Want to buy a few million people?

Facebook is on the market. BusinessWeek Online reports that the owners of the privately held company have turned down a $750 million offer and hope to sell for as much as $2 billion. You may think of Facebook as a mere shadow of MySpace (at least in terms of media attention) but it is a powerhouse of its own. According to comScore Media Metrix, it is the 7th most trafficked site in all the internet. MySpace remains the second most visited website, sandwiched between Yahoo and Google. Last year it was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire last year for “only” $580 million. How much a year changes things.

So despite the bad press, social networking sites remain popular and apparently expensive. Given that big business does not seem to be concerned over the bad publicity of these sites as breeding grounds for predators, it doesn’t look as though they are going to fade into the woodwork anytime soon. All the more reason to talk about them in a healthly, constructive environment to really understand the benefits as well as the dangers they bring.

At least there’s the EU

For the next four days, I will be taking in the sights and sounds of the biennial conference of the Society for Research on Adolescence. This morning was great because I went to a whole special interest group session on adolescent romantic relationships (when you are among researchers and academics, you think about “adolescent phenomena”, not “teen issues” or “stuff”). I heard from those whose work I have followed and admired for years. I listened to the new wave of thinking in which researchers have started to look at the healthy aspects of adolescent sexuality and sexual expression (note: it was acknowledged that this sort of research is essentially not fundable in today’s political climate).

But no one there mentioned the internet as a factor in conceptualizing adolescent sexual, intimate, or romantic relationships.

OK, I said, I still have several sessions to go. I took a look at the program. The terms “internet” and “online” were not in the index. Some computer-related studies were found under “technology” but none addressed socialization. Finally, after scouring the pages of this program, I found THREE papers related to teens, sex, and the internet. OK, I really only found ONE, as the other two were simply related to teen internet usage and family structure and the relationship between internet use and self-injurious behavior. The one study that actually examined teens using the internet for sexual expression was conducted by researchers in the Czech Republic. The study on teen internet usage and family came from Berlin.

Why is America so behind the times?

Online Dating

Hot off the press! (OK, it was released March 5, but close enough, right?). Pew Internet and American Life release a report on online dating:

Although this study polled adults, it’s got some interesting tidbits on the online world’s perception about meeting people online. What it points out is a bit of paradoxical thinking.
About a third of respondents know someone who has used online dating — only 10% have copped to it themselves.
Two thirds say that internet dating is dangerous.
Half agree that a lot of people lie about their marital status online
Most (61%) say that the internet is not a “last resort” way to find romance

Or maybe this isn’t so much paradoxical as it is an example of how the public isn’t really sure what to think of all of this. They know people who use the service, but they think it is dangerous and a place of deceit — yet it’s not a “desperate” way to find love, just an alternative way.

Not surprisingly, younger people are more likely to use online dating than older people by about two-fold (10% vs almost 20%). So, the idea of making first contact onlne is becoming more common and seems to be more accepted among younger adults (under 30).

What was surprising to me was this stat: 45% of “single and looking” online users think internet dating is easier than looking IRL, but 45% don’t think it is any easier. I would love to know why. Is it because people thought it would be a piece of cake and realized it takes effort? Did people not really think about what it would be like to be attracted to someone in the cyberworld and then potentially make the leap into the world of the physical?

I know a lot of people who have tried the online dating scene. I did so myself, and dated someone I first met online for about a year. But I have also known friends who have horror stories. Not the kind that make the papers, but I know about times when dates show up hammered and beligerent, dates who don’t know when the evening is not going well and will not leave. But I am not sure how these situations are unique to online dating. My hunch is that they are not and that, unfortunately, these things happen on dates in general.

I hope I don’t sound like a Johnny One-Note, but to me a lot of this comes back to fear of the unknown. We don’t get internet dating, don’t understand the cyber-social world, so it becomes a bad and scary place.

I just wish some of these studies would actually compare online to IRL instead of giving us numbers in a vaccuum.

Jokes for the times

I had to post this simply because it’s about sex, the internet, and children. It also represents how some parents need speak in euphamisms when talking about sex with their children. I do like the fact that the boy goes to his dad, though. IRL, moms are the ones that usually get stuck giving “the talk.”

Where Micros Come From

A little boy goes to his father and asks “Daddy, how was I born?”

The father answers: “Well, son, I guess one day you will need to find out anyway!

Your Mom and I first got together in a chat room on Yahoo.

