Scuttle the “Bully Pulpit” Metaphor

Guest post

by Warren Blumenfeld

Dr. Warren Blumenfeld

Dr. Warren Blumenfeld

New words join while some words perish from all languages. Some words remain though altering or transforming their meanings to varying degrees between eras. A number of words even expand to include additional parts of speech, for example, former nouns enter the realm of verbs, like the noun “text” to the verb “to text,” the noun “lunch” to the verb “to lunch,” and many others. I’ve even added to this trend by connecting the noun “dissertation” to the action verb “to dissertate,” meaning the process of researching and writing a dissertation. I don’t think this has a chance, though, of going viral anytime soon (noun “virus” to the verb “to go viral”).

This year, my college students introduced me to the terms “meme” (a cultural image, video, or phrase) and “selfie” (a picture one takes of oneself with a smartphone or webcam and distributes on the web), so now I feel “in” with the lingo (though I’m probably self-deluded).

I am struck by the enormous variety of terms that we as a society have altered in their meanings over the years. Recently a student talked in class about the “sick” son of a famous social activist. When the class noticed the look of deep concern on my face, they laughed, and one student informed me that “sick” now also means “awesome.” Students also taught me that “crib” can now mean “home,” and “scoop” can mean to “pick one up in one’s car.” I have learned also, that the term “luxury,” back in the 14th century, in French “luxurie,” meant “sexual intercourse,” and by the 15th century expanded to “lasciviousness” and “sinfulness.”  We clearly do not employ the term with this meaning today.

I was raised at a time when my parents and grandparents referred to the “Frigidaire” or to the “ice box” for what our society commonly refers to as a “refrigerator.” Sometimes I unconsciously let slip the term “ice box,” and my friends remark that “I am dating myself.”

I see similar breakdowns and misunderstandings between generations over the expression “bully pulpit.” President Theodore Roosevelt coined the expression, and reportedly first used it in 1909: “I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!” (February 27, 1909, issue of The Outlook magazine).

‘Bully’ had a different meaning back then

In this quote, Roosevelt referred to how the presidency offered the resident of the White House a wonderful opportunity, an awesome platform, to promote an agenda or series of programs. Within Roosevelt’s United States, “bully” often suggested or denoted “magnificent,” “superb,” “amazing,” “fantastic,” “great,” or “marvelous” as in the expression “bully for you” (“good for you,” “fantastic work”).

As was the case in Roosevelt’s time as it is today, a “pulpit” is a physical structure, a platform or foundation, from which one presents a sermon within a religious house of worship.

As we know today, however, “bully” no longer retains its positive meanings. Rather, according to the prestigious Journal of the American Medication Association (2001), “Bullying is a specific type of aggression in which (1) the behavior is intended to harm or disturb, (2) the behavior occurs repeatedly over time, and (3) there is an imbalance of power, with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one….”

Studies reveal inconsistent results over the actual rates of bullying behaviors evidenced in our workplaces and in our schools, but most reputable research acknowledge the prevalence of these destructive behaviors not only on the targets of bullying, but also on the perpetrators.

We need, therefore, to ask some critical questions. For example, given contemporary meanings and understandings of the term “bully,” are we in fact stating directly, or at least implying, that by advancing the metaphoric expression of the “bully pulpit,” we are promoting the notion that “might makes right,” that people with political power can use that power to figuratively at least beat their opponents into submission? And if so, what kinds of messages are we sending our youth? Moreover, in a nation purportedly separating religion from government, how appropriate is it for politicians to use sectarian (“pulpit”) metaphors.

I contend that we must not view bullying and harassment as simply youth problems and behaviors, but rather, investigate the contexts in which bullying “trickles down” from the larger society and reproduces itself within the schools. Young people, through the process of social learning, often acquire bullying and harassing attitudes and behaviors, many times from “adults,” and also often learn from them the socially sanctioned targets for their aggressive behaviors.

I refer to this as the “social ecology” of bullying and harassment. Ecology can be defined as the relationships between organisms and their environments. We must, therefore, investigate the larger sociological and psychological environments for us to determine, understand, and if necessary, institute procedures to change our institutional environments.

