Tell us ‘one good thing’ about using tech to make the Internet or the world better

This article first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

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About 11 years ago, the European Commission established Safer Internet Day, an annual event that focuses on making the Internet a better and safer place. It takes place on the second day of the second week of February, which means it falls on Feb. 11 in 2014. Over the years there have been sporadic events in the United States supporting the same goal, but there hasn’t been a lot of coordination in this country.

That’s about to change.

Safer Internet Day gets a boost in the U.S.

Safer Internet Day gets a boost in the U.S.

ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet safety organization that I co-direct, was asked by the European Commission to coordinate Safer Internet Day activities in the United States. With support from Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and a variety of government agencies, nonprofit groups and companies, we’re planning an event in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11, along with local events throughout the country.

This year’s theme is “Let’s create a better Internet together” because the folks in Europe who coordinate events globally realize that improving the online experience for both kids and adults isn’t just about dealing with dangers. It’s also about recognizing and encouraging all of the great ways people use the Internet and mobile technology to make the world a better place.

Here in the United States, we’re doing this by creating a “one good thing” campaign and asking people to go to SaferInternetDay.us to let us know what they are doing or have done. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be as simple as letting us know that you had a conversation about safety at home or school or that you used the Internet to help mobilize people to clean up a local park. It could be a report about something kind you tweeted or how you used your mobile phone’s camera to document a problem that needed to be addressed.

And it doesn’t have to be your good thing — you can tell us about someone else if you want. You can write us a post, send a video or upload a file. If it’s positive, we want to hear about it and share it.

All of the good things will be reported on the site and many will be tweeted or posted to our Facebook page. Selected ones will be featured in a video to be shown at our Capitol Hill event and our YouTube channel.

The reason we’re doing this is because “goodness” can be infectious. We keep hearing about an epidemic of cyberbullying (actually there isn’t one), but we’d much rather be talking about an epidemic of kindness because that’s exactly what is happening right now. Sure, there are some people using the Internet to do mean things, but there are millions of people in the United States and around the world using the Internet and mobile technology to do amazing things to help their communities, schools, nation and the world.

There are plenty of examples of “good things” people are doing. Kevin Curwick, a high school football player from Osseo, Minn., for example, has started a “nice it forward” campaign on Twitter (@OsseoNiceThings), where students just say positive things about other students. The idea, according to Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, is spreading to other cities. “Showing compassion in a public forum sends a message to those who are being targeted that they are not alone and that at least some students at the school are on their side and appreciate who they are and what they do,” Patchin wrote in his blog.

And then there’s Pink Shirt Day in Canada. A ninth-grade boy in Nova Scotia was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. When two seniors heard the news, they went to a discount store and bought 50 inexpensive pink T-shirts that dozens of students wore to school. What started out as a kind gesture turned into a movement and “Pink Shirt Day” is now celebrated throughout Canada and beyond.

The project doesn’t have to solve a big problem. It could be as nice as just bringing a smile to people’s faces like CaliforniaChristmasLights.com, which helps bring holiday cheer to people in Silicon Valley.

It can even be a commercial enterprise. Christopher Gandin Le used to work for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and now heads up Emotion Technology — a company that focuses on public health and suicide prevention. AbleRoad is a company that connects people with disabilities with accessible places to live. StartSomeGood.com helps social entrepreneurs, change-makers and nonprofits rally their community and raise funds.

I could fill pages with great examples, but I would love to hear more. If you or someone you know is using tech to make the world a better place, send me an email or tell us about it at OneGoodThing.us. We’re especially interested in what young people are doing, but also want to hear about adults who are using their skills and technology to benefit the world.

 

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Preventing and recovering from bullying — what works and what doesn’t

Listen to kids if you want to understand bullying and what to do about it

Listen to kids if you want to understand bullying and what to do about i

For the past several days I’ve taken a deep dive into the world of bullying and cyberbullying at two back-to-back conferences – the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference inWashington DC last week and, this week, the International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA) conference in Nashville.

Even though I was bullied as a child and recently co-write the free booklet, A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying I’m certainly no expert, but after listening to expert after expert, I have learned a bit about the nature of bullying and what can be done to prevent it and  deal with it once it occurs.

