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 ConnectSafely.org and founder of SafeKids.com.

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, ConnectSafely.org 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 ConnectSafely.org, 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 Poynter.org 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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Digital Trust Foundation seeking proposals regarding online privacy, safety and security

Digital Trust Foundation seeking proposals on online privacy, safety and security

Digital Trust Foundation seeking proposals on online privacy, safety and security

A new foundation, born out of a lawsuit regarding Facebook’s Beacon project, is giving away more than $6 million “to fund projects and initiatives that promote the cause of online privacy, safety, and security.”

It seems like an eternity ago, but in 2007, Facebook launched the Beacon advertising program that transferred data from external websites over to Facebook so that users could share their purchases and other activities via the social network. Beacon didn’t go well and the immediate reaction from some privacy advocates and Facebook users was negative enough to prompt CEO Mark Zuckerberg to apologize a month later for “mistakes building this feature.” It also prompted a class action suit against Facebook, which resulted in a $9.5 million settlement. The Foundation received approximately $6.7 million after attorney’s fees, plaintiff payments, and other expenses.

I am one of the three court-appointed members of the Digital Trust Foundation’s(DTF) board of directors, along with Berkeley Law School faculty member and privacy expert Chris Hoofnagle and Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan. The Foundation operates independently of Facebook. (Disclosure: I am co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook, but does not and will not receive any support from the Foundation. Foundation board members are not paid for service.)

The Foundation has identified five program areas and is now seeking proposals for the two of those areas: privacy education for youth and general funding for promotion of online privacy, safety and security. In early 2015, we will invite proposals in the areas of understanding socioeconomic status and privacy, assessing digital abuse, and innovation in privacy enhancing technologies.

Details and requests for proposals are available at the Foundation website.

General Funding for Promotion of Online Privacy, Safety and Security

The Foundation is investing $2.2 million in programs that “support effective existing programs related to online privacy, safety, and/or security,” and to “build capacity of and provide stability for online privacy, safety, and/or security.” Letters of interest for this area are due on October 31, 2014, with final proposals due on December 5, 2014.

Per the guidelines in the settlement, this could include any projects “designed to educate users, regulators, and enterprises regarding critical issues relating to protection of identity and personal information online through user control, and to protect users from online threats.” That’s pretty broad language so, in addition to privacy threats, we’re also entertaining proposals regarding security and safety.

Privacy Education for Youth

The Foundation is investing $1 million in privacy education for youth. Proposals are due on November 21, 2014. As we state in the RFP for this program area, the goals of this program are to “increase the privacy resilience of children and teens in the face of complex data sharing environments and to help children and teens develop skills and resources to protect them in the digital environment throughout life.”

The Foundation will fund three strategies:

• Implementation & Assessment of Online Privacy Education Programs
• Online Privacy Campaigns for Youth
• Online Privacy Messaging Best Practices White Paper

We are particularly interested in education programs and campaigns that enhance digital literacy among youth so that they have the “skills needed to successfully and safely navigate technology and the Internet” along with the ability to interpret information they see and “to make decisions about how and when to share information online.”

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Why cybersecurity is patriotic and humanistic

uncle samI’d like to add National Cyber Security Awareness Month to the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veterans Day as yet another patriotic holiday. And while we’re at it, let’s make it a global celebration. That’s because protecting your own devices and accounts is more than patriotic, it’s downright humanistic, because you’re benefiting your fellow “netizens” around the globe.

National Cyber Security Awareness Month (#NCSAM) is being celebrated throughout October as part of the Stay Safe Online project that’s supported by hundreds of companies, organizations and government agencies.

Putting others at risk

The fact is that we live in an interconnected cyber eco-system where each connected device and account has an impact on others. I’m not saying that you’ll singlehandedly bring down the world’s financial systems if your social media account is compromised, but you might put other users at risk — especially your friends who could be pestered by spam posts from criminals claiming to be you. And it could be worse than just annoying if anyone clicks on a malicious link appearing to come from you or winds up sending “you” money, which will instead go to a criminal. The same is true if your computer or email system gets infected and winds up causing friends to get spam email.

And if you don’t lock your cell phone, there’s a risk that someone could use it to harass your contacts or even strangers as if the messages are coming from you. Yet another reason you should protect others by protecting yourself.

Don’t become a zombie

Another altruistic reason to protect your devices is to make sure your computer doesn’t become a zombie on some criminal’s botnet. Bad guys have figured out ways to infect other people’s machines and turn them into unwitting accomplices in their efforts to infect even more machines, send out spam or break into networks and PCs. It’s actually a pretty simple concept. They put malicious software on your PC which turns your machine into an attacker that goes after other systems while also putting you at risk, perhaps by capturing your usernames and passwords and other data. I’m not being paranoid. This really happens, as this Microsoft web page explains.

Teach your children well

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 10.29.09 PM

A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity helps parents guide their kids

It’s also patriotic to pass on good values to our kids, so please make sure you help them understand their responsibilities when it comes to cybersecurity. Last year ConnectSafely.org (the non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-direct0r) published A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity that outlines what parents can do to help their kids protect themselves.

