So Much for Truth in Advertising…

Based on a lawsuit brought on my an anti-abortion Christian group, Google is now allowing religious organizations to use the keyword “abortion” in their ads, according to the New York Times. This means that the sponsored links of these groups will be called up much like those from secular groups, doctors offering abortions and resource sites like Our Bodies, Ourselves. According to the article, Google will only allow “ads linked to abortion from religious groups as long as they were determined to be factual, and not graphic or emotional ads.” Hmmm. When was the last time I saw a factual anti-choice web site? Like, never. That’s when.

Rulings like these make it more important to teach media literacy to all people — young and old. Everyone needs to know how to assess a web site for quality information, and be wary of all sites that come up in the sponsored links, but not very high up in a regular search. This needs to be taught in the schools as soon as kids start to surf the net all the way through college. This resource is a great one for young people. Created in the UK, it takes a person through a series of questions designed to determine whether a web site’s information is reliable and accurate. If we all took the time to think about the information we are reading, and the biases behind it, I wouldn’t be so concerned about this latest news article.

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More on online safety

One of my high school graduation gifts was a brand new computer. I didn’t have to share it with anyone, and I could download as much music as I wanted to – without using all Dad’s memory. However, with that new computer came new responsibilities; keeping myself safe while online (and not filling the hard drive with music before I even moved away to college). My parents were pretty oblivious to the dangers of being online, and were quite surprised when they realized that I could easily spend a few hours chatting (using ICQ … that dates me) with people I had never met in person.

Do you know a graduate who got a laptop? Do you know how to help them be safe online? Here are some tips for keeping both youth and adults safe while using the internet:
• Get a free email account; Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo all have easily created emails
• Select a gender-neutral username and email; anything overly feminine or sexual may attract unwanted attention
• If you’re using an IM client (Gmail, Yahoo, AIM), block or ignore unwanted users who may be talking to you
• Don’t let others draw you into online conflict; ignoring harassment, rather than defending yourself may not seem like the best thing to do, but by responding, you’re letting that harasser know that they’ve touched a nerve.
• Only “say” online what you would actually say to someone’s face; words travel quickly and you need to be able to stand behind your words.
• Don’t share personal information: your full name, your address, your phone number, any credit card information or even identifying details about yourself. I know this is hard (I even have a hard time doing it here), but it’s worth it in the end!
• When opening emails, use caution – attachments can be dangerous – only open them from those you know.
• Remember that if you’re uncomfortable in a chat room (forum/message board/etc), you can leave.
• A specific tip for parents: watch what your children are doing. If they’re home alone a lot, and you’re worried about their internet use, you can password protect things to prevent their over-surfing. Watch the history with regards to their internet use, and remind them that you’re checking in on them.

The internet doesn’t have to be a scary place; it can be made incredibly safe, if you’re willing to put forth the effort!

On a completely different note: Happy National Ice Tea Month, Turkey Lover’s Months, Fresh Fruit & Vegetables Month, Papaya Month, Dairy Month all along with Internet Safety Month!

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Public vs. Private

NPR’s All Things Considered discussed teen’s use of the internet (social networking in particular) and their feelings on privacy. The new stats: 93% of 12-17 year-olds are online and most log on every day. More numbers to remind us this is the new way of doing things.

Mary Madden, a Senior Researcher at Pew Internet and American Life, was the expert and introduced me to a new phrase: “self literacy.” Though I am not sure if it is that much different that “self-awareness” in the age of technology, I think it captures an essential aspect of online activity. That we all need to be aware of what information people can find out about us by simply surfing the ‘net. She states that although most teens are “savvy about their privacy,” by restricting access to their information to their friends only, sometimes a person’s friend list can number in the hundreds which is not so “private” after all. She suggests that everyone Google their name in order to find out what others can learn about you.

The part that struck me most was that parents and their kids could do this together. Each could Google their name and see what comes up. That was a little creepy to me. That whole realization that this concept has been around long enough that parents and their teens can air their dirty laundry to each other in front of a screen. All this, Madden states, is going to force us into a culture that has to be more forgiving of our “personal leftover data gone bad.”

No more hemming and hawing when your kid asks you if you inhaled…

Ego Surfing: Guilty as Charged

Another new report from Pew Internet and American Life finds that almost half of Internet users (47%) have searched for information about themselves online. I’ve done it. It’s sort of interesting, actually. For example, did you know that I hold the Colorado high school record for longest field goal? OK, I guess someone else must share the same name as I, but it’s cool to think of the possibility…

Funny thing is, most online adults (61%) don’t really do much to limit the amount of information about them online. Is this one of those cases when we tell our youth “do as I say, not as I do?”

99% Pure

According to a study commssioned by the US government, about 1% of sites indexed by Google are sexually explicit. They also found that the strictist Internet filters block 91% of this content while the more lenient ones (that also allow for educational material related to sex to be searched) block about 40%.

The study also debunked the notion that porn or other sex related material is the most commonly searched topics: their study found that less than two percent of searches pertained to sexually related content.

So, are we making a lot of fuss over nothing? Maybe, maybe not. No matter what, parents are going to be concerned about the content that their children encounter. And the 2005 report by Crimes Against Children found that one-third of youth online saw sexual material they did not want to see, compared to one-fourth in 2000.

But how many youth are seeing sexual material that they wanted to see? Or how much of the unwanted sexual material was seen because they were trying to look up information related to sex and simply used the “wrong” words in their queries? We will never know unless we ask.

I am glad that researchers are asking about youth exposure to sexual content. It’s also great that they are asking about relationships formed online, and experiences of sexual solicitation. However, we need to know more about purposeful searching for sexual information. Not just sexual health information — we do know a little bit about teens’ searching habits when it comes to looking for information about STDs and pregnancy — but information about sex, what it is, and what is it like. Without healthy role models and examples of the actual experience of sex, youth will seek out the information and we have no idea what the results and the effects of those results are.

There is no easy solution here. I don’t know how we are going to solve the problem of children asking questions and having easy access to all sort of inaccurate answers. But until we start to grasp the extent of the issue, we can’t even begin to ask the right questions that will lead us to sensible solutions.