SafeKids/NetFamilyNews 1/27/06 issue

  • From: Educational CyberPlayGround <admin@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: K12NewsLetters@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006 10:36:09 -0500

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Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this last week of January:

* Rude awakening: A mom on her daughters' blogs
* Other examples of teen blog content
* Web News Briefs: The story on filters; Net cements ties; Young
hacker pleads guilty; Class wikis, podcasts; Videogame pluses,
minuses; Not just Net safety; MySpace UK; iPods & privacy;
 Games' female fighters; Virtual book talk?.

Rude awakening: A mom on her daughters' blogs

The other day a candid, anonymous comment from the mother of three
teenage girls landed in my blog clearly aimed at getting the word out
to fellow parents. Of course this family is not alone. Just below this
parent's account are examples of teen blog content from news reports
in Virginia, Iowa, and Florida. Here's the story, slightly edited:
"I am a writing this as a concerned parent who has just discovered our
children are in danger. I'd like to share what I have recently
discovered about When it was brought to my attention
about ? 2 years ago by my preteen girls, I was not concerned. I asked
a lot of questions but was assured that it was very clean and well
monitored, just like their websites. What I did not do was
explore it first. I [didn't] until about a month ago, when my
16-year-old stepdaughter began dating much older boys and behaving
oddly. I also noticed the girls (I have three) seemed to be taking a
lot of pictures of themselves in a variety of outfits. Of course, all
of the [photos] they showed me ? were very clean. I decided to visit
my teens' 'myspaces,' based on the suggestion of another concerned parent?.

"The first thing that caught me by surprise was a picture of my
16-year-old daughter coming out of the shower with just a towel on and
plenty of cleavage showing?. Next would be the picture of the gun she
held to her head with explicit captions underneath?. The most shocking
of all were the posts that people were leaving?. Next to these
comments are pics of the people commenting. In addition to many, many
young men (17-21) were 40+ men discussing what they wanted to do to my
daughter in great detail. When I asked her about this, she claimed she
wanted the comments because it makes you 'popular' in the myspace
community. The more comments & the more 'friends' the better. She
refused to block the older offensive men from commenting due to this
popularity. In several posts she was answering other teens' questions
like, where do you go to school and where do you hang out? This is out
there for everybody to see.... Anyone can sign up.? No parents'
permission is required, and no verification is asked for?. Again, 2 of
my girls were under 14 when they signed up for this?. The next thing I
did was click on her 'friends' list and read their posts, comments,
profiles etc. The use of sex and profanity was unbelievable. I could
not repeat the explicit words for what they wanted or were doing to
each other online sexually. I also saw many nude pictures.

"What is the most upsetting about ALL of this is that I actually
contacted I informed them of what I saw.... I asked them
to delete my daughter's 'space.'? They refused and told me I should
monitor my children better if I don't like what they are doing. It is
now a fact that children have access to the Internet just about
everywhere, friends, the library, Internet cafes and even school. My
youngest visited myspace more than once at school on 'free time.' She
did inform me today that her teacher announced it was no longer
permitted. The customer service department at myspace refused my
request twice and told me they would only remove it if I could prove
she broke their terms of service. I told them right off the bat she
was lying about her age and that should be enough to cancel her
account. Again, they refused and would not help.

"I am pleading that we make this a newsworthy matter so
that ALL parents can be made aware of the dangers their children are
being exposed to everyday."

Examples of teen blog content

* In Virginia: A 17-year-old's "photos of herself posing in her
underwear in the shower"; a 12-year-old middle school student's photo
showing him "posing with a handgun"; a 12-year-old girl "who talks
about contracting a sexually transmitted disease"; and a 17-year-old
writing about "coping with the pressure of high school through pain
medication and cutting herself" ­ all from Fairfax County teenagers'
blogs, as reported in "Parents Warned of Risky Internet Behavior," in
The Connection
1&cat=109> out of McLean, Va.