In addition to providing tips and advice, the guide answers parents’ top five questions about cybersecurity:

  1. What are the biggest security threats to kids?
  2. How do I talk with my child about security?
  3. How do we protect our family’s computers?
  4. How do we protect our mobile devices?
  5. Why do we always hear “Never share your passwords”?

And speaking of passwords…

Check out ConnectSafely’s tips and slideshow on how to create, use and manage  a secure and unique passwords.

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RESPECT: Makes young people safer online

images (2)

Aretha said it best in 1967

The conversation around Internet safety has moved a long way since the 1990s when it focused mostly on porn and predators and we’ve even evolved since 2009 when ConnectSafely published Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth.

Along with colleagues, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to position online safety messaging and how to integrate it with offline risks (the overlap is pretty major) and with youth rights — an important part of the discussion that is often missing.

I realize that something as complex as the way we interact with connected technology can’t really be reduced to a soundbite or even an acronym, but that didn’t stop me from trying. So, to make things simple, I’m paying homage to Aretha Franklin, whose classic song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” sets the tone for how I think we should be talking about youth online safety and rights.

Read on to “find out what it means to me.” And when you’re done, click on the image below to listen to Aretha sing it out.

Rights and Responsibilities:

Human rights for young people are essential to their safety. And that not only includes their right to be safe, but their right of free speech and assembly. These rights are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and they apply online as well as off. Blocking access to social media, for example, violates their rights and, I would argue, their safety as well. Rights also tie into privacy, such as student rights to the privacy of their personal data on their own devices and school servers.

And to help safeguard our rights and the rights of others, it’s important to be Responsible for our actions online and off.

Emotional literacy (AKA ‘Social Emotional Learning’):

No matter how hard we try, adults can’t possibly stomp out all bullying and cruelty, But there is research to show that we can help head it off at the pass by teaching emotional literacy, also known as Social Emotional Learning, from kindergarten on. Helping young people learn compassion, empathy and kindness will go a long way toward creating the kind of world that we all want to live in.


You can’t be safe or free if you’re not secure. We need to not only get industry and government to help secure our devices and infrastructure, but teach everyone — starting with children — how to protect their devices and their data against unauthorized intrusion.

Privacy and Protection:

We all have a right to privacy. Whether it’s government, companies or even prying educators and parents, kids have a right to keep their information private. Sure there are exceptions when it comes to some parents’ need to monitor and guide their children but, as a general rule, children should be treated RESPECTfully, which includes respecting their privacy.

Young people do have the right to be protected from harm, but it’s impossible to shield them from all potential harms, which is why resiliency is so important.

Education and digital literacy:

Digital literacy can go a long way toward protecting us online. And it’s not just knowing how to operate computers and mobile devices. It’s developing the critical thinking skills and internal compass to help make good decisions in our digital lives, including making good media choices.


Being considerate of others means not just treating them with respect and kindness but also respecting their privacy and their rights. It’s about taking the time to think about how our actions will affect others and doing the right thing.

Thoughtfulness and Tolerance:

“Think before you click” is just one of many sound bites that come under the general category of thoughtfulness. It doesn’t take long to think about the implications and consequences of what you’re about to do, especially in a medium like the Internet where there really is no such thing as an “eraser button.”

Tolerance means accepting and celebrating our differences and giving ourselves and each other a break now and then.  Embracing the notion that it’s OK to be different goes a long way towards reducing bullying and meanness.


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UN bringing child rights into the digital age

By Larry Magid

Attendees at the UCRC day of discussion listen to recommendations

Attendees at the UNCRC day of discussion listen to recommendations

In 1989 the United Nations passed an important human rights treaty. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified by all countries in the world except Somalia, Southern Sudan and — believe it or not — the United States.*

Rights and protections

And even though this document was written before kids started using the Internet, it spells out protections and rights of freedom of expression and access to media for children around the world. Some have defined the rights as the 3 P’s: protection, provision and participation. But, as several attendees pointed out, the UN has mostly focused on protection (see Anne Collier’s analysis).

Living document and day of discussion

Just because the UNCRC predates the commercial Internet, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be applied to the digital age, just as the more than 200-year old American Bill of Rights has been interpreted to guarantee freedom of expression and privacy rights for Internet users in America.

The UNCRC is a living document, subject to modern interpretation. But, just in case there is any doubt about its application to the digital world, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child, an 18-member international body that monitors the implementation of the convention, convened a “general day of discussion on digital media and children’s rights” at the UN’s sprawling Palace of Nations complex in Geneva.

The day of discussion took place at the UN Palace of Nations in Geneva

The day of discussion took place at the UN Palace of Nations in Geneva

My ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I participated in that meeting, along with about 300 other attendees representing governments, non-governmental organizations (non-profits) and human rights groups from around the world.

After a brief introductory plenary session, attendees divided into two working groups. One focused on children’s equal and safe access to digital media and ICT (information and communication technology) and the other on children’s empowerment and engagement through digital media.

