Cornfed Citizen Safety

i work on the webImage by glsims99 via FlickrDr. Kris pointed me in the direction of Net Safe Kansas, a new website based in Kansas looking to protect their state’s Internet users. Maybe it’s a Kansas thing, but apparently Internet users there are ridiculously uneducated and can’t do research for themselves. On top of that, the website creators believe that their oh-so-exiting website will draw children in to read all of their rules. I was bored … what 12-year-old is going to stick around to read these things? (My comments on these “rules” are in italics.)

• Don’t believe everything you read online, especially from someone in a chat room. It’s extremely easy to lie online and predators will tell you anything to gain your trust. For example the “14-year-old girl” you just met online might actually be a 40-year-old man trying to gain your trust. Or the “14-year-old girl” you just met online might actually be a 160-year-old boy from your neighboring high school fulfilling a dare from his friends.

• Choose a random user name or screen name. Make sure it doesn’t reveal your name, age, school, location or interests. For example, the user name “CutieCougar94″ might reveal to a predator that this person is likely female, a student at a school with a Cougar mascot and born in 1994.” Or people of my generation will think that you’re a cute older woman looking for a younger man and that you quite possibly graduated in 1994.

• Don’t respond to messages that are mean or in any way make you feel uncomfortable. It is not your fault if you receive a message like this. Tell your parents right away so they can contact the online service provider. Messages that come to me that make me uncomfortable aren’t always illegal … if it’s not illegal, the online service provider can’t do anything anyway.

• Stick with friends. It’s always safer to chat with friends you know in real life. Strangers online are bad news. I was 22, online talking to strangers and met my best friend. Strangers online aren’t always bad news. You can safely meet some incredible people online.

Then they have a “NetSafe Kids Pledge” that made me laugh … and then I felt kinda bad for laughing at the ridiculousness of it … for about 37 seconds.

NetSafe Kids Pledge

1. I will turn off my computer monitor right away and tell a trusted adult if anything makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. There are TONS of things on the internet that confuse me. If I turned off the monitor every time that happened, I’d never learn anything. (I do understand what they’re getting at, though.)

2. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks me my name, my address, my telephone number, or the name and location of my school. Or I could just tell them no or ignore them or block them.

3. I will never share personal information such as my address, my telephone number, my parents’ or guardian’s work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ or guardian’s permission. Why would a teenager share their parent’s work number with a stranger online?

4. I will tell my parents or guardian if anyone online asks to meet me in person.

5. I will never meet in person with anyone I have first “met” online without checking with my parents or guardian. If my parents or guardian agrees to the meeting, it will be in a public place and my parents or guardian must come along.

6. I will talk with my parents or guardian so that we can set up rules for going online. The rules will include the time of day I may be online, the length of time I may be online, whom I may communicate with while online, and appropriate areas for me to visit while online. I will not break these rules or access other areas without their permission. Seriously? I was a good kid growing up. Straight-A student, top of the class, blah blah blah, and I wouldn’t have set up rules like this with my parents. Do you know any teenager that has?

7. I will tell a trusted adult if I come across anything that makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. I will not download anything from anyone without permission from my parents or guardian. Stay away from Wikipedia.

8. I will not use rude or mean language on the Internet. *bites her tongue so she doesn’t say something inappropriate*

9. I will never respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. If I do get a message like that, I will tell a trusted adult right away so that he or she can contact the online service.

10. I will always remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because I can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent himself or herself. For example, someone indicating that “she” is a “12-year-old-girl” could in reality be an older man. Hello stereotypes.

So, it seems that NetSafe Kansas has a good idea … but it almost feels patronizing to go through their website. I am pretty sure that there are Kansan citizens who KNOW better than the website assumes. Also, the fact that their kids & teens pages are still geared towards adults doesn’t make it any more marketable. The bare bones of it might one day be improved, but spreading more “stereotypical” internet information doesn’t help anyone.

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I told you to clean your room!

Taking risky opportunities in youthful content: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression from New Media & Society (2008 SAGE Publications) has finally “scientifically” addressed my 4-year-old statement; “MySpaces are the virtual dirty bedroom of today’s online teenagers.”

