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October 6, 2006
Here's our line-up for this first week of October:
- Readers write: Parenting social networkers
- Web News Briefs: Who's social networking?; Explicit h.s. gossip; AOL's free ride; Malware on MySpace; 'Defriending'; Social sites for teens; Anti-gambling law; Student free speech; School fight videos; Election & the social Web; Home PCs targeted; Wal-Mart, Army & SN; Games in school....
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Readers write: Parenting social networkers
Subscribers in three states have recently sent in their thoughts about ways to think about working with kids who socialize online.
- Judith in Pennsylvania
"As a parent of a teen, I strive to be up-to-speed on what's going on online. I am also an employee of an organization that has an initiative area focused on 'Internet Safety,' which helps me stay on top of what's happening.
"My daughter, age 17, had no qualms in setting me up with an account on MySpace and completing the steps to send out requests to add me to her MySpace friends list. All her friends, my daughter, niece, and granddaughter all have me on their friends lists, and I'm not only included in mailings, but am afforded the opportunity to view what they are posting and writing. I agree that some of the stuff on MySpace is a bit offensive to us adults, but for the most part all is okay. I use my being on there as a forum to educate my daughter and her friends, whenever possible, about safety on the internet.
"I think the approach that we as parents need to take, in regards to the internet and MySpace and all the other websites available for our children, is to acknowledge that they are not going to go away, that they will be a tool used in our children's communication, and that use of these websites can be a positive experience if our children are educated to make safe, informed decisions on how to use the internet. If parents approach their children's use of the internet as a means of communication with an open mind and as an informed parent, and have open discussions with their children on the safety factors needed in using the internet, I do believe that the internet can be a safer place. Thanx again for your newsletters!"
- Melissa in New Mexico
"I agree with the concept that children need to have supervised privileges online. I oversee a prevention program and the issue we see in our community is that children lack communication with their parents for various reasons and therefore even if they are told they need to have supervised privileges online they find ways around this. For example, many youth explain that their parents monitor their usage, and therefore they go to a friends home or elsewhere and create their own accounts. Thus they feel that by sneaking a new account they are able to maintain their online contacts freely."
- Stacey in Wisconsin
A parent and coordinator of WASSUP (Waukesha Alliance Supporting Strong United Parenting), Stacey emailed me about the home-school connection where student social networking's concerned:
"Concerned school administrators, who find out about alcohol or drug use, sexual activity, gang or criminal activity, or other unsavory acts, will sometimes contact parents to let them know. They will meet with parents, and occasionally parents are very grateful for being notified. But other times, parents are madder than hornets! They tell administrators that they should 'mind their own business' and 'stay out of my kid's MySpace,' claiming that is their personal business!
"Sorry, but that is public domain! Any other student, teacher, administrator, parent, neighbor, police officer, sex offender, pervert, or criminal could look at what is going on in their precious baby's MySpace, Xanga, LiveJournal, cPixel, photosite, photobucket, communitywebshots or other sites they have floating around out there!
"If someone alerts a parent to this, I would hope they would be extremely grateful for the opportunity to help and/or get help for their children, before things get even more out of control. Unfortunately, some would just let their kids know they need to be more sneaky about it. For some, it is easier to cover up, to be their child's 'friend' than to be their parent, and really deal with the tough, uncomfortable issues. Sometimes, parents can be their children's own worst enemies."
Readers, your comments and stories about parenting online socializers are always welcome - email them me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * * *Web News Briefs
- Who's social networking?
If anyone thought social networkers were mostly teenagers, there are fresh numbers to clear that misconception up. Web traffic measurer comScore MediaMetrix looked at the top four social sites' traffic in August and found that MySpace and Friendster "skew older," and Xanga has the youngest users. ComScore led with the finding that more than half of MySpace users are now 35+, and I was interested to see that Facebook has just about as many users in the 35-54 age group as in the college age group (28-24) - 33.5% and 34%, respectively. As for the youngest users, 12-to-17-year-olds made up 11.9% of MySpace's traffic, 14% of Facebook's, just 10.6% of Friendster's (whose minimum age is 16), and 20.3% of Xanga's. "MySpace.com has the broadest appeal across age ranges," says comScore, with 40.6% of its users 35-54 and 11% 55+.
- Explicit high school gossip, threats
As of this writing, police in the Athens, Georgia, area were searching for the person who anonymously posted on a MySpace profile sexually explicit gossip about dozens of high school students. "The site, which was up on MySpace between Sept. 1 and 9, was a 21st-century version of a bathroom wall," the Athens Banner-Herald reports. "The writer - who claimed to be female in an online profile - posted a long list of relationships and supposed sexual encounters of dozens of students. The list was prefaced with a diatribe against rumor-spreading, and the writer claimed she was cataloging everything she had heard and not inventing new rumors." The Associated Press this week reported that "since gossip isn't a crime, the sheriff's report lists the offense as distributing obscene materials to minors." The police got the profile owner's email address from MySpace, but it was an anonymous Yahoo address with no name associated with it. They told the AP they plan to "subpoena BellSouth, the Internet service provider used to create the email address, to try to determine who paid for the Internet service." In a separate case and another Georgia high school, a freshman boy posted his MySpace page a "hit list" of people he wanted to harm, the Athens Banner-Herald reported. The 15-year-old boy "was charged early Thursday morning with making terroristic threats" and taken into custody.