No simple answers

One thing is clear that there are no simple answers or silver bullets. Whether online or in-person, the nature of bullying depends on the people involved, the school and community climate and how others around them respond. And though there are some special aspects of cyberbullying that make it somewhat different, cyberbullying is still bullying and it has much more to do with the relationship between those involved than the particular technology that’s being used to carry it out.  Experts also report that there is often a nexus between school bullying and cyberbullying.  It might start in school and continue online or vice versa but it is often connected and it’s highly likely that the people involved in cyberbullying know each other from the physical world.

What youth say works

There are plenty of adult opinions about bullying but, in preparation for their recent book, Youth Voice Project, authors Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon conducted a survey of 13,177 students in 31 schools across 12 states to find out what young people thought about how to both prevent and recover from bullying. One thing they found is that  “when a school works to build clear definitions of respectful behavior with meaningful student involvement, most students will uphold and follow those behavioral standards.”

In an interview, Stan Davis told me that if you’re the kid being mistreated, it doesn’t usually work to tell the person bullying you to stop.  He cautioned adults to not ask kids to try to change other people’s behavior and to remind kids that its not their fault if they’re being bullied.  Still, adults can play an essential role. “When adults listened and encouraged and showed it wasn’t going to last and it wasn’t their fault,” he said, “things would often get better.” He said there was a wide variance when it came to discipline.  In schools that use harsher, more punitive more inconsistent discipline, things tend to get worse. It’s better to have clear and consistent and relatively minor  – but certain — consequences than zero tolerance programs with severe consequences that are inconsistently meted out.

Inclusion

The most helpful things, he said,  included “inclusion by other kids and encouragement from other kids.”  He said that “kid after kid wrote us to say ‘my friends told me I didn’t deserve it and even though they kept doing it, it didn’t hurt me as much.’”  In other words, even if we can’t prevent mean behavior, we can sometimes reduce its impact.

Many of the other speakers talked about resilience. How a community responds to bullying incidents can have a huge impact on how it affects people.  Being supportive, reaching out to kids who have been bullied and letting them know that they are not alone can go a long way not only towards healing but towards prevention too by letting the people who bully know that it’s not popular or cool to engage in cruel or mean behavior.

Not an epidemic

A number of speakers stressed that bullying and cyberbullying– while a significant and long-term problem – is not an epidemic. On a research panel, David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center pointed out that there has actually been an overall decline in crimes against children, school violence and bullying over the past decade. At the FOSI conference Justin Patchin, director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, said that cyberbullying is actually less prevalent than physical bullying and, in an interview at the IBPA conference, Elizabeth Englander, director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center said that, depending on the study and the age of the child, cyberbullying rates range from between 4% to about 20%.  She said that what is sometimes called cyberbullying is often something else – “they’re more related to fighting or quarrels or someone being in a bad mood or many times someone dong something carelessly.”  She said that many reported incidents turn out to be very minor. “the prevalence of mild things is high, which is sometimes why you see high statistics, but the prevalence of serious problems is not particularly high.”

Norms matter

I’ve reported before that we have a tendency to exaggerate the prevalence of bullying and cyberbulling and I’ve received criticism from some readers who feel that I am understating the problem. But as I heard over and over again this week, a one-size-fits-all analysis of the problem or the solutions is not helpful.  It’s nuanced and it depends a great deal on individual factors and group dynamics.  But – based on bullying prevention research by Wesley Perkins and David Craig of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, we know that there is a link between the perception of the problem and the extent of the problem. If students feel that bullying is the “norm,” they are more likely to engage in it. But if they learn (as is almost always the case) that the vast majority of kids are not cruel or mean, then they’re more likely to follow the norm and less likely to be cruel and mean.

If 15% of the kids in your school have bullied others, that’s a bad thing. But rather than emphasize the bad, turn the numbers around to report that 85% of kids don’t bully. That’s a number worth emulating and increasing.

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Combating Cruelty with Kindness

By Justin W. Patchin

Justin is co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

There’s no shortage of daily headlines that point to the conclusion that many teens are using technology carelessly and maliciously. Cyberbullying, especially, has been thrust to the forefront of parental concern, often being characterized as occurring at “epidemic” levels. But the reality is that those stories represent only a small part of what most teens are doing in cyberspace.

