Internet access, we haven’t seen huge social or psychological problems emerge. Still, many parents are rightfully concerned about the type of content their kids are viewing, which is why I wrote So your kid is looking at porn. Now what?.

Real risks

Over time it became increasingly obvious that some of the biggest risks to kids came not from dangerous adults but from themselves and other kids. In 2009, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, assembled by Harvard’s Berkman Center per an agreement between 49 state attorneys general and MySpace, concluded that “actual threats that youth may face appear to be different than the threats most people imagine” and that “the image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations and Internet-initiated offline encounters.”

What the task force did find is that “bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most salient threats that minors face, both online and offline.” Partially because researchers can’t agree on a definition of bullying and harassment, the actual risk is hard to quantify, but it is clearly much higher than the risk of being harmed by a predator.

Bullying and “trolling” have been around forever, and it’s true that among young people, so-called “cyberbullying” is often an extension of school-yard issues. But the Internet and phones do change the equation for a number of well-known reasons, including the ability for mean comments to stick around and be passed with lightning speed. Plus, the Net has created new ways to bully like impersonating someone by getting hold of their phone or password    or passing around inappropriate pictures of someone.

Privacy, security and reputation management

As the online safety field evolves, it is starting to focus on some of the more common risks to both youth and adults: privacy, security and reputation management.

While protecting one’s privacy has always been a challenge (i.e. small-town gossip going back centuries), the Internet and mobile technology have created opportunities for privacy problems on a grand scale. For one thing, there is what we post. It’s now very easy to post information that might embarrass yourself or others or reveal secrets that perhaps you ought not to share. There is also the issue of things that companies know about us. Anyone who uses a search engine, email service or social network is leaving breadcrumbs for companies to follow. What’s more, thanks to third-party tracking cookies, some of that information is getting into the hands of companies that we might not even know exist. It’s a serious issue that needs serious thought by consumers, regulators and companies. And everyone — including children and teens — needs to learn how to at least limit what others can find out about them. Plus, thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the U.S. and other governments have the capacity to track us as well, and given the enormous power of government over our lives, that too can be a serious problem.

Security is another Internet safety issue that has gotten worse over the years. It seems like every day brings another major security breach where we learn about the vulnerability of our usernames and passwords, credit card information or email. There are lots of professionals in government and the private sector who are working to beef up security but there are plenty of criminals out there finding ways to gain entry into our personal information. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and right now the “good guys” are way behind. While there is no way to be 100% hacker-proof, there are ways families can improve their security and use secure and unique passwords.

Reputation management is something we thought about in the 90′s but it’s a bigger issue now thanks to social networking and smartphone apps that make it very easy to impulsively post things that can embarrass us now or in the future. A lot of young people are savvy when it comes to avoiding posting things that can get them into trouble but there are plenty of people (including lots of adults) who need to rethink their posting habits.

Moral panics don’t help

Whether it’s predator panic, bullying panic, sexting panic, privacy panic or secrecy panic, moral panics are not helpful.

As technology evolves, there will be new risks but what we’ve learned from 20 years of online safety is that risks have more to do with the social-emotional condition of the user than the actual technology being used. For example, there has lately been a lot of concern over the services that allow people to post anonymously. While it is true that these services can be used to bully, harass and embarrass others, it’s also true that there are lots of positive uses for them. Sure there will be some who misuse these services, but the vast majority of youth and adults — those who respect themselves and others — will use them appropriately. Just as with fire, knives, cars and other powerful technologies, the key is to encourage safe and appropriate use while doing what’s necessary to deal with the relatively rare but sometimes tragic cases of inappropriate use.

Parental involvement vs. controls

While there are plenty of products that can control or monitor what your kids can do online, none are as powerful or effective in the long term as parental involvement. A filter might prevent your child from visiting a certain site or service on a specific device but conversations over a period of time can help your child develop values that will last a lifetime.

Regardless of whether you choose to use a filtering program or an Internet rating system, the best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. The best filter — the one that lasts a lifetime — doesn’t run on a device but on the software between your child’s ears.

Focus on  causes, not just symptoms

Another thing we’ve learned is that problems that manifest themselves online or with mobile technology are often symptoms of larger social or personal issues. Just as with drunk or careless driving and substance abuse, there are almost always underlying issues that cause people to misuse technologies and the real solution rarely lies with the technology and often lies with the what that is causing the person to act as they are. Even cyberbullying is less about technology or even “bullying” and more about the social-emotional state of the people involved. And to that end we need to start putting more resources into social-emotional learning,  growing compassion and emphasizing positive social norms for both youth and adults.