- AOL's free 'ride' & parental controls
Actually, it's called OpenRide, but it's free, and it combines AOL's most popular features into one piece of software. Optimal for broadband Net users, it can also be used on dialup connections, OpenRide "provides access to email, instant messaging, Web browsing, online search and a digital entertainment media center in one application. The latter service lets users watch video, listen to music and view photos," InformationWeek reports. Each service has its own pane on a "four-pane screen that lets people, for example, check email while watching a video, or send an IM while listening to music." Longtime AOL users who've gone high-speed will probably like its familiarity, the Associated Press review suggests, but reviewer Anick Jesdanun wasn't that impressed as a non-AOL person. He doesn't mention the one feature that would probably add parents to the list of those who really like it: AOL's well-known and well-liked Parental Controls. Information Week reports on those separately. Here's AOL's page about them.
- Malware on MySpace...
...and other social-networking sites. It's a growing problem, and of course the more traffic a site gets, the more attractive it is to the creators of deceptive bulletins and "poisonous banner ads," as PC World puts it. ArsTechnica cites a just-released study finding that "83% of adults on social networking sites ... admit to downloading unknown files from user profiles, despite not being sure about their contents." The PC World report leads with the experience of MySpace user Robyn who got a bulletin from a friend inviting her to check out some new photos. "She new the friend in real life, so she went ahead and clicked the link." It took her to what looked like a site that downloaded spyware to her computer, and it turned out that the bulletin was from the infected computer of that friend. It had been hijacked to send out bulletins. So, just as I've been saying for a long time to tell your kids to be very careful about what they click on in IMs, the same goes for social sites. Another thing to be alert about is boxes that pop up saying "you have to sign in to do that," when people are already signed in. That's usually a hack that steals people's user names and passwords. PC World says that one in every 600 pages on the social networking sites "hosts some form of malware" (spyware, Trojan software code, etc.). PC World goes on to tell social networkers how to defend themselves and their computers from "money-minded malware authors."
- 'Defriending': Tricky
It's a lot easier to friend than to defriend, young people are finding out (see this item for the friending part). A lot of people are nervously making it up as they go along because, as a 27-year-old social networker told the Boston Globe, online society really hasn't developed social norms yet for adding people to, positioning them on, and deleting them from friends lists, and the social sites aren't offering etiquette advice. Friendster.com, one of the oldest social sites, is sometimes also called "Acquaintancer" and "Dumpster" by users, the Globe reports. One user has 126 people on her friends list and doesn't entirely know if she knows them all. "Her Friendster account is part of a group called 'Somerville'," according to the Globe, "meaning that anyone in that group profile is connected to her as a 'friend' and has access to her page. [She] - who uses Friendster to keep track of former roommates, neighbors, and childhood friends who are no longer in her daily life - is thinking of sending a news bulletin on Friendster to let her contacts know she's going to clean up her friends list and explain why."
- Social sites for teens, others
A nice service for students and parents: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's "Whatever Staff" of teens reviewed seven teen-targeting social sites: Bebo, Sconex, StudyBreakers, Tagged, Yfly, YouBlab, and YouthNoise. Only one, Tagged, did they consider better than MySpace (with some, the problem, they found, is that they're too small - social sites need critical mass, so it'd be hard to persuade their friends to join them). Admirably, they did single out YouthNoise, "a social network for social change" founded by Save the Children. Here's what they said: "This site is not better than MySpace, but it offers different things than MySpace. We liked that, instead of pictures and comments, this site encourages ideas and discussion." Meanwhile, another batch of press releases about "niche" social networks this week - Thoos.com for outdoor athletes (they mean runners, paragliders, cyclists, hikers, etc.; GayLooking.com for gay social networking and dating; G2Bay.com, "where people help each other make and save money" (out of Mumbai, India); and SportsDigger.com, connecting "sports fans, teams, and athletes.