The truth is that most teens do not mistreat others online. We’ve surveyed nearly 15,000 middle and high school students from throughout the United States over the last decade and, on average, about 13% of those told us that they had cyberbullied others at some point in their lifetime. Our results mirror the consensus of other research as well. We recently reviewed forty-two academic articles that were published in peer-reviewed journals and on average about 15% of teens had cyberbullied others. Taken together, that means that 85% have not! This is good news!

Read the full post at A Platform for Good

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Congressional briefing: “Are the Kids Alright? Assessing the Impact of 20 Years of the Internet on America’s Youth”

SafeKids.com’s Larry Magid is moderating a session on Capitol Hill today (the Rayburn Building) called “Are the Kids Alright? Assessing the Impact of 20 Years of the Internet on America’s Youth”  The even is sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus and the Internet Education Foundation.

Since the dawn of the Internet constituents have asked their representatives about the effect technology is having on their children and whether there ought to be something done about it. Yet over the last fifteen years a great deal solid empirical research has been devoted to what effect, if any, the Internet has on young constituents. We’ve asked three of America’s leading experts to explore this question for your office. Please RSVP below.

Date: Friday, November 8, 2013
Time: 12:00 pm – 1:15 pm. Program begins promptly at 12:00 pm, check-in starts at 11:40 am. (Box lunch will be served)
Location: Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2237
RSVP: RSVPs are appreciated. RSVP@netcaucus.org
Twitter: @NetCaucusAC #NetYouth

More:

Twenty years ago, in response to parental concerns about their kids using the emerging Internet, technology journalist Larry Magid wrote a parental education pamphlet called Child Safety on the Information Highway. The first of its kindChild Safety has since been updated many times over to address the wave after wave of concerns about the impact of the Internet and digital technology on a generation of America’s children.

On Friday join Larry Magid for a luncheon discussion with some of the nation’s leading youth and technology researchers as they present “Are the Kids Alright? Assessing the Impact of 20 Years of the Internet on America’s Youth“. Magid, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, will discuss what he has learned over the past 20 years about whether parental and Congressional concerns about youth Internet usage are founded. Researcher Amanda Lehnart (Pew) and Lisa Jones (UNH) will discuss their research into teens and child use the Internet and its net impact. If your constituents have ever questioned the impact of new Internet technology on their children you should attend this luncheon for answers.

Panelists

    • Lisa Jones, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor, Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire [Bio]
    • Larry Magid, Technology journalist and award winning youth online safety advocate, Co-director of ConnectSafely.org [Bio]
    • Amanda Lenhart, Senior Researcher, Pew Internet & American Life Project [Bio]

For the latest news and developments with the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, please follow us on TwitterFacebook,Google+ and LinkedIn.

This widely attended educational briefing is hosted by theCongressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee (ICAC), part of a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. Congressional staff and members of the press welcome. The ICAC is a private sector organization comprised of public interest groups, trade associations, non-profits, and corporations. The ICAC takes no positions on legislation or regulation. Rather, it’s a neutral platform where thought leaders debate important technology issues that shape legislative and administration policy in an open forum. We vigilantly adhere to our mission to curate balanced and dynamic debates among Internet stakeholders. Our volunteer board members ensure that we dutifully execute that mission. More information on the ICAC is available at www.netcaucus.org.

 

Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee
1634 I Street NW – Washington, DC 20006
www.NetCaucus.org
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ConnectSafely.org named US host for Safer Internet Day

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Washington, D.C., November 6, 2013–Safer Internet Day, which has been celebrated throughout the world for the last 10 years, is about to get a big boost in the United States.

ConnectSafely.org has been appointed by INSAFE and the European Commission as the US host for the annual celebration, which happens on the second Tuesday of each February (this coming one: Feb. 11, 2014).

A well-established campaign that’s now marked in more than 100 countries, Safer Internet Day gained official recognition in the US in late 2012, when the Department of Homeland Security signed a joint agreement with the European Commission to work together to make the Internet better for youth.

The theme of this coming year’s event is “Let’s create a better Internet together.”

ConnectSafely’s plan is to make the US celebration of Safer Internet Day a highly collaborative project, with supporters from the Internet industry and partners representing a broad array of youth-serving organizations. We are launching a website (www.SaferInternetDay.us), organizing an awareness-raising campaign and planning an event in Washington DC on February 11.