 

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Safety through mindfulness: Watch ‘The Science of Character’

I’m not sure who decided this but March 20th is “Character Day” and it’s also the day that filmmaker Tiffany Shlain released a superb 8 minute video, “The Science of Character.”

In addition to making the film available, Shlain’s website Let it Ripple, is encouraging people to:

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danah boyd on why teens and social media are ‘complicated’

Author danah boyd (Credit: danah.org)

Author danah boyd

This post first appeared on CNET News.com

When it comes to understanding how teens use social media, there’s perhaps no one more clued in than Danah Boyd, except maybe teens themselves. An ethnographer with a Ph.D. in information from the University of California at Berkeley, she has spent the last eight years speaking with and observing teens from all walks of life.

Jacket-medBoyd’s new book, “It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens,” is the culmination of this work where, as she writes, she attempts to “describe and explain the networked lives of teens to the people who worry about them — parents, teachers, policy makers, journalists, and sometimes even other teens.”

To gather material for the book, she traveled through the United States from 2005 to 2012, meeting with teens from 18 states among “a wide array of socioeconomic and ethnic communities.” And frankly, Boyd is one of the relatively few people in the social media space who goes out of her to way be inclusive.

It really is complicated
As the title of the book implies, understanding teens’ use of social media can’t be reduced to a sound bite, nor can the benefits or dangers of modern technology. As Boyd observes, “Technologies are often heralded as the solution to major world problems. When those solutions fail to transpire, people are disillusioned. That can prompt a backlash, as people focus on the terrible things that may occur because of those same technologies.”

Full disclosure: Although Boyd and I have no business or financial relationship, we have interacted over the years as co-speakers at events and in 2008 and 2009 when we both served on the Harvard Berkman Center’s Internet Safety Technology Task Force.

The book covers a wide range of topics related to teens and tech, including identity, privacy, addiction, danger, bullying, inequality, literacy, and “searching for a public of their own.”

At the start our interview (scroll down to listen), Boyd pointed out that “young people have turned to social media because their lives have been so heavily restricted.” There was a time when kids could get on their bikes on a Saturday morning and come back before dark, but those days are largely over. Teens, as Boyd said in the interview and in the book, “don’t have that opportunity, so they’ve turned to social media to hang out and socialize with their friends.”

Of course, Boyd does address parental anxieties, but asks, “How much of this is based on reality and how much of this is magnified in unpredictable ways? How do we get at what’s really happening?” She said that her research involved “trying to figure out what [teens are] really doing, why, and how it fits into a broader context.”

Context
That context is important when looking at what teens post online. In the book, Boyd observes that “unfortunately, adults sometimes believe that they understand what they see online without considering how teens imagined the context when they originally posted a particular photograph or comment.” Think of your own social lives where you might say things differently to a group of close friends than you would to your boss. What may seem incredibly inappropriate in one context may be perfectly acceptable in another.

Bullying
Boyd’s chapter on bullying is must-reading for any adult who worries that today’s youth are habitually mistreating their peers online. “During my fieldwork, I met parents who saw every act of teasing as bullying, even when their children did not. At the other extreme, news media has taken to describing serious criminal acts of aggression by teens as bullying rather than using terms like stalking, harassment, or abuse.” As she points out, “interpersonal conflicts emerge and teens participate in battles over reputation, status, and popularity. Attention becomes a commodity, and at times, teens participate in drama or pranks that can be intentionally or accidentally hurtful to others. Not all drama or gossip is problematic, but some of what teens experience is quite painful.” In other words, like all other topics in her book, “It’s Complicated.”

 

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In defense of Internet safety education

There has been some discussion lately over whether there is still a need for Internet safety education. I say yes.

It’s true, as some argue, that safety messages from the 90′s are way out-of-date. We no longer need to dwell over the highly exaggerated risk of child predators or the panic over Internet pornography. While online predators do exist, there’s a much higher likelihood of a child or teen being harmed by someone they know — even a close family member — than someone they meet online. Unwanted porn is still a minor problem but most young people know how to avoid it and — after more than 20 years of teens and children going online — we’ve seen little evidence to suggest that great harm has occurred as a result of it. In fact, over the past 20 years, according to David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, most of the sexual- and crime-related dangers associated with being young have gotten better, not worse, since kids started using the Internet in large numbers.

Online problems

Still, there are dangers, issues and problems associated with or exacerbated by the Internet and mobile technology. Yes, many of these problems also exist offline, but the same can be said for the types of injuries one can get playing sports or riding in a car. But just because you can break your arm at home just as easily as you can on a soccer field or in a car, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for sports- and automotive-safety programs.