- New anti-gambling law
It's interesting to note the degree of power US law has on the very international Web - at least on the gambling part of it. "On a Black Monday for the online gambling industry, companies that operate Internet betting sites and payment systems lost billions of dollars in market value after the US government moved to criminalize the processing of online wagers," the International Herald Tribune reports. Over the weekend Congress passed a law "that would make it a crime to use credit cards or online payment systems to make bets over the Internet. The US is "by far" online gambling's biggest market, according to the Herald Trib. And a San Jose Mercury News blog reports that "PartyGaming PLC, the world's biggest online gambling company, saw its stock price drop 60% since the market opened Monday, knocking a tidy $4 billion off its valuation." President Bush is expected to sign the law in a couple of weeks. In light of this, you may be interested in the story in Staysafe.org of a 19-year-old paying his way through college playing online poker. Later in the week a former New Jersey attorney general told an online gambling conference that this laws was "drafted haphazardly and risks driving millions of gamblers underground onto unregulated Web sites," Reuters reports. He said the US's 10 million online gamblers aren't going away because of the law.
- Schools & student free speech
Schools in the Indianapolis area are wrestling with the tough Internet Age question of what to do with student behavior when it's about school but starts at home. They're "trying to punish students for Internet commentary they deem inappropriate ... drawing outrage from teens and free-speech advocates," the Indianapolis Star reports. The Star looks at how individual schools and district are dealing with the issue and, in a sidebar, lists a few schools' current and potential Internet-use policies. Another sidebar highlights a few student-blogging cases around the US. Students in the Washington, D.C., area, recently successfully negotiated with the school to revise slightly its plan "to require students in all grades to submit essays and other assignments to the for-profit service known as Turnitin, which polices papers for plagiarism," the Washington Post reported.
- School fight videos: Good?
They are extremely disturbing to watch, but the fact that parents and school officials can now find and watch them may be a good thing. The question is, are the fights being recorded more (and posted in social-networking and video-sharing sites), or are there more fights? "Videos posted of violent and deliberately staged high school fights have been around for a while. The first surfaced from a school in Orangeville. But [Toronto's] CityNews has since found more - including one from Toronto and another from Barrie," CityNews.ca reports. It quotes one student as saying these deliberate, consensual fights are not "fight clubs" but "competitions."
- The social Web and elections
This isn't exactly kid-tech news, but it's an illustration of how the largely youth-driven social Web can complicate things. There's a lot of campaigning - both positive and negative - on social-networking sites, this US election season, and it, like the teen social scene, can get messy. "Today, campaigns are heavily turning to the hugely popular post-it-yourself Web sites - YouTube, MySpace Video and Google Video - especially to upload damaging clips of political gaffes," the San Jose Mercury News reports, providing a bunch of examples. The Wall Street Journal and IDG News also report on the social-networking platform. MySpace just launched a voter registration drive called "Declare Yourself."
- Home PCs targeted
The war between criminal hackers and computer security firms is increasingly shifting to the home front. Because businesses, schools, and government agencies "now have effective barriers against direct assault by cyberthieves ... the black hats are redoubling their efforts to get inside home computers, where security is often weaker," the San Jose Mercury News reports. In the "old days," when computer viruses were the main threat, a lot of the hacks were created by amateurs, many of them "adolescents and post-adolescents who sought bragging rights from one another through online vandalism." Now cybercrimials are usually professionals, and they're out to make money by taking control of home computers rather than vandalizing them. The Mercury News goes on to explain what they're doing and what family PC owners can do to protect their machines - look for the three bullets at the bottom of the article. I would add a 4th: Share these precautions with your kids! BTW, Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs reports that Microsoft has just warned PC owners of flaws in Internet Explorer, PowerPoint, and the Windows operating system which have been under attack. Brian tells you how to protect your PC at the bottom of his piece.
- Wal-Mart out of SN, Army isn't
It kind of goes to show you can't fool social networkers. Wal-Mart's stab at a social site called "The Hub" has ended. "The site, temporarily launched this summer as a promotion for the start of the school year, aimed to copy Myspace et al by encouraging 'hubsters' to set up their own personalised Web pages," e-Consultancy reports. "Apparently, features such as parental approval and photos like the one [shown on the e-Consultancy page] weren't as appealing as hoped." Maybe it means that if you're advertising, don't clothe your intentions in social-networking disguise. Maybe Wal-Mart should've established a profile at MySpace instead, as the Army and Marines have (see the Asia Times). It'll be interesting to see how military recruiting on the social Web goes. The Army plans to reach parents, too, according to the Asia Times commentary, through AOL, "where it will launch "a social networking site for parents."
- Games in school: UK view
Though the study of 1,000 UK teachers (elementary and secondary) and 2,300 students found "evidence of concern from both teachers and students about the impact of [computer] games on players," 59% of teachers would consider using off-the-shelf games in the classroom and 62% of students liked the idea. According to the BBC, there is still a generation gap between teachers' and students' views of videogames. "More than 70% of the surveyed teachers felt that playing games could lead to anti-social behaviour, while 30% of students believed that playing games could lead to increased violence and aggression." In addition to doing the survey, the authors also spent time with 12 teachers in four schools to see how commercial software could be used in the classroom. The study, sponsored by Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Take Two, and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe was released on the first day of the week-long London Games Festival.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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