“Our goal is not just to provide safety advice but to recognize all the great things that people of all ages are doing online,” said ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid. “It’s time for policy makers and the media to realize that the vast majority of young people are using social media and mobile technology safely and responsibly.”

“We plan to celebrate all the great things young people are doing to make the Internet a better place – or the world a better place with the help of the Internet,” said co-director Anne Collier, “so we’re asking them to tweet about, talk about it in a short video or podcast, post about it on Facebook or send us an email via SID@ConnectSafely.org. “On February 11, we hope families will talk over dinner about how they’re making the Internet better,” added Collier. “And we’re encouraging parents to listen to and learn from their kids.”

“We are delighted that ConnectSafely will lead the US celebration of Safer Internet Day in February,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOS). “The Day is well established in Europe and elsewhere and it’s time we get behind this effort here in the States.”

Microsoft is the “anchor” supporter with additional support from Google, Facebook, Sprint, Trend Micro and Twitter. The steering committee is made up of the leading non-profits in the Internet safety space, including Committee for Children, Common Sense Media, Family Online Safety Institute, iKeepSafe, Internet Education Foundation, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Cyber Security Alliance.

The announcement is being made today at the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference in Washington DC.

About ConnectSafely

ConnectSafely is a non-profit organization offering research-based resources about online well-being and digital literacy for parents, teens, educators, advocates and policymakers. Find us at ConnectSafely.orgTwitter.com/ConnectSafely and Facebook.com/ConnectSafely.

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Family Online Safety Institute tackles ID theft and dangers of ‘Internet of things’

By Larry Magid

Washington, DC: Every fall around this time, people from the tech industry, government, non-profit groups and academia gather in Washington for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) annual conference. Over the last few years, the conference has dealt with a wide variety of issues including cyberbullying, reputation management, security and keeping kids away from inappropriate content. Although “family online safety” can apply to just about anyone, many of the sessions focus on young people’s use of connected technology.

This year’s theme is Connect, Share, Empower.  And, as the theme implies, the conference organizers are bullish on the positive aspects of the Internet and mobile technology.  FOSI is a membership organization made up and funded by tech companies including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and others. As co-director of ConnectSafely.org, I am on FOSI’s advisory board and will be moderating a panel on creating trust in social networks and virtual worlds at this year’s conference. ConnectSafely also receives support from some of these companies.

ID theft, fraud and how kids are protecting themselves

One of the first sessions at this year’s conference will be a research report on teen identity theft, fraud, security and steps teens are taking to protect themselves. One thing many people may not realize is that young people – including preteens – are subject to identity theft because most have perfect credit records. Some teens only find out their ID was stolen when they apply for their first student loans or credit cards. Teens are subject to the same security issues as adults but there are some special situations that affect teens and kids like bogus fan sites that plant malware on their device. I recently co-authored a free booklet on this issue called A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity, that you can download  at ConnectSafely.org/security.

Likely good news about teens

And – though I’m writing this ahead of the conference – I’m pretty sure that the researchers will have some positive things to say about what teens are doing to protect themselves. A study conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society found that “few teens embrace a fully public approach to social media,” and many teens “take an array of steps to restrict and prune their profiles.” Sixty percent of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private, and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings. The study also found that teens take other steps to shape their reputation, manage their networks, and mask information they don’t want others to know; 74 percent of teen social media users have deleted people from their network or friends list.

Internet of things

One session will focus on “the Internet of things.” That refers to the fact that there are now millions of devices online that are exchanging information between themselves. It could be a soda machine phoning home to report that it needs to be refilled or a connected car interacting with the dealer’s computer over a possible malfunction. Eventually we will have devices implanted in our bodies that send diagnostic data to medical facilities and receive remote commands.

Even though humans may not be in the loop when it comes to thing-to-thing communications, we are often affected by them so there are plenty of privacy, security and safety implications. Former Vice President Dick Chaney was reportedly concerned about terrorist hacking his pacemaker – as occurred to a fictional VP in an episode of the TV show Homeland.  It’s not such a preposterous idea. In June, the Federal Drug Administration put out a warning that “there is an increased risk of cybersecurity breaches, which could affect how a medical device operates.”

The conference runs Wednesday and Thursday at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington DC.