Privacy, which we didn’t talk much about in the 90′s, is certainly high on that list. While protecting one’s privacy has always been a challenge (i.e. small-town gossip going back centuries), the Internet and mobile technology have created opportunities for privacy problems on a grand scale. For one thing, there is what we post. It’s now very easy to post information that might embarrass yourself or others or reveal secrets that perhaps you ought not to share. There is also the issue of things that companies know about us. Anyone who uses a search engine, an online email service or a social network, is leaving breadcrumbs for companies to follow. What’s more, thanks to third-party tracking cookies, some of that information is getting into the hands of companies that we might not even know exist. It’s a serious issue that needs serious thought by consumers, regulators and companies. And everyone — including children and teens — needs to learn how to at least limit what others can find out about them. Plus, thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the U.S. and other) governments have the capacity to track us as well and given the enormous power of government over our lives, that too can be a serious problem.

Security is another Internet safety issue that has gotten worse over the years. It seems like every day brings another major security breach where we learn about the vulnerability of our usernames and passwords, credit card information or email. There are lots of professionals in government and the private sector who are working to beef up security but there are plenty of criminals out there finding ways to gain entry into our personal information. It’s a cat-and-mouse game and, right now, the “good guys” are way behind. While there is no way to be 100% hacker proof, there are ways families can improve their security and use secure and unique passwords.

Reputation management is something we thought about in the 90′s but it’s a bigger issue now thanks to social networking and smartphone apps that make it very easy to impulsively post things that can embarrass us now or in the future. A lot of young people are savvy when it comes to avoiding posting things that can get them into trouble but there are plenty of people (including lots of adults) who need to rethink their posting habits.

Bullying and “trolling” have been around forever and it’s true that among young people, so-called “cyberbullying” is often an extension of school-yard issues. But the Internet and phones do change the equation for a number of well-known reasons, including the ability for mean comments to stick around and be passed around with lightning speed. Plus, the Net has created new ways to bully like impersonating someone by getting hold of their phone or password and posting negative things as if they had written them, or passing around inappropriate pictures of someone that are now so easy to take and distribute thanks to new technology.

And I know from personal experience that there are lots of “trolls” out there who are more than happy to say nasty and vicious things about people they know and people they don’t know. There are folks who might be reasonably polite in the real world who have no qualms about being cruel online.

Only somewhat like the real world

It’s true that you are the same person whether you’re online or with others in physical spaces, but there are things about so-called “cyberspace” that change the way some people behave. One of these is what’s called “disinhibition,” where people feel that the Net gives them the anonymity or distance to act out in ways they wouldn’t act in person. It’s like road rage. I’ve seen drivers scream or exhibit rude hand gestures in traffic in ways that they might never do if they bumped into someone on the sidewalk. When you’re online, you can feel even more insulated from people around you but — trust me — those are real people on the “other side of the screen.”

Another factor is that what is posted online can stick around for a long long time and be easily forwarded. While that is possible in the real word, it’s a lot harder than it is online where “copy and paste” means that nothing is truly ephemeral. And of course, negative text messages, email and social networking posts can rear their ugly heads at any time, day or night.

Research

A landmark study on the effectiveness of Internet Safety Education (ISE) by Lisa Jones, Kimberly Mitchell and Wendy Walsh, documents problems and limitations of some of the educational programs and materials that have been used in recent years, but it is by no means an indictment against the notion of Internet safety education. Instead, it points out some of the shortcomings of the programs it evaluated including the observation that, “As a whole, the ISE field has been slow to include research.” The authors correctly point out that “this failure to establish research-supported program theory means that most ISE is a highly speculative and experimental undertaking, whose success cannot be assumed.” The authors also note that:

      • ISE education must move beyond a reliance on stock safety messages and the use of single lessons when addressing complex social-emotional behaviors. 
      • ISE program developers need to reduce their reliance on dramatic statements and scare tactics even further.
      • “Internet safety” goals are very disparate — different educational strategies are going to be needed for different ISE topics.
      • The field needs to use research more when developing educational messages: ISE messages have critical problematic assumptions and under-developed program logic.

Encourage research and youth engagement and discourage moral panics

I wholeheartedly agree with Jones et al about the importance of research-based education and would add that it’s also important to avoid “moral panics.” For about a decade, media, politicians and some parents were caught up in “predator panic,” which pretty much dissipated around 2008. But then we had bullying panic followed by privacy panic, sexting panic and now security panic. While all of these issues are important, none are of epidemic proportions and risks, in each case, can be managed. That’s why ConnectSafely.org, which (speaking personally) I proudly refer to as an Internet safety organization, has published tips and advice as well as parents’ guides on many of these issues.