Interviews of 16 teenagers (high school sophomore, juniors & seniors) conducted resulted in clarifications like “I think layouts really show like who you are. So look at the rainbow in that. I think that would make you sound very, like bubbly … I like to have different ones … it’s different likes, different fashion, different feelings on that day.” Like changing outfits, changing MySpace backgrounds shows a sense of who the owner may be; however teenagers are aware that profiles can be “just a front.”

Interviews brought about an interesting discussion regarding the social differences between MySpace and Facebook. The elaborate layouts available on MySpace seem to be geared towards a younger crowd, while the older social networkers are drawn to the clean, white, everyone-has-the-same layout of Facebook. “This isn’t to show off my personality. I’m not trying to say, oh, I love purple or I love hearts … It’s more just like talking to three friends and, seeing as my friends know me, there’s no real need for me to advertise my personality.”

Another interesting point Livingstone brings up is that idea that younger teens use their MySpace pages to create an elaborate identity with hundreds, sometimes even thousands of friends and classmates while older teens are using their pages to make authentic friendships and solid relationships. “Adult onlookers have been puzzled by youthful peer practices,” states Sonia Livingstone (author of the article Dr. Kris sent me), and I’d love to sit down and talk with her, because I’m starting to be puzzled by these “youthful peer practices.” However, this isn’t a new phenomenon.

My Grandpa Lloyd couldn’t (and still doesn’t) understand why my dad had to have “The Long Hair.” (“Girls wear rubber bands in their hair! Why do you want to go out with hair like that?”) My Dad doesn’t get why I added seven extra earring holes to my body. (“If God had meant for you to have a ring in your nose, don’t you think you’d have been born that way?”) I don’t understand how teenagers can share so much information on their hot pink & green, flashing hearts & flowers MySpace page. Call me an old lady, but I’d be happier if teens kept more of their personal information private and cleaned up those dirty bedrooms!

Become the Bimbo you always wanted to be!

There has been quite the stir about a intriguing website; MissBimbo. Geared toward the “tween” set, this site allows users of any age (although the creator states that it is geared towards nine- to 16-year-olds) to create their own “Bimbo.” Remember those Tamagotchi toys that everyone had a few years ago? This site has been likened to a perverted (both literally & figuratively) online version of those toys.

200,000 girls have created their own “Bimbo” they spend about 20 minutes a day playing Sudoku, buying new clothes and even hooking up with fake boys. The site also allows you to “face-off” with other “Bimbos” doing challenges. Doing these things earns you “Bimbo dollars” and “Bimbo Attitude points” which up your status on the website so that you can “stop at nothing to become the reigning bimbo!”

I tried to sign up (who doesn’t want a naked virtual character to babysit, earn money for & dress in “clubbing clothes”?) and was fully registered before receiving an email: “due to unforeseen worldwide interest in Miss Bimbo we have had difficulty in maintaining our game in the manner players have been accustomed.” No publicity is bad publicity? What happens when it shuts down your website? I may keep an eye on this to see if I can eventually join.

Different areas of the game encourage you to do certain actions:
“Accidentally forget to wear underwear – two days of guaranteed publicity!”
Level 7: “After you broke up with your boyfriend you went on an eating binge! Now it’s time to diet … your target weight is less than 132lbs.”
Level 9: “Have a nip & tuck operation for a brand new face. You’ve found work as a plus-sized model. To gain those vivacious curves, you need to weigh more than 154lbs.”
Level 11: “Bigger is better! Have a breast operation.”

These action requests are what cause comments such as those from Dee Dawson, a medical director of Rhodes Farm Clinic in England “This is as lethal as pro-anorexia websites. A lot of children will get caught up with the extremely damaging & appalling messages.” Beat chief executive Susan Ringwood agrees saying that “the website could make girls believe that weight & body size manipulation [are] acceptable.” I grew up playing Pac-Man and have yet to eat a bunch of dots after chasing them around in a dark maze. I also played a game where Bugs Bunny used ether to kill zombies and I’ve never had the urge to knock someone out with the anesthetic.

I really don’t know whether to laugh at the site & the hubbub about it, or to be disturbed by the site & encouraged by the outrage towards it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to virtually “bag [my] billionaire boyfriend” to earn mucho “mula”.

Do you think that a “Himbo” version would ever be released? Why or why not?