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February 6, 2004
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this first week of February:
- The growing cyberbullying problem
- Perspective: Janet & Justin's Super Bowl stunt
- Web News Briefs: What's known about MyDoom writer so far; AOL's new teen service; Arguments in milestone P2P case heard; Porn on kids' cell phones; UK teen hacker spotlights US vulnerability; Charter virtual schools; Pepsi's mixed signals to kids....
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The growing 'cyberbullying' problem
As told to Bill Belsey, dad, educator, and founder of the award-winning Bullying.org and Cyberbullying.ca:
- A 16-year-old Japanese girl ended a troublesome relationship with her boyfriend, who had at first appeared to be "a really great guy." Almost immediately after the breakup she began receiving lewd emails, IMs, and text and multimedia messages (text with images and video) on her mobile phone. She also received similar voice phone calls and unsettling looks from strangers near her home. She soon learned that her former boyfriend had posted all of her personal contact information on various adult Web sites.
- A teenage boy near Toronto discovered that a peer at school had created a Web site making "many awful, harmful, derogatory statements" about him, including that he was "a pedophile" and had given girls "the date-rape drug." It took his mother nearly a year to get the site's host (Yahoo) to take the site down, and that happened only after a tremendous amount of communication and advocacy on the mother's part, which finally lead to the threat of legal action.
We've been noticing more media coverage of this peer version of online bullying - most recently on Page 1 of the Toronto Globe & Mail, which featured Bill and his site. Just a few years ago, though, the headlines were more about "stranger danger" - kids harassed by pedophiles and cyberstalkers. So we thought we'd ask Bill, whose CyberBullying.ca is the No. 1 site on the subject in Google (his Bullying.org receives nearly 1 million visitors a month), if he was seeing this shift too.
"Yes, I would support that observation," Bill replied in an email interview. "I have observed that, in most cases, cyberbullying involves someone, usually a peer, that the victim knows." And the problem is growing because "as this 'always on' generation becomes not only more 'wired,' but now 'wireless' and with that more mobile, the potential for and actual experience of being cyberbullied, has become something that more and more young people and their families are struggling to understand and deal with."
Citing a recent study in the UK, where texting cell phones are ubiquitous among young people, Bill said that 25% of 11-to-19-year-olds have been cyberbullied. "I believe that we in North America should take strong notice of this as ... a window on what is likely coming our way" - from fixed Internet (Web, blogs, email, IM, chat, boards) to the mobile Net (text, picture, and video phones).
"These phone-cams bring a whole new set of issues for our society to deal with," Bill said. "We have to have our eyes and ears open to these issues. It is untenable to become Luddite and tell our kids to unplug or turn off. It just isn't a realistic response." Interestingly, he adds that "we need to send a message to our kids that we should be in charge of our technologies and not have them lead us," a message of strength that suggests to us an across-the-board decision (by parents and kids together) not to be victimized - by people or technology.
Cyberbullying.ca is a great resource, including 1) examples of how cyberbullying works via email, IM, chat, text-messaging, and online "voting booths" (where bullies get people to vote for their "ugliest," "fattest," "dumbest" peers), and 2) a "What Can Be Done" section with lots of good advice for kids and parents, most important on the prevention side.
"It is important to keep in mind that bullying, be it cyber or not, is about human relationships," Bill reminds his audiences. "Bullies want to feel that they have power or control over others; they do this through fear. So it is very important that victims of cyberbullying not react, for this is exactly what bullies want: to know they are being effective in pushing others' emotional and psychological buttons. Don't reply to or even delete such messages - sometimes they can be helpful in determining who the cyberbully may be."
For more info
- The Christian Science Monitor had some US numbers in a recent article: "Most cyberbullying doesn't reach such extremes, but it's still damaging. One in 17 kids ages 10 to 17 had been threatened or harassed online, and about one-third of those found the incidents extremely distressing, according to a 2000 study by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center."
- The Detroit Free Press makes the point that it's tough to get away from the bully when s/he's using always-on, everywhere, fixed, and mobile technology.
