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March 23, 2007

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Here's our lineup for this third week of March:

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The social Web's 'Lifeline'

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has 1,434 MySpace friends - and counting (1,417 at the beginning of this week). That means 1,434 MySpace users have a link on their profiles to the Lifeline. This past year, just one of those profiles referred nearly 14,000 people to the national hotline - the page of "Xandria," who has 2,637 MySpace friends and links to nearly two dozen causes from her page (see "Lifeline links" below).

"Our site received more than 128,000 unique visitors from MySpace in the past 12 months," the Lifeline's Christopher Gandin Le told me, referring to the Lifeline's Web site (as opposed to its MySpace page). Even though MySpace donated 36 million Lifeline ad placements this past year, only 13,000 of those 128,000 referrals actually came from the Lifeline's own MySpace profile.

"It's individuals who are exercising the power they have to help their friends and visitors," said Le, who is resource and information manager for the federally funded network with 120 call centers around the country. The support they give callers is free, confidential, and available 24/7, and they receive 1,300 calls a day nationwide (if someone doesn't answer after six rings, the call bounces to the nearest crisis center). But they don't only help people in suicidal crisis. The crisis centers get questions about depression, relationships, loneliness, substance abuse, and how to help friends and loved ones, I learned from Ginny Gohr, director of the Girls and Boys Town National Hotline, which is both local to Nebraska and the backup national hotline in the Lifeline network (its tagline: "Any problem. Any Time.").

Even if the Lifeline were just about suicide, it's definitely a needed presence on the social Web. "More Americans die by suicide each year than by HIV/AIDS and homicide combined. It's the second highest killer of people aged 15-35 [after accidental death]," Chris Le told me. "I wish that more funders and advocates knew how big of an issue this was. I'd love to see mental health and suicide prevention where HIV/AIDS awareness is today [see]. I want to see suicide prevention and mental health awareness sold by the Gap, placed on iPods, supported by Amex."

Parents should also know that MySpace isn't the only social site working with the Lifeline, it's just the biggest (with 160 million+ profiles now) and the first. "The reason why we have a MySpace profile was that, a year ago, we realized it was our top referrer," Le told me. At that time "it was just 10 kids linking to us, putting a banner up on their profiles. We noticed that the number of referrals they sent was higher than those sent by CDC [Centers for Disease Control], SAMSHA [the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration] or any other suicide-prevention service."

The Lifeline "is in talks with Facebook, Bebo,, and, and hopeful," Le said, "that a major project can evolve from these efforts." It's broadening its base of what the prevention community calls "gatekeepers," he explained.

On the social Web, those gatekeepers are both individuals and whole Web sites, or communities, that enable both the reaching out and the support, from the informal kind that comes from friends and interest communities to mental health-care professionals. It's genuinely inspiring to watch the development of a new platform for providing support and saving lives - one that expands the reach of the helpers and crisis centers behind longstanding telephone hotlines.

This and my recent article about online sufferers of eating disorders reminded me of a question on my mind for a long time: how to bring together at-risk online teens and the experts who can help them in all these areas of risk - eating disorders, cutting, domestic violence, rape prevention, substance abuse, sexual orientation, etc. A lightbulb went on as I talked with Chris Le: the Suicide Prevention Lifeline pools all these forms of expertise and support. As best practices emerge for the social-networking industry, they might include a provision for links at the bottom of every page to two sources of emergency support: (for people of all ages who need help) and (for exploited online kids). The toll-free numbers are the Lifeline's 800.273.TALK and the CyberTipline's 800.THE.LOST (or 800.843.5678).

Lifeline links

Here are links to the MySpace profiles that Christopher Le of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline said were among their top referral sources in MySpace, March '06 - March '07:

For a reality check on the social Web's risks for teens, see last week's "Predators vs. cyberbullies."

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Web News Briefs
  1. (Probably final) COPA decision

    The latest set of arguments on the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 were heard by a federal appeals court for a month last fall. The decision of a permanent injunction against the law's enforcement came down today. The Justice Department argued last fall that filtering isn't enough protection for online kids, COPA was needed. Here's a summary of Judge Lowell Reed Jr.'s opinion on filtering in the Progress & Freedom Foundation blog - basically there are lots of options, they're easy to use, easily obtainable, and they've improved a lot since '98. PFF also looks at what Judge Reed says about age verification, which is very relevant to the current public discussion about child protection in social sites (see PFF's thorough study, "Social Networking and Age Verification," 3/07). COPA, which has been called "son of CDA," was blocked almost immediately after it was signed into law. It has been to the Supreme Court twice, only to be handed back to the lower federal court in Philadelphia for further deliberation. "CDA," the Communications Decency Act of 1996, had been rejected on First Amendment grounds by a lower court and then, in 1997, by the Supreme Court. Here's the full text of the court's decision in this case, American Civil Liberties Union, et al. v. Attorney General Roberto R. Gonzales, and here's coverage of today's decision from CBS/AP and a blog post about it from my co-director, Larry Magid.

  2. YouTube competition

    First, BitTorrent (the P2P file-sharing giant that went "legitimate" over a year ago) is teaming up with Joost (which uses P2P tech to stream TV on the Web) to launch a "new Net TV service," MediaPost reports. Then NBC and News Corp. announced they were teaming up to launch a video site this summer, the Wall Street Journal reports. The BitTorrent-Joost deal could make life a little tougher for YouTube, too, because Joost recently announced a deal with Viacom, which is suing YouTube for $1 billion for copyright infringement. Stanford law Prof. Lawrence Lessig clearly explained what's going on with this lawsuit in a New York Times commentary this week, and University of Chicago law Prof. Douglas Lichtman explained in a Los Angeles Times commentary why he joined Viacom's defense team in this landmark case in copyright law. In slightly related news, the EU is considering a law that could mean "criminal sanctions, including prison time for employees," for all kinds of Internet companies, including video-sharing ones, "if their ... services are ever used to carry illegally copied material such as music or film," IDG News Service reports. As for numbers: According to comScore Networks, "nearly 123 million people in the US (70% of the total US Internet audience) viewed 7.2 billion videos online in January," the latest figure available and - with the help of its acquisition, YouTube - Google was the US's No. 1 online video provider. Here are "DVGuru" blogger's reviews of 10 major video-sharing sites.