 

 

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NSA snooping and youth rights at Internet UN’s Internet Governance Forum

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

BALI, Indonesia — For the past eight years, Internet “stakeholders” from governments, nonprofit and activist organizations and the technology industry have gathered at the United Nations-sponsored Internet Governance Forum to talk about Internet policy issues such as child protection, free speech, privacy and freedom of online speech. And last week, about 2,000 people gathered in Bali to continue the conversation.

This is the fourth IGF I’ve attended. In previous years, the United States had the moral high ground when it came to issues of openness, freedom of expression and protection against unwarranted privacy intrusions, especially from governments. But Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance tactics has become a major subtext at this year’s conference.

In her remarks at the opening session, Lynn St. Amour, the CEO of the Internet Society, condemned the government’s surveillance as “a cloud over all our efforts” that undermines the trust people have in the Internet.

And in an interview, Thomas Gass, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for economic and social affairs, talked about the need to rebuild trust in the Internet. In addition to his concern about NSA surveillance on U.S. citizens and foreign governments, he worries that other countries will try to set up “similar surveillance systems or protection systems against the surveillance.” Like others who expressed concern, Gass acknowledged that “we know the U.S. is not the only country that has been doing this.”

In a session on big data, Alexandrine Pirlot of Privacy International criticized the NSA for collecting data without a specific purpose or the knowledge and consent of the people who’s data is being collected.

Marie Georges, an adviser to the Council of Europe, warned that if that kind of government surveillance continues, “people will be very afraid to use any kind of information technology.”

Of course, there were plenty of other issues also discussed at IGF, including domain name policies, cybersecurity threats, network infrastructure technical issues and human rights, copyright and intellectual property concerns. However, by design, nothing was resolved. Attendees at the three-day conference don’t make any binding decisions. The IGF is not a governing body, but simply a place for all stakeholders to discuss issues

I was there to speak on a couple of panels on digital citizenship for youth and one titled “Child Protection vs. the Rights of the Child” that explored whether efforts to protect children online might also restrict their rights of free speech.

I organized the workshop because — as a longtime Internet safety advocate — I’ve noticed the adult response to helping keep kids safe often involves some type of monitoring or filtering that can impact children’s privacy or limit their ability to express themselves or access information.

Many schools, for example, block access to social media sites. And while parents and schools may have valid reasons to keep kids from looking at porn, the filters that block porn sometimes also block other types of content as well. And then there is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law that protects kids from revealing personal information to marketers, and keeps kids under 13 from accessing Facebook and other social media sites because the sites allow users to share information.

I’m all for finding ways to keep online children safe, but I thought it worth exploring the extent to which it’s necessary to restrict their freedom in the name of privacy and safety. I’m not arguing that adults shouldn’t supervise or restrict children’s online activities. But when it comes to speech issues, I think it’s worth pointing out that the First Amendment doesn’t have an age test.

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Internet Governance Forum Tackles Child Protection Vs. Child Rights

Bali, Indonesia — I’m at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF #IGF2013) in Bali where I’m participating in a workshop on child protection vs. child rights. As a child safety advocate, I’ve long argued that young people need “digital literacy” to understand how to safely navigate the online world. That can be protecting their emotional well-being by helping them avoid or deal with cyberbullying but it can also be helping young people understand how to protect their privacy online or to make sure they’re not posting images or other content that could harm their reputation. It also involves teaching empathy and social-emotional learning to help youth better understand how to treat their peers, whether they be close friends or people they only encounter online.

My personal approach to child safety is to start by assuming that “the kids are all right” and — as a default — treat children and teens respectfully by providing them with the tools and information they need to protect themselves and respect others. I’ve long said that the best Internet filter is the one that runs between the child’s ears, and have never been a huge fan of widespread use of parental control or monitoring software, except when parents have seen a real need to use it for their kids. It’s not that I’m against using tools that limit or monitor what kids do, it’s just that I think the tools need to be used thoughtfully, only when necessary, and not be a substitute for good parenting or helping kids develop their ability to do what’s right without external controls.

Yet, there are those who feel that most kids need to be controlled or monitored, and there are plenty of companies selling such tools. Schools too often use control software not only to block porn and sites that advocate violence or drug and alcohol use but often also block social networking sites, YouTube and other media that kids commonly access away from school.