- The Detroit News gives more real-life examples and context.
- A 2002 documentary on Canada's CBC chronicles one family's online bullying nightmare, mentioned in the second vignette above.
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Perspective: Janet & Justin's Super Bowl stunt
As they said on NBC's Today show Thursday, "it's the story that will not die." In any case, we're about family tech and Internet use, so for the subject of what kids see on prime-time TV, we'll point you to the good thinking going on at Common Sense Media, a new nonprofit watchdog for kids in virtually all media. They heard from a lot of people after the Super Bowl, when a juvenile stunt by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake sparked what we see as healthy debate about the messages corporate America (from sponsors to media moguls) is sending children. [Wired News has the reaction on Capitol Hill; the Federal Communications Commission is investigating the incident, CNET mentions in a report on the record number of times it was replayed by TiVo users; and a Google News search turned up reams of coverage.]
After going through its pile of mail, Common Sense wrote, "Parents can't do any real monitoring when they get sucker-punched with commercials and content in what is supposed to be family programming. As parents, we need real partners. Our whole function can't be about choosing between lesser evils or turning off the entertainment. This isn't about censorship; it's about sanity.... It's time to say someone is responsible for responsible media." The editorial suggests that parents write Viacom's directors and provides their addresses (Viacom is CBS's parent).
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Web News Briefs
- What's known about MyDoom writer so far
Not much. The worm writer's name is probably Andy (because he left that name in the code) and he's probably a professional programmer, CNET reports. He also left this message in the second version of the virus: "I'm just doing my job, nothing personal, sorry." As of this article's writing, investigators didn't yet know what country "Andy" lives in. Here's CNET's frequently updated Security roundup page.
Whoever the culprit is, s/he's preying on people's ignorance, and the tech- literate are getting increasingly impatient with unsavvy Net users, who still don't know not to open attachments from unknown senders, the New York Times reports. "If no one opened the attachment, the virus's destructive power would never be unleashed." But an opinion piece in The Register suggests the impatience of the Net-savvy is pretty silly: "I would like to think that in this day and age people would know better than to open executables in an email. I'd also like to be able to flap my arms and fly to the moon" (here, too, there's some arrogance, however - he thinks computer security education has been proven ineffective).
Do you tell your kids not to open strange email attachments? Tell us what, if anything, happened with MyDoom at your house or school.
- AOL's new 'RED' service for teens
America Online has found that 53% of US teens go online every day, and it fully intends to keep them at AOL with the just-launched "RED." With it, 13-to-19- year-olds can customize its look and content, and parents can control what they get with AOL's Parental Controls. According to CNET, RED lets teens choose from 10 different "skins" (desktop look and feel - e.g., "Steel," "Poodle," and "Zen"), organize how content appears on the screen, and receive "unique Buddy List functions" for instant messaging (IM). RED highlights content areas AOL has found to be popular with teens - movies, games, gear, music, anime, news, etc., and AOL has increased the number of teen chat rooms and message boards and "created an e-commerce system called 'My Plastic,' which allows teens to shop online using prepaid accounts."
Through Parental Controls, parents can - for either Young Teens or Mature Teens levels - set email, IM, and Web access preference, limit the time RED users are online, and - through a feature called AOL Guardian - receive email reports on their kids' online activities. RED is free to AOL subscribers using its new 9.0 Optimized service.
Other fresh findings on teen Net users (from AOL research cited in its press release) include:
- In addition to the 53% of 13-to-19-year-olds going online daily, 73% go online five or more days a week.
- Teens use the Internet to send email (82%), exchange IMs (72%), do homework or school research (71%), and play online games (65%).
- Teen girls are more likely than teen boys to IM/email with friends, do research or homework, and exchange photos with friends and family. Teen boys prefer online games, sports information, and short cartoons or video clips.
- 81% of teens and parents talk about online safety.
- 84% of teens listen to online music, and 22% do so every time they go online.
