Connect With Respect
Connect with Respect
A "Pledge for Good"
In the U.S., A Platform for Good - a project of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) - is recognizing Safer Internet Day by launching a "Pledge for Good." On their site, you have the opportunity to make a simple pledge: "I will use my power for good." The purpose of the pledge is not to change behavior, but to highlight what great things people are already doing with technology. In celebration of Safer Internet Day, I encourage you and your family to join in and take the pledge. Let the world know that online technology is a platform for good. You can also check out their online safety resources in their Resource Center.
I recently attended an online safety conference and met a young man named Wil Craig. Wil was being honored at the conference for his work with ATT's "It Can Wait" campaign.
He has a powerful message to share about the dangers of texting and driving.
Please take a minute to listen.
To learn more about ATT's "It Can Wait" campaign click here: http://itcanwait.com/
"Must be at least 13 years of age." This is typical language often included within the Terms of Service of sites that our children frequent. It indicates the minimum age required to use the site. But, does minimum age actually reflect the appropriate age for usage? The answer to that question is sometimes, not always – it depends. So why do most mainstream sites use 13 as the minimum age? Basically, it's the age in which a minor can create an account without the online site being burdened with legal requirements governing information collection. Thirteen marks a threshold for easy entry.
As I mentioned above, not all sites are appropriate for a young person. It depends heavily on two main factors: mature content allowed on the site and treatment of that mature content (whether allowed or not). As parents, we can't rely solely on the stated age for use. We must review the site for content appropriateness taking into consideration the age and maturity level of our children. Here are some helpful tips:
- Review the Terms of Service to understand what content is allowed on the site. Does it include prohibitions against sexually explicit content? If not, the content will be available and minors will be exposed to it.
- If a site allows mature content, do they have protections in place minimizing the risk of exposure to minors? Protections would include tools such as a safe search filter and/or age gate to prevent access.
- Search the site using explicit terms or the acronym "NSFW," meaning not safe for work. What's being returned? Were you able to easily find a significant amount of mature content even though the site prohibits it? If so, this is a good indication that the site may not take steps to enforce their terms.
- Is there report abuse button for consumers to alert the site of potential violations? Report a violation to test the effectiveness of the tool.
We don't have to actively use the sites that our kids use; however, we need to understand what they are exposed to on these sites. Once our children are exposed to age-inappropriate content, we can't take those images, thoughts or words away.
For more information or to report a website visit www.iwf.org.uk.
Amanda began her story in 7th grade at age 12 when she flashed an unknown man via a webcam chat. She goes on to explain how this one action lead to a series of events that included the unknown man sending the snagged photo to everyone she knew. Amanda recounts the relentless stalking and harassment she faced as she tried to move on. She ended her story by asking for help – in her own words, "I have nobody. I need someone." Amanda ended her life on October 10, 2012 at age 15.
Amanda's story is tragic. It's crucial for kids to understand that growing up online – taking risks and pushing boundaries – could bring unforeseen consequences if someone records and reveals those actions to others. In Amanda's case, she was stalked and exploited; and the online stalker's actions were exacerbated by the bullying behaviors of some of her peers. If Amanda felt as though she had a friend – someone - her story may have ended differently. It's a clear message that we can no longer be bystanders. If we witness bullying, we need to offer help whether we take action ourselves or seek out someone who can.
As Amanda's video spreads, take a moment to talk to your children about her story. Here are some talking points that may help your discussion:
• Friends of friends are actually strangers. Social networking enables you to share large amounts of information which could pose risks when shared with someone you don't really know.
• Be cautious of what you post and share with others. Once you share content - pictures, videos, stories, artwork or any other originally created work - with just one person online, you relinquish control over its potential distribution and use.
• Webcams are a window into your world so be careful of who you let in. Dress and behave as you would when having a friend over. Always remember images can be snagged and shared.
• Remember to have respect for each other - online or offline. It's not okay to say hurtful things to someone just because they can't see you and you can't see them. Every user ID or avatar represents a person so think before you post. Ask yourself how you would feel on the other side.
• Don't be a bystander. If you see someone who is being bullied, take action. And, if you don't feel as though you can intervene directly for fear of retribution or simply not knowing what to do, go seek the help of a trusted adult so that they can step in.
• If you are being bullied:
1) Keep the digital evidence (you may need it if the behavior escalates).
2) Block the bully (privacy preferences typically allow users to block others in chat, e-mail, instant messaging and even on social networks).
3) Tell a trusted adult.
4) Report it to the service provider (most have policies against harassment).
5) Report it to the school if it carries over into that environment.