To explore this issue, I organized a panel at IGF titled “Child Protection vs. Child Rights.” Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” Yet in the very countries that have ratified this convention, parents and schools are denying young people access to some types of content in the name of protection.

There are no simple answers. There are lots of adults who strongly believe in free speech rights for kids yet at the same time feel it’s necessary to limit their access to certain types of content and media.

Panelists include John Carr, Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety (UK); Janice Richardson, European Schoolnet and Insafe (Belgium); Nevine Tewfit, Ministry of Communications (Egypt); Yannis Li, Dot Kids Foundation (Hong Kong) and Larry Magid, ConnectSafely.org (US). The moderator is Anjan Bose, ECPAT International (Thailand).

Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org and founder of SafeKids.com

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Facebook lets teens post publicly: Why that’s a good things

Digital citizenship includes rights as well as responsibilities

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Facebook Lets Teens Post Publicly: Why That’s a Good Thing

Facebook announced today that it’s changing its policy to allow teens to post publicly. Prior to today, Facebook members aged 13 through 17 were only allowed to post to a limited audience that max out with friends of friends.

In a blog post, Facebook said that teens will also “be able to turn on Follow so that their public posts can be seen in people’s News Feeds” As is the case now, followers can only see posts that they’ve been authorized to see.

There will be some who will no doubt question Facebook’s wisdom and motives for allowing teens to share publicly. But I for one am all for it. My reason is simple. Teens deserve the same free speech rights as adults and many teens want to be able to speak out on issues that are important to them.

Free speech and youth activism

One need only look at the work of Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head for speaking in favor of the rights of women and girls. She was able to speak directly on this subject, to blog about it, to be interviewed and to make media appearances but – based on the rules that were in place until today, she wouldn’t have been allowed to post about it on Facebook.

Although the First Amendment applies to government, not the private sector, there is nothing in it that says that freedom of speech is only a right for people over a specific age.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which is law for most countries served by Facebook) is even more explicit. “The child shall have the right to 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.”

“Any other media” clearly includes social media such as Facebook and any arbitrary rules preventing teens from expressing themselves or accessing information expressed by others certainly violates the spirit that convention.

But forget rights for a moment and just focus on dignity. We are trying to teach our children to be good citizens and that includes speaking out on issues that concern them. Whether it’s the treatment of women and girls, the environment, the economy, issues of war and peace or even their thoughts on sports teams or their favorite foods, young people not only have a right to express themselves but, by doing so, they are helping our democracy by engaging in dialog about issues.

Proud parents

The notion that teens shouldn’t be allowed to share publicly is actually something that we’ve mostly been talking about in the age of social media. When I was a kid, my parents were happy when the local paper wrote a story about how I had done something laudable. My own son Will Magid, now a professional musician, performed publicly when he was in high school. Based on the old rules, he couldn’t have used Facebook to post his recordings or videos of his performances to share with the same people who might have been in the auditorium when he performed. Of course there are things teens shouldn’t post publicly on Facebook just as there are things they shouldn’t say to strangers on the street. The good news — based on recent surveys — is that most teens know this.

As a private company Facebook doesn’t have to give teens the right to speak in public but as a forum that has more members than the population of any country besides China and India, it has a moral obligation to allow unfettered speech to all of its members.

Right to privacy and free speech

Having said that, Facebook also has a responsibility to protect the privacy of teens and everyone else, which is why it’s important that teens be made aware that they have control over who sees each of their posts. By default new teen accounts will default to friends only (it used to be friends of friends) but now they can expand or narrow that audience. Both teens and adults need to be aware that if you post publicly, subsequent posts will also be public until you again change the audience. I wish there was the option to have the audience settings automatically revert back to the user’s preferred default so that if you usually post privately and decide to post publicly, the next time it would revert back to private.

Parents, privacy advocates, teachers and anyone else who interacts with teens should do all they can to make sure that young people understand how to use Facebook’s privacy tools and remember that there are consequences to what you post – in some cases even if it’s only shared among your friends

But there are also consequences to keeping people – of any age – from being able to express themselves and I for one am glad that Facebook has finally unshackled its teenage users.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook

 

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Let’s not underestimate the impact of cyberbullying

New guide from ConnectSafely helps parents deal with cyberbullying

New guide from ConnectSafely helps parents deal with cyberbullying

For advice on how to deal with cyberbullying, check out ConnectSafely.org’s new free online booklet, A Parents’ Guide to Cyberbullying

I’ve written several columns about how people tend to exaggerate the number of kids who are affected by cyberbullying, but just because I’m a stickler on wanting to report accurate numbers from credible sources doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s a very serious problem.