Respect and honesty matter

Finally, it’s important to be honest with kids and to respect their intelligence and judgement. As the teens who spoke at the first U.S. Safer Internet Day celebration in Washington made it abundantly clear, many teens are aware of the dangers on the Net and are able to put them into perspective and avoid serious problems. Respecting young people and helping them develop resilience, self-respect and respect for others is the ultimate form of Internet safety education because it encourages them to develop values that will protect them both on and offline for their entire lives. Teens themselves can play a crucial role through peer education and being “upstanders”rather than bystandars if, as Nancy Willard pointed out in an email, “they see someone else making dumb but dangerous mistakes. It’s also important to teach social-emotional learning skills starting at a very young age and for adults to role model kind, ethical and tolerant behavior.

Yes, there is good reason to question the efficacy of some Internet safety programs and, as you can see from the list of articles below, there is plenty of room for skepticism in the Internet safety field, but there remains a need for well thought out, research-based and up-to-date projects that are both accurate and respectful.

Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and author of the original and 20th anniversary edition of Child Safety on the Information Highway.

Links

The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of “Juvenoia”

Predator Panic Making a Comeback

Privacy Panic Focuses on the Wrong Issues

With new data we can stop the teen sexting panic

Pseudoscience, technopanic and online youth

Beware of the Internet Safety Industrial Complex

Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth

Challenging ‘Internet safety’ as a subject to be taught

Evaluation of Internet Child Safety Materials Used by ICAC Task Forces in School and Community Settings

Youth Safety on a Living Internet: Report of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group

 

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Only 9% of adults say kids in their care have been bullied at school

In a new survey from Harris Interactive, 9% of adult respondents reported “My child or a child I am at least partly responsible for has been or is currently being bullied in school.”  Only 2% said that “My child or a child I am at least partly responsible for has been accused of bullying in school (emphasis added). 

These statistics are actually a bit lower than other data we’ve seen lately, which helps to contradict the widely spread myth that bullying is commonplace and getting worse. The study actually shows that it may be getting better.

Misleading press release

As the title of the survey’s press release pointed out, “6 in 10 Americans Say They or Someone They Know Have Been Bullied,” but that’s kind of a meaningless and misleading statistic because “someone they know” can include a wide range of people. If I were asked that question I too would have to say yes but I’d also have to say yes if I were asked “have you or someone you know been killed in an airline crash.” Of the many of people I know, one did die in such a crash about a decade ago.

True, 44% of the respondents said that they “recall being bullied” when they were in school which, based the data about what they know about their own kids, suggests that bullying may be way lower now than it was back then even though the survey also reported that many American think it’s getting worse.

Perception vs. reality

“This is an issue affecting a great many Americans, and there’s a very real perception that it’s getting worse,” said Jen Loukes, vice president of the Harris Poll School Pulse, Harris Interactive’s longstanding School Satisfaction study.” This doesn’t surprise me. With all the media hype about an “epidemic of bullying,” it stands to reason people might feel this way, but just because people think something is true, doesn’t mean it is.

harris

60% of adults recalled being bullied or knowing someone who was but only 9% say their kids are being bullied

 

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‘Neknominate’ is a stupid and potentially deadly online dare game

Frame from a YouTube video on extreme  'neknomination'

Frame from a YouTube video on extreme
‘neknomination’

The Irish Mirror calls it “sickening online drinking craze,” and that’s factually correct.  “Nekominate,” also known as neck and nominate, is a game that’s growing in popularity in Australia, the UK and parts of Europe where someone posts a video of themselves doing something stupid or dangerous and then “nominates” another person to stick his or her neck out and do likewise. I’m actually taking liberties with the the term. On Facebook it’s defined as “neck your drink, nominate another.”  I’m hearing that the game is starting to take up residence in the United States.

I’ve also seen derivations on the theme with added dangerous or stupid behaviors such as guzzling a beer in a university lecture hall or a crowded intersection while naked.

Health dangers

My concern here is not-so-much the exhibitionism but the severe health dangers associated with guzzling alcohol.

The Mirror, a British tabloid  reported about a 29 year-old who died as a result of quickly downing  a pint of Vodka.  The Mirror isn’t the most credible newspaper in the world, but this is likely a true story. It’s well known in medical circles that guzzling alcohol is dangerous as is binge drinking which is associated with guzzling. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a case that I’m personally familiar with where a college freshman died while drinking large amounts of blackberry brandy during a fraternity ceremony at Chico State University.