  3. The social Web's digital divide... between generations. It's the one between self-exposing teens and their worried elders. New York magazine reports that "the future belongs to the uninhibited"? It could well be so, but I definitely agree with writer Emily Nussbaum that we haven't seen a generation gap like this for "perhaps 50 years.... You have to go back to the early years of rock and roll, when ... everything associated with that music and its greasy, shaggy culture felt baffling and divisive." Emily quotes Lakshmi Chaudhry in The Nation as saying that, "when it is more important to be seen than to be talented [and] without any meaningful standard by which to measure our worth, we turn to the public eye for affirmation." Don't miss what she hears from New York University new media Prof. Clay Shirky about what he's learned from his students as he's watched their use of social media evolve, steeped as they are in an environment - so alien to their parents - in which everybody can have a fan base. For example, Emily tells the story of 19-year-old Columbia U. student Xiyin Tang, who "knows there's a scare factor in having such a big online viewership - you could get stalked for real, or your employer could bust you for partying. But her actual experience has been that if someone is watching, it's probably a good thing.... All sorts of opportunities - romantic, professional, creative - seem to Xiyin to be directly linked to her willingness to reveal herself a little." Also don't miss the section under "Change 2" in which 17-year-old Caitlin Oppermann offers her perspective on the "conventional wisdom about the online world, that it's a sketchy bus station packed with pedophiles," and on how self-exposing teens repair damage to their images or reputations.

  4. 'Video Game Decency Act' is back

    It was "was one of a handful of pieces of proposed federal legislation that failed to get traction in Congress last year," CNET reports. Like the Truth in Video Game Rating Act, the VGDA has been reintroduced, the latter by Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan. "The bill aims to criminalize any attempt to obtain a less-restrictive age-related rating on a game by failing to disclose the game's true contents to the Entertainment Software Rating Board," according to CNET.

  5. Web defamation: Students expelled

    Four junior high students were expelled and 20 others suspended for creating imposter profiles about two teachers on Edmonton-based social site Nexopia, the Sherwood Park News reports. Nexopia promptly removed the profiles, according to CNEWS, which added that the four expelled students set up the impersonating profiles, then the students who were later suspended (or one to five days) posted insulting comments on the pages. A school resource officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the students apparently "were incensed that teachers appeared to be invading the youth-oriented site."

  6. Social Web morphing photography

    The social Web is changing photographic portraiture, the New York Times reports. Portraits on Facebook, Flickr, MySpace are very stylized, taken at unusual angles and with creative lighting, an author and digital-media professor told the Times. And the line between photography and videography is blurring. Examples the Times gives: Noah Kalina's popular six-minute video "everyday," composed of 2,356 daily self-portraits. It was the "foremost example [in an exhibition at the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne] of how technology is changing the genre." It has also been seen 5 million+ times on YouTube with its audience growing by 10,000 people a day, the Times reports. Jonathan Keller, a 31-year-old multimedia graphic artist studying at the Cranbrook Academy of Art outside Detroit, turned eight years of daily self-portraits into a video titled "Living My Life Faster" and posted it to his Web site.

  7. Pinpointing IM users

    You may've heard of social mapping on cellphones (pinpointing friends' physical location with GPS technology - see "Mobile socializing"). Now there's social mapping in IM. AOL's AIM instant messenger "adds a new group of AIM's buddy list windows called 'Near Me'," the Associated Press reports. This isn't GPS (global positioning system). Near Me "tracks locations by using the continuous wireless pulses emitted at Wi-Fi hot spots and by Wi-Fi home networks instead of satellite-based positioning. It's a free download, so AIM users at your house could already have it - something parents might want to check. "The application also can display a buddy's location on a map. For now, these capabilities will be available when using AIM on a computer, but not on a cellphone," the AP adds.

  8. Club Penguin's cheats

    If you have a videogamer or two at your house, you've heard of "cheats." Sources of cheats to gain an advantage or pass some levels are all over the Web (see Wikipedia). Well, now there are even cheats for the ClubPenguin set (8-to-14-year-olds), reports. "By downloading illicit software easily found with a simple Google search, kids are now using tricks to get gold coins instead of earning them fairly. Tips on how to steal and swindle coins can be found on blogs, message boards, and through YouTube video clips." Here's CommonSenseMedia's review, and here's earlier NFN coverage, "Social-networking training wheels."

  9. Filipinos' Friendster

    If anyone doubted how international social networking is, they need only look at how's doing in the Philippines. It dominates Internet use in that Southeast Asian country. According to the Manila Times, San Francisco-based Friendster, the No. 1 social site there, accounts for 87% of Philippine Internet traffic and has 7 million Filipino members, its largest population among 40 million members in 75 countries. Malaysia, Indonesia, the US, and Singapore are Nos. 2-5, respectively, in Friendster's Top 5 countries. The site's explanation for its popularity in the Philippines is that in its early days, Filipinos in San Francisco used the site to stay in touch with friends and relatives back home. There are plenty of young bloggers in the Philippines too - note that the country's top teen magazine, Candy, is holding the 2007 Teen Blog Awards, PEP the Philippine Entertainment Portal, reports.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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