If you or someone you care about has been cyberbullied, bullied in-person or both, it doesn’t matter whether you’re part of an “epidemic” — as some people claim — or if you’re in a minority, any more than it matters to cancer patients how common their condition might be. What you want is for the pain to stop. And if you’re a parent or a kid who is worried about being bullied — again — the numbers don’t matter as much as getting some good advice on how to keep bullying out of your life.

Having said this, I still think it’s wrong and potentially even dangerous to exaggerate the problem as I’ll describe later, but — in the meantime — know that bullying, at least for some kids, can be extremely distressing.

Tragic outcomes

There have been lots of news stories about really bad outcomes from cyberbulling ranging from severe depression to the unthinkable — a child taking his or her life. To someone affected by a situation like this, it doesn’t matter that such incredibly horrible outcomes are rare, nor does it matter that some experts have written that bullying alone doesn’t cause suicide. That may be true and, as co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center Justin Patchin wrote, “Most people who have spent some time exploring the connection understand that, like any association in the social sciences, it is often much more complicated than simply X causes Y.” But, as Patchin went on to say, “I think it is just as important to remember that, as inappropriate as it is to assert that ‘bullying causes suicide,’ it is perhaps equally incorrect to say that ‘bullying does not cause suicide.'”

We also know that the vast majority of youth who are bullied don’t commit suicide or necessarily even think about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t distressing.

Support our children

What does matter is that we support all of our children by working to prevent bullying and finding sensible and effective ways for dealing with it when it occurs. Sometimes that means letting kids handle it on their own or among their peers, sometimes it means adult intervention. What doesn’t help are knee-jerk reactions that can sometimes make the problem worse. Even well meaning “zero tolerance policies,” can sometimes backfire by treating every incidence of alleged bullying as if it were a very big deal. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

As when talking about supporting kids — don’t just focus on what some call “peer victimization.” It’s not uncommon for kids to be bullied by adults and there are plenty of other issues facing youth including neglect, obesity and the affects of poverty.

Bullying defined

It’s also helpful to understand the definition of bullying. Olwues Bullying Prevention says that “Cyber bullying, like traditional bullying, involves an imbalance of power, aggression, and a negative action that is often repeated.” The U.S. government’s StopBullying.gov website’s definition is almost identical. Most experts agree that a single mean, rude or insensitive comment in an email or on a social networking site — however hurtful it might be — doesn’t, by itself, constitute bullying.

Why exaggerating the numbers is bad

I’ve heard from some people that my complaints about exaggerating the bullying numbers somehow minimizes and therefore makes the problem worse, but I think the opposite is true. As I pointed out in my post Social norms research: Exaggerating bullying could increase bullying, putting the bullying problem into its proper perspective doesn’t minimize it and actually helps prevent it from getting worse. There is a lot of solid research that shows that if people overestimate anti-social or harmful behavior, they are more likely to engage in it themselves. In other words, reporting accurately about the rate of bullying actually makes kids less likely to bully others.

For evidence, I turn to the the research of H. Wesley Perkins, David W. Craig and Jessica M. Perkins who published a paper (PDF) in the April, 2011 edition of Group Processes Intergroup Relations, that shows that “variation in perceptions of the peer norm for bullying was significantly associated with personal bullying perpetration and attitudes.” As the authors pointed out, “decades of research in social psychology … have demonstrated the strong tendency of people to conform to peer norms.” If people think the “norm” is to bully, they’re more likely to bully but if they know that most of their peers don’t bully, they’re less likely to bully others. This, by the way, is consistent with other research on harmful or anti-social behavior including smoking and excessive drinking.

Numbers vary

The actual numbers on bullying and cyberbullying are all over the map, partially because not everyone defines it the same way. Here’s a link to some of the credible research that’s out there. But — once again — I want to emphasize that numbers don’t tell the whole story. Each child is different and each child is precious and — at the risk of repeating an oft-used phrase, “even one case is one too many.”

 

 

 

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