Then I set up a date via e-mail with your Mom and we met at a cyber-cafe.

We sneaked into a secluded room, where your mother agreed to do a download from my hard drive.

As soon as I was ready to upload, we discovered that neither one of us had used a firewall, and since it was too late to hit the delete button…..

Nine months later a blessed little Pop-Up appeared and said:

“You’ve Got Male!”

Dealing with "Generation Rx.com"

In 2001, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report called “Generation Rx.com: How Young People Use the Internet for Health Information.” Though the report is a bit out of date (one might call it ancient using the WWW calendar), but it’s the best information we have about teens and their online health information seeking habits.

Back then, 75% of online youth looked up health information (compare that to 80% who got information about TV, music, or movies and 72% of youth who downloaded music). About 1/4 of 15-24 year-olds got “a lot” of information about health on the internet. One can assume that these numbers are increasing as the Internet becomes a more common source of all sorts of information.

Lots of adults look up health information online too. In fact, the percentage of online adults looking up health information is about the same as the percentage of online youth — 75-80% depending on the source.

What IS different is the percentage of health information seekers who look up sexual health information. In the adult world, the percentage is about 10%; for youth, it vaults to 44%.

This vast difference in the health concerns of younger vs. older people may not be a surprise, but it is not without its implications. Searching for information on health can be a tricky business. Youth need to be savvy internet searchers, able to come up with “safe” search terms that do not result in links that, while sexual, may not contain the information they seek. In my experience, learning how to search online has been a trial-and-error ordeal. We should make sure people actually learn how to look up information online. The basics are easy to learn; to become a master at finding exactly what you are looking for takes skill and instruction.

Even if someone manages to find an “answer” to their question about sex, the information is not necessarily accurate. Inaccurate information on the internet abounds. Inaccurate information about sexual health is everywhere. Put the two together and odds are it is likely that the sexual health information someone finds on the web may not be quality information. Again, we need to educate our youth — and everyone — how to identify quality health information.

Problem is, there is no set definition of what quality health information is. There are several organizations that provide guidelines or lists to help an online health information seeker determine the quality of the information they read.

For some of the courses I teach, I have come up with a very basic model to assess quality health information. I call it the ABCs Model of Quality. To judge the quality of online health information, ask yourself about

A: the Author. Who wrote the information you are reading? Is the author even identified? See whether a doctor, journalist, or layman is behind those words.
B: the Business model. How is the site being funded? By a drug company? A church? The government? Funding sources bias content.
C: Whether the information Current? What is the date on the article? When was the site last updated? Information changes quickly. Get the latest facts related to your question.
S: The Sources that are quoted in the article you are reading. Do they come from reputable journals, the wisdom of someone’s grandfather or the Bible?

I am not going to say which sources are the best. Different people will have different opinions there. The trick is to be aware of the “who” behind the information you read. That way you can think about their biases, motivations, and likely sources. Then you can judge for yourself whether you want to believe what you read.

It would be nice if we taught our youth how to be critical internet consumers. Their health may depend on it.

MySpace in trouble — but will the charges hold?

We all know about the news that speaks of the evils of MySpace, the dangers that lurk in that mysterious world. Slowly, cases are cropping up in which people are blaming MySpace for illicit encounters involving minors. MySpace has become a scapegoat for all the horrible things done to teens. While I understand the concerns and appreciate that people are looking for someone (or something) to blame when their children are sexually violated, I am very interested to see what level of liability will be attributed to MySpace in the courts.

If MySpace is found guilty of aiding in sexual abuse of a minor, where does the slippery slope end? Will a mall be held responsible if a child is abducted there? Will parents of a house party be blamed if a 15 year-old hooks up with a 19-year old during a party? When is the location to blame for the incident? When do we start blaming the car manufacturers for making a vehicle used in an abduction?

There are already some parallels in the legal world about who to blame when something bad happens. You can sue the bar that served a drunk person who was later involved in an accident while DUI. You can sue a school for creating a hostile environment in a sexual abuse case as long as you can prove the school knew about the incidents and did nothing. So, one could argue that MySpace is liable, as they are now aware of the environment they are creating (people who work at MySpace read the news too, unless they are managed by GW), and are not preventing “bad people” from interacting with minors.

But for now, there is only speculation. Court decisions will begin to define web sites as communities, physical spaces, or whatever when considering legal responsibilities. All we can do is wait to see how the law defines a virtual space when the only laws they have apply to the physical.