6) If the bullying escalates to threats of physical harm, report it to law enforcement.
Learn more about bullying at: StopBullying.gov
What Needs to Happen
In order for Facebook to allow kids under the age of 13 on the site, there are several things that need to happen.
To begin with, Facebook must address the COPPA concerns. For those of you who haven't heard of COPPA, it's the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal regulation that requires prior verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information online from children under the age of 13. Facebook needs to obtain parental permission for kids under 13 to create a Facebook account.
It is essential that Facebook fully explores the preteen age range they're targeting and provides an age-appropriate experience for that age range. Not all existing Facebook features are appropriate for a preteen audience regardless of parental consent and oversight, and some may even vary depending on the age of the preteen. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think Facebook is more interested in capturing the 10-12 year old audience as that's the audience most interested in being where their friends are. And, I imagine at this point, Facebook has a pretty good idea of what that age group is now doing, albeit covertly, on their service. This information could be used to help protect them on a legitimate Facebook account.
Hand-in-hand with providing an age-appropriate experience, Facebook must provide parents with the means to monitor and supervise their children. For instance, Facebook could offer a predetermined, baseline experience for kids under 13 and provide parents with the tools to customize the experience making it either more restrictive or less restrictive based on a combination of factors including their children's age, maturity level, family norms as well as time parents are willing to commit to micromanaging the experience.
Facebook needs to embed a strong educational program into the experience focusing on both digital citizenship and online safety. Embedding education into the experience takes it beyond safety tips at the bottom of a page or a link to Facebook's safety site, but rather places teachable moments throughout the experience, especially at the point of interactivity when crucial decisions are being made.
Lastly, Facebook will have to make it easy for kids to report potential problems and, at the same time, should also employ technological solutions to proactively identify problems.
Assuming all the above needs are met, let's look at the benefits.
Facebook is ultimately offering a solution to the growing problem of underage users on their service, either there with or without their parent's consent. We've heard from Facebook that they remove 20,000 underage users daily from their service and these are only the ones they identify. These children are currently in an environment that offers them no protection for their age group – parental, technological, and/or educational. Creating an environment specifically for children will address these issues.
Connecting parents with preteen children on Facebook starts the parental involvement early on in the child's social media life-cycle. It brings the child into an environment that the typical parent of a preteen has used and has knowledge of, ultimately making the parent the expert if only for a brief time. This is a time when children are still willing to listen and learn from their parents, and less likely to push boundaries.
Relying on parents to oversee the social networking experience early on creates a platform for ongoing conversation. It provides valuable insight to the parent as to the child's expectations with respect to online social interactions. It builds an online collaboration between parent and child that can continue on as the child ages.
Gradual graduation to Facebook from the preteen to teens will make for more informed teens who are well aware of digital citizenship and online safety, including managing their reputation.
Additionally, some of the tools designed for the preteen experience could be utilized for parents to keep a closer eye on their younger teens on Facebook; those ranging from 13 to 15 who typically jump in without any guidance at all. Facebook for under 13's will produce teens who have matured in the social media realm with the expectation that parents play a significant role.
If correctly implemented, Facebook could offer kids and parents a shared platform that would afford kids a safer environment to explore, learn and ultimately understand the responsibility that comes along with social media. Think of it as a virtual 'kiddie pool' of sorts.
With this said, I don't think 'Facebook for Kids' is a bad idea. What do you think?
Popular social networking sites tout that 94% of teens are online with 43% percent of their online profiles set to "OPEN;" meaning that anyone can view profile contents. One popular site asserts that they have 400 million active users with that number doubling every six months. Considering these staggering numbers, crime is only limited by the human imagination.
One growing trend involves "SEXTORTION;" a practice of coercing an individual into sending sexually explicit images/videos and then using those images as leverage to compel the originator to send additional images/videos or even engage in sexual conduct. So, how does this happen?
Often, someone (suspect) creates a fake profile or chat posing as someone else who then makes a request to "friend" or otherwise have contact with the individual. The suspect sends a picture or video depicting the fake persona and requests return pictures/videos. Believing that he/she is sending a picture to a known friend, the victim snaps a few revealing images and hits send. The suspect then begins to threaten the victim. The victim is told to send more compromising pictures or the suspect will post the previous images on a porn site. He/she will often send links to the porn site in order to prove that he/she is serious about the threat. In an effort to further control the victim, the suspect often gathers information from social networking sites and then threatens to send the compromising pictures to parents, friends, etc.