After several hours of discussion, rapporteurs from both groups summarized the discussions and made some recommendations to be considered by the Committee.

The recommendations — summarized below — were divided into four categories: empowerment, access, digital literacies and safety.


  • Empowerment of all children should be founded on a balanced approach between protection and participation where children are the drivers of a safe and participatory digital world.
  • Give children digital literacy and promote digital citizenship.
  • All stakeholders need to understand their responsibilities with the respect to the rights of children in digital media.
  • Different stakeholders need to play different roles: States, parents, families, teachers, civil society, NGOs, private and public sectors and children themselves.
  • Any approach to limit the risks of harm that children face in their digital lives should be balanced against the enjoyment of other rights, including the freedom of expression, right to participation and right to association.


  • Ensure equal access to digital media and ICT by technology infrastructure ensuring free or low-cost access that is targeted for different groups of children, particularly girls, children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups of children.

Digital literacy

  • Provide digital education to all children, parents, teachers and all those working with and for children and ensure it’s good quality.
  • Include online education methods in school programs including children with disabilities.
  • Ensure training in social behavior online — social literacy.


  • Ensure awareness-raising for children and adults of all the risks and harms.
  • Provide training for law enforcement and others working with children.
  • Ensure legal and self-regulating mechanisms to guarantee safety on the Internet.
  • Develop technological solutions for prevention and protection.
  • Ensure availability of assistance and support, including child-friendly complaint mechanisms, helplines and compassion for victims.
  • Children should play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers against harm.

My takeaways

I was gratified to see that the Committee and fellow working group members were sensitive to the importance of rights as well as protection and that there was a general agreement that online access and free expression are critical rights. I was also pleased about the recommendation that children be empowered to “play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers” along with the concept that “children are the drivers of a safe and participatory digital world.”

As other attendees pointed out, the discussions were a bit vague on specifics and how these rights might be implemented and there was no consensus on how the vast cultural, political and legal differences between countries should apply to these rights. For example, there are several countries that filter the Internet for all users — not just children. And even in the United States and Western Europe, it is common for schools to block social media, which I interpret not only as vehicles for free expression, but also freedom of association as guaranteed in the UNCRC. Another limitation of both the UNCRC and the day of discussion was the lack of differentiation by age. The UNCRC defines “child” as people under 18, but as any parent knows, there is a vast difference between toddlers and teenagers and any discussion of rights and protections needs to take these differences into consideration.

*As per the United States — even though we haven’t ratified the Convention (scroll down in this document from Amnesty International for the why), freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and there is nothing in the Constitution that says these rights are applicable only to adults. Still, the U.S. has a longstanding tradition of giving parents control over their children and giving schools “in loco parentis” controls while children are at school. While no one would question a parent’s right and responsibility to supervise their children and protect them from harm, there are families in the U.S. and elsewhere where parents are interpreting those rights in an arbitrary manner. I worry about LGBT youth whose parents are not supportive of young people who are exploring religious or political views that might differ from their parents’ beliefs.

Next steps

The recommendations of these working groups will be studied by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child and then passed on to member states. Some, I suspect, will embrace them while others are likely to ignore them. Most, I’m pretty sure, will interpret them according to local laws and customs, which means that — even if adopted — not all of these recommendations will be implemented. Still, it’s an important step toward updating the interpretation of the UNCRC so that rights that are guaranteed offline are also applied online.


















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IGF attendees complain about censorship in Turkey while some advocate it for youth

(Istanbul, Turkey)  Censorship is very much on the minds of attendees at this year’s Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul. One reason, of course, is because the meeting is being held in a country that has censored the Web. Earlier this year the Turkish government blocked Twitter and YouTube for awhile and continues to block thousands of websites, including some that reportedly have content that goes against government ideology.

But you don’t have to live in Turkey, Russia, China or Iran to be affected by censorship. Young people in every country — including the United States, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe — face it every day.

Two hundred and twenty three years after the U.S. passed the First Amendment to its constitution, kids are being censored online in school, in some libraries and in some homes. The stated reason for this censorship is to protect them from “harmful content,” but it’s not just a matter of blocking porn, hate sites or sites that promote self-harm. Many schools in the U.S., UK and Europe block social media sites, for example, even though Facebook and most other responsible sites have their own policies against so-called harmful content.

Here at IGF, a number of speakers have advocated protecting children from such content for their own good, yet hardly any kids I’ve spoken with think Internet filtering is either appropriate or effective, except for young children.


Olivia (right) presents at IGF session on youth rights

Olivia, a 15 year-old attendee from Denmark, made the point better than I can at a session here in Istanbul:

“This is our world, the Internet we’re talking about here. You have to be with us in the world. You can’t keep us away from it. You have to talk with us about it…. You have to help your children instead of trying to control them.”  (Quote courtesy of NetFamilyNews.org)

The folks in that workshop applauded that comment but it didn’t stop several adults at various sessions from advocating more controls over the types of materials that young people can access.

I didn’t get his name, but one attendee from the Turkish government spoke proudly about how his country was blocking “content that is harmful for children,” but he never defined what he meant by harmful content.


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