New twist on a very old theme

Young people often crave social acceptance and inclusion and sometimes accept dares as a way to “fit in.” When I was a kid, I was dared to walk across the railing over a bridge where — if I slipped — I would likely fall to my death. I never did it, but friends of mine did and I always felt uncomfortable every time I had to “chicken out” and decline the dare. Beer pong, which has been around for a long-time, can also be dangerous.

Prevention

For adults, it’s sometimes hard to know how to convince kids to avoid what we consider dangerous behaviors but — when it comes to something this dangerous — we do need to speak out. Despite popular belief, kids do listen to adults, especially their parents. And while they may roll their eyes when you bring it up, it doesn’t mean they’re not listening. BUT — and this is an important but. Don’t make it a lecture. Start by asking your kids if they’ve heard about Neknomination and what they think about it. Chances are if they have, they’ll volunteer that it’s stupid but even if they don’t, it gives you an opportunity to calmly explain the risks.

“Just say know”

Dr. Irene Lazarus, a Chapel Hill, NC-based marriage and family therapist recommends “finding a non-threatening way to bring it up so that the kids can think about it before they’re presented with the opportunity.” She added, “Kids who are shy in social relationships may be more vulnerable to taking a dare like that. Peer pressure is strong but if you can have discussions, kids can have time to think through their stance is before they are faced with the situation.”

Dr. Lazarus recommends the book Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy. One chapter title of that book says it all, “Just say know.” As the book points out, “phrases like ‘just say no’ are not sufficient to satisfy many young people.”

 rakAn antidote called “RAKNomination”

There is an antidote being promoted on Facebook called RAKNomination with “RAK,” standing for “Random Acts of Kindness.” The page’s tagline is “record yourself carrying out a RAK and nominate your friends to do the same in 24 hours.” The page, which has been “Liked” by 13,690 people as of today, contains stories of great things people are doing for others.

For more on both Nek and RAK nominations as well as how you can “unnominate” yourself, see Choosing stupidity or kindness: ‘Neknominate’ or ‘RAKnominate’? by Anne Collier, my ConnectSafely.org co-director.

 

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Confessions of a ‘binge’ viewer

by Larry Magid

Lots of people are 'binge' viewing House of Cards on Netflix

Lots of people are ‘binge’ viewing House of Cards on Netflix

I don’t mind admitting that, for the past few days, I’ve been a binge TV viewer. That’s because Netflix released the second season of its hit show “House of Cards” and, unlike traditional TV networks, the company released the entire 13-episode season all at once.

In theory, it would be possible to turn on the TV at 9 a.m. one morning and watch every episode before catching the 11 p.m. news, but I haven’t gone that far. I have, however, watched five episodes over the past two days and will likely watch one or two — or perhaps three — each night until I’ve gone through all 13.

It’s not my first case of binge watching. I watched the entire first season of “House of Cards” over a few evenings and then watched the British series also on Netflix. My wife and I also watched all 100 episodes of “Monk” and five years’ worth of “Friday Night Lights” over the course of a few weeks.

I love this type of TV watching. In fact, I like it so much that sometimes I avoid watching shows during their current season so that I can wait and watch them sequentially when they’re available online. I’m breaking that rule with the current season of “Downton Abbey” and I haven’t decided what I’m going to do when “Mr. Selfridge” returns to PBS soon, but if I can, I think I might wait till I can watch them on my own time.

It turns out, I’m far from alone when it comes to this type of viewing. Last fall, Netflix commissioned a Harris Interactive survey (admittedly, Netflix had a stake in the outcome but Harris generally plays it pretty straight). The survey of 1,500 TV streamers found that “binge watching is a widespread behavior among this group, with 61 percent binge watching regularly.”

The survey found that 76 percent of TV streamers say watching multiple episodes of a great TV show is a welcome refuge from their busy lives, while 65 percent said that if they took a digital time out, they would still want to watch TV. And just in case you think that Facebook and Twitter rule the world, “80 percent of TV streamers say they would rather stream a good TV show than read a friend’s social media posts,” according to Netflix.

The other thing my wife and I have in common with others is that a lot of people binge in groups, or at least in pairs. While a third of binge viewers do so by themselves, 51 percent “prefer to watch with at least one other person.” Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) say they “save” TV shows to watch at a later date when their viewing mate is available.

I’d count my wife Patti and myself among that 39 percent, but I do have a confession. As much as I try to wait till she’s available to watch our favorite shows together, there are times when I cheat and watch on my own and she’s admitted that she does as well.

So far, I’m not aware of any 12-step programs for binge viewers, but if your viewing winds up interfering with your relationship, your work or your studies, then perhaps you should consult a professional. If not, enjoy the show. Just make sure you take breaks now and then.

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