This problem is further exacerbated by the growing trend of video chatting with complete strangers. One recent case involved a young girl visiting her friend's home. The two girls decided to have some "fun" on the computer by striking up a video chat with an unknown person. The suspect began to flatter the young girls and encourage them to disrobe and pose in compromising positions. The girls agreed, believing their actions to be harmless, as they were communicating with a total stranger in another part of the country. The suspect captured the video images and began to threaten to disclose the girls' escapades if they did not comply with his demands. Fortunately, an engaged parent learned of the situation and contacted law enforcement. The suspect was eventually arrested and the investigation revealed an additional 25 victims. The suspect reported that his "sextortion" strategies were successful about 85% of the time.
While the internet has many positive benefits, evolving trends remind us of the need to remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our young people. This challenge is too great for any single individual. As such, we must continue to strengthen and educate our community of support. Working together, we will be much better prepared for the evolving dynamics of "Cyber-life."
Brought to you in Partnership with iKeepSafe
A photo of little Etan, taken by his father, circulated worldwide in the search that ensued. It was Etan's photo - the image of an innocent little boy – that caught the attention of the nation and helped raise awareness of the issue of missing children. His disappearance, along with a number of other high-profile cases of missing children in the late 70's and early 80's, including Adam Walsh, showed us how ill-prepared we were as a nation to quickly identify and assemble resources in an effort to locate a missing child. These cases became a catalyst for change that brought about a national commitment to help locate and recover missing children. This commitment can be seen most notably today through the work of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
National Missing Children's Day serves as a reminder of our continued commitment, including our role in making child safety a priority.
A Time to Take 25
In honor of National Missing Children's Day, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recognizes Take 25, an annual campaign designed to raise awareness of of children's personal safety issues. Take 25 encourages parents, guardians, caregivers and others to spend time talking to kids about their personal safety at home, school, online or when they are just out and about.
I recently spoke at a conference on the risks that youth face online and found myself using the term 'embedded' to describe their relationship with technology. Why embedded? Simply put, their lives can't be separated into an 'online' or 'offline' state, but rather as always on and constantly connected. They live in the Digital World. This is a reality that we, as adults, have created through the rapid adoption and wide-spread use of connected devices, but a concept I don't believe we've fully embraced in terms of practice or infrastructure.
What do I mean by that? Specifically, while we've physically created this always on world - our homes are networked, our schools are wired, and our children are connected; our thought process and approach to personal responsibilities and safety are still very 'online' and 'offline.' Why are we still differentiating? The expectation of knowing and doing right from wrong doesn't alter through the use of technology, nor does personal safety or parental involvement.
The Internet has been mainstream since the mid-90's and has only become more ingrained in our lives through portability and ease of use. Yet, I find we are still discussing how to protect our children at a somewhat basic level. Overcoming this persistent lag will take the realization that we, as adults, must live in the digital world (we can no longer just visit or stay out altogether).
To embrace this mindset, we must embed those once Internet-specific actions, educational efforts and messaging into our everyday lives and the lives of today's children as we have the technology. Let's challenge ourselves - as parents, educators, and others who have a positive impact on young people – not to distinguish 'offline' from 'online,' but view it as one world. Why struggle with determining how we are going to fund or find time to teach our kids online safety when we should be teaching them how to be safe – aren't they one in the same? The structure is there - we parent, we educate, we monitor, we guide, we instill values – let's just tweak the infrastructure so to speak to reflect our digital world.
Let's face it; most of us may never be in a position of knowing more about technology than those who grew up with the Internet and its devices intricately woven into their lives. However, as parents, we are in a position to impart life lessons such as good judgment, reason, empathy and most important, consequences. This position can be fleeting so the sooner you can start and the more consistently you communicate the most impact it can have.
When it comes to the Internet most teens, and for that matter most adults, may not fully comprehend the concept of permanence. Anything posted online will never truly be erased and can come back to haunt you down the road. Deleting an image or a comment is not an indication that someone hasn't already viewed or copied that image or comment. Being unable to erase a mistake can put the future of today's naive youth in jeopardy. That is particularly so when many colleges and prospective employers frequently research potential candidates on the Internet.
Find any opportunity to remind your teen that everything they post may have an unwanted consequence. Maybe not today, but at some point when it might matter to their future. It may be difficult for many teens to think in terms of their future when it comes to actions they want to take today. But even now, let them consider, is what they are about to post something they would be proud to have a grandparent see?
In 2007 The Ad Council in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children developed some very powerful public service announcements geared to helping teens understand the power of permanence on the Internet. View one of these still very relevant videos below with someone you think that can benefit from the message.