“Bully pulpit” as Teddy Roosevelt understood the expression, I contend, has morphed, evolved, and transformed into what we might call today the President’s “leadership platform,” and how the presidency offers the resident of the White House a wonderful opportunity, an awesome platform, to promote an agenda or series of programs.

As it is often said that “elections have consequences,” in fact so do words. Therefore, let us assign and bury the “bully pulpit” to the archives of linguistics.


JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, April 25, 2001. Vol. 285, No. 16).

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

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National Center adds another layer to children’s safety online

For several years, I’ve been on the board of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). The organization, which is based in Alexandria, Va., is best known for helping to reunite missing children with their custodial parents or guardians, but it also strives to protect children from sexual exploitation in both the physical and cyber worlds.

In addition to its national headquarters, NCMEC operates branch offices in a handful of cities across the country and has just opened a Silicon Valley office in Palo Alto. One reason, according to NCMEC spokesperson Stacy Garret, is to be closer to the technology companies that play such an important role in the lives of children and teens. About 95 percent of American teens are online, according to Pew Research, and most are regular users of social media sites and services like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. A May 2013 Pew study found that 91 percent of teens had posted a photo of themselves online, up from 79 percent in 2006. More than seven in 10 (71 percent) post their school name, 71 percent also post the city or town where they live, and more than half (53 percent) post their email address. A fifth of teens post their cellphone number — up from only 2 percent in 2006.

None of these activities are necessarily dangerous. Research from the Crimes Against Children Research Center has found that posting of such personal information doesn’t correlate with exploitation nearly as much as such risky behaviors as talking to a stranger online about sex. The good news is that most young people are pretty smart when it comes to protecting themselves from online predators and — based on research from Pew — we also know that most kids also take at least some steps to protect their privacy.

Still, the National Center has plenty of work to do when it comes to protecting kids online. One of the goals of the new office is to work with tech companies to bake child protection into their products from day one. It’s similar to the notion of “privacy by design.” Rather than making safety an afterthought — something the company gets around to after the product has been around for a while — it’s much better if companies think about the possible dangers as they develop their products.

The nonprofit organization I co-direct,, works closely with (and receives financial support from) Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking companies to help them think about safety, security, privacy, appropriate content and social interactions between users, and I’m happy to say that these companies employ professionals who put a lot of thought into these issues.

While my group and other Internet safety organizations can advise these companies on a range of issues such as cyberbullying and encouraging positive online interactions, NCMEC plays a unique role because of its focus on child exploitation and its close ties to law enforcement. NCMEC analysts understand — far more than I do — the extent to which children can be harmed in a variety of ways ranging from the (fortunately fairly rare) cases where children are lured into sex with people they meet online to the far more common problem of online child pornography, Child porn — also referred to as sexual abuse images — is illegal in the United States and most other countries, yet as NCMEC analysts have repeatedly pointed out, there is still a great deal of child porn being produced and distributed online and much of it is coming from the U.S. Many tech firms use Photo DNA to identify such images. The technology, which was developed by Microsoft, is being used to compare a newly found image with a database of known images to both identify a potential child porn image and determine whether it’s an old image or could be a newer picture of a child still in danger.

We also know that there are still cases in which children have been harmed as a result of an online interaction. There are a variety of issues at stake, including the risks that the child takes, the design of the product and the efforts the company makes to provide education to youth, as well as to identify and deter predatory behavior. With NCMEC’s help, it’s my hope and belief that companies will get better at that and children will get even savvier when it comes to avoiding risky behavior.

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Jerry The Bear Helps Kids With Diabetes

As part of Safer Internet Day’s One Good Thing campaign, I interviewed Hannah Chung and Aaron Horowitz about Jerry the Bear, a plush talking toy designed to help children with type 1 diabetes manage their condition.

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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


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., 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 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, 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. 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 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.


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”’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.
Twitter: @NetCaucusAC #NetYouth


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, 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.


    • 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 [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


Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee
1634 I Street NW – Washington, DC 20006
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Posted in Child safety | Comments Off named US host for Safer Internet Day

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 10.07.10 PM

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. 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 (, 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 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 “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 and

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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, 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

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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