- Arguments in milestone P2P case heard
A US federal court heard arguments this week on who's to blame for piracy on file-sharing networks - the users or the services? The court's decision could take months, but it will be an important one as file-sharers, copyright lawyers, civil liberties groups, and media companies continue to tear their hair out over this issue. Specifically, this case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is about "whether distributors of online file-sharing software [in this case Grokster and Streamcast Networks] should be held responsible for copyright infringement just because some people use the programs to swap copyright music and movies," the Associated Press reports. The precedent being considered is "the 1980s battle over Sony's Betamax video recorder, which was found to have legitimate uses that did not violate movie and television copyrights." Two other interesting developments this week: 1) One of the defendants in the above case, Streamcast, has just released "a significantly more powerful version of Morpheus" that will allow its users to connect directly with users of other file-sharing networks, such as Kazaa, iMesh, and Grokster, Reuters reports, and 2) Kazaa's offices in Sydney were raided today by music industry investigators, CNET reports.
Meanwhile, in an exhaustive piece, The Register lays out one Harvard professor's "win-win" solution for everybody, artists, consumers, media companies. Here's the actual "work in progress" from Prof. Terry Fisher. Another, less sweeping, idea being floated is to pay file-sharers for sharing protected tunes, Reuters reports.
- U. of Rochester gets Napster
The upstate New York school joins Penn State as the second university to provide students free tunes via a deal with Napster (the new, pay-per-tune version owned by Roxio). "At present, the school will subsidize the monthly Napster service fee [for its 3,700 students living in dorm rooms], but it warned that students may ell end up shelling out for the program at some point in the future," The Register reports. It also points out that both universities, "billing themselves as pioneers in the legal online music scene," have close ties with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
- Porn on kids' cell phones
Police in Ireland recently were investigating "how a pornographic image of a schoolgirl came to be circulated amongst hundreds of secondary school children with camera phones," Total Telecom reports. Mobile phone companies are struggling over what to do with adult content on picture phones, but what's really confusing matters is that it's circulated as much by users as by porn purveyors. The picture that appeared on Irish kids' phones was found to have come from an individual. The phone companies "fear that if they do not quickly find a workable way to handle adult content the Government will impose its own regulations," the BBC reports, so they're scrambling for solutions. The good news is, phone companies are a lot more motivated to find answers than the Internet industry was, points out University of Lancashire Prof. Rachel O'Connell in the BBC article. (Our thanks to QuickLinks for pointing this issue out.)
- UK teen hacker spotlights US vulnerability
He also avoided jail. Eighteen-year-old University of Exeter student Joseph James McElroy was sentence to 200 hours of community service for hacking into "US Department of Energy computers responsible for US energy supplies and for the integrity and safety of US nuclear weapons," ZDNet UK reports. He was found guilty of modifying computer data and impairing computer performance. What he actually did, in June 2002, was access 17 computers at the Chicago-based Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago to use spare storage space and broadband Net access for pirated movies, software, and games for him and his friends to use. He had also password-protected this space on these computers, which "contained both classified and non-classified atomic weapons and research data." Here's wire-service coverage at the Sydney Morning Herald.
- Charter virtual schools
The state of Wisconsin now has about 1,000 public-school students who learn by computer at home, the Associated Press reports. "The state's open enrollment program allows students to register for schools out of their districts, and about $5,000 in state funding follows each of them to the new district." The Wisconsin Virtual Academy, with 420 K-7 students, is one of the schools that can get that $5,000 per student. But of course there's some controversy: "The state's largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, claims parents are really taking the place of teachers - a violation of state law that requires all public school teachers to have a valid teaching license," according to the AP.
- Pepsi: Mixed signals to kids
The cola giant's Super Bowl ad featuring teens who'd been sued by the RIAA for illegal file-sharing sent the message that "downloading in any form is cool," according to the Washington Post. "Don't count me as a fan of the RIAA's legal tactics, but is it appropriate to exploit a teen who admitted breaking the law?" The article cites a range of critics' views. This piece in The Register gives of feel for the controversy the ad kicked up.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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