Oh, Canada

According to WebProNews, a study conducted by Microsoft Canada revealed that teens are relatively trusting of online friends. Study highlights include:

  • 70% of surveyed teens believed that the information they put online and sent to friends would be private.
    • Of this 70%, 37% of females and 22% of males had emailed a picture of themselves to somebody else on the internet.
  • 25 per cent of children would feel safe getting together with a person they have only met online and talked to for “a long time” online.

Of course, Canada and the US are not the same, so maybe we can’t draw similar conclusions about American youth. But the questions asked were interesting, and show that adults may not be truly understanding the complexity of the issue of teen social networking. Teens know not to talk to strangers. And for the most part kids don’t pay attention to sudden solicitations and probably can smell trouble in cyberspace (note: this study also revealed that 96 per cent of parents have spoken with their children about dangers to be aware of online). But what we may not be grasping is the fact that teens can run into problems by running with the “wrong crowd” online — just like they do in the physical world.

Normally, I shy away from fear based posts — there are more than enough of those. However, I think this is simply a case of believing that parents should try to get a handle on who their children are spending time with. Most parents want to know if their kid is hanging out with someone who is “trouble.” As researchers, we know that peer behavior is a strong predictor of and influence on a youth’s behavior. So know who your kid is hanging with online the same way you would want to know who is hosting the party and who is going to be there. Because although your child’s new online friend is probably not one of those predators from Dateline, he or she could be a bully, heartbreaker or manipulator. Are those the type of friends you want your child meeting or sending pictures to?

Center for Democracy and Technology says "Just Say No"

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) released its legislative recommendations. Although they support additional funds for parental controls and internet filtering, they do NOT support the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which would expand the censoring due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (which pertains to mostly schools and libraries) to include social networks. In other words, DOPA would result in people not being able to access their MySpace, Facebook, and BeBo accounts at their local school or library. They also may not be able to access Amazon, as there are ways to connect to people through sites such as those as well. “Social networking” has not been defined by the authors of DOPA yet.

CDT joins the American Library Association in its official stance against this bill which many believe is more about censorship than truly protecting youth. The CDT also opposes mandatory labeling that would require Web sites to label some content as “sexually explicit,” if the bill did pass.

Should I stay or should I go?

A new column in TechNewsWorld states that MySpace is here to stay because it has critical mass of people and therefore will not lose popularity, as people do not want to but forth the effort to rebuild their profiles and network of friends if they migrate to a new social networking site.

However, others have argued (danah boyd amongst them) almost the exact opposite: that teens don’t really mind starting over and don’t have much stake in their online identities should they disappear or migrate. Take, for example, the former popularity of Friendster which is now a mere shadow of itself.

Using this POV, it would follow that teens WILL pick up and leave MySpace and it’s new and impending rules and restrictions to go somewhere else less regulated and moderated. And when that new space is dominated by adults, the young will pick up and move again. And again.

A never-ending cycle of regulation futility.

New Jersey to expand sex offender registration requirements too

This in from a local New Jersey rag: bills are being drafted to require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, cyber identities and computer passwords in addition to their physical location. Both Republican and Democrat representatives are quoted, giving bipartisan support to the legislation.

Expect more states to go down this path and eventually have the Feds expand Megan’s Law, making this standard procedure across the nation within the year.

Hypocrisy at its Finest

The news has declared MySpace as a breeding ground for sexual predators. It depicts the social networking site as a place of danger, where teens need to beware of strangers. These news stories often offer information to parents and teens on how to stay safe online. Tips include not providing any identifying information such as your real name or school, IM screen name, or even hometown.

Meanwhile, the public bemoans the fact that our youth are hyper-sexualized and that the popular media is encouraging our youth to be too sexual too soon. They decry that the images of young girls on network TV and the music scene send the wrong message to our youth about what it means to be a mature woman.

So, how does the NBC news cover a story about a group of high school cheerleaders in Dallas, TX who are accused of being bullies and a living example of the movie Mean Girls? By using a slide show of some of their MySpace photos. And what is the opening picture? See for yourself.

Nothing like getting the attention of your viewers by showing the back ends of three young girls in short skirts.

Responsible news coverage at its finest.

Danger for Girls or a Safe Place for Boys?

A new report by Pew Internet and American Life shows that 15-17 year-old boys are twice as likely to use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to flirt than are girls the same age. They are also more likely to say they use these sites to make new friends in addition to maintaining existing friendships.

Though we can’t know for sure why this is the case, a few theories come to mind. One is that girls are more likely to be on guard and wary of meeting friends (or more) online — unfortunately, girls simply have more to be afraid of, since they are more likely than boys to be the victims of sexual violence. Thus, girls are not going to reach out into cyberspace to meet boys. They’ve been taught to be careful.

Another possibility for this finding is a bit more optimistic. Perhaps boys are more likely to reach out to girls online because it is safer for them to express themselves there. In the face-to-face environment, boys are socialized to be tough — the strong and silent type. However, this macho front does not really allow a boy to take a chance on reaching out to a girl he likes or even wants to get to know better. The possibility of rejection and ridicule is simply too much for the fragile ego underneath the bravado.

Enter the cyberworld. Here is a place where boys can perhaps open up a bit more, using the computer monitor for protection against rejection. Boys can practice opening up, expressing themselves, and making themselves vulnerable with someone they are attracted to. I don’t think that it is a good idea for boys to stay within the safer boundaries of cyberspace, but starting there might be a good idea.