* In Iowa: "A 17-year-old Pella High School student using the ID
'secretly fadin and dyin away . . .' leaves a message on a friend's
site reading, 'just feeels like i wanna take a gun and pull the
trigger in mah forhead'" and "a 15-year-old from Des Moines poses
provocatively in a tight T-shirt next to the headline, 'Do I Look Like
a Play Thing'" in "Parents, kids learn: No secrets online," in the Des
Moines Register

* In Florida: a 14-year-old poses in "with an AK-47" (Det.
Kevin Kuschel of the Palm Beach County School District Police Dept.
went to talk with him and "recovered 14 firearms" in "Web sites helped
police find beating suspects, solve other crimes" about how police
went online to identify and arrest three teenagers alleged last week
to have beaten three homeless people, killing one, in

+ = + = + = +

Web News Briefs

1. The real story on filtering

The latest news isn't so much about filtering software on desktop
computers plugged into household wall sockets. What parents need to be
aware of is how hard it is to depend on technology to "filter" kids'
experiences on an increasingly mobile Internet that can be found on a
rapidly growing number of devices: handheld game players, cellphones,
MP3 players, DVD players, laptops, palmtops, etc. Filtering software
for desktops and laptops is still flawed but improving, according to
CNET, in an update that doesn't break much new ground but does a great
job of pulling together all we currently know on filters and their use
by US families
0200.html>. It's just that filtering is less and less any kind of a
solution for protecting online kids. The article is a followup to last
week's news that the US Justice Department is seeking search-engine
data as it gathers evidence for its next defense of the Child Online
Protection Act of 1998 in federal court next fall. The most
interesting part is the info on p. 2 about how kids find work-arounds
for filters: e.g., proxy servers and proxy sites. For example,, which opposes filtering, offers a free software program
that "takes just minutes to set up," CNET reports. It "lets Web users
turn their desktop computers into Web proxies that fly under the radar
of filter programs. Users can invite friends with computers protected
by filters to use their machines to override" filters. Some two dozen
copies of it are downloaded every day, its publisher, Bennett
Haselton, told CNET.

2. Net strengthens ties: Study

It's a debate as old as the Web: Do online communications isolate
people or support socializing and networking? A just-released study
from the Pew Internet & American Life Project
<> says it's
the latter. "Instead of disappearing, people's communities are
transforming," says the study's summary: 1) They're not necessarily
geographically based, but include local friends, relatives, workmates,
and neighbors, so social networks are getting larger (you've probably
noticed this with teenagers' "buddy lists," but this isn't just about
teens); 2) the Net doesn't replace traditional communications, but
rather supports regular contact by adding more options, more ways to
connect (e.g., texting for confirming a date, IM-ing for gossip, email
for more in-depth messaging, blogging for meeting new friends). The
study uses the term "networked individualism" ­ how the Internet helps
people move beyond networking with a single community to tapping into
different communities (of individuals, not places) for different
situations. There were some interesting numbers too: some 60 million
Americans say the Net "has played an important or crucial role in
helping them deal with at least one major life decision in the past
two years," and that number has increased by one-third since 2002.
Here's coverage from the BBC
<> and the Associated
Press <>.

3. Young hacker pleads guilty

We hear about "hackers" who take control of zillions of home PCs and
use them to send out spam, but they're pretty shadowy figures. This
week's news puts a "face" on one of these guys: 20-year-old "Jeanson
James Ancheta, of Downey, Calif., pleaded guilty in a Los Angeles
federal court to four felony charges" of hijacking hundreds of
thousands of computers," the Associated Press reports
693354.htm>. He faces six years in prison and a fine and will have to
turn over his profits and a 1993 BMW he apparently bought with is
earnings. Those earnings came from infecting people's computers with a
virus that opened a "back door" allowing him to take control of them,
then renting out the use of them to spammers. Hijacked computers are
called "zombies" that are grouped together into "botnets" (zombie or
bot networks) to do certain tasks like spamming or launching
denial-of-service attacks that shut down large retail sites for the
purpose of extortion or "protection" money. Working with an even
younger malicious hacker in Florida (ID'd by his screenname "SoBe"
because he's a minor), Ancheta advertised their botnets on Internet
relay chat (IRC) channels. They reportedly made $58,000 during their
"14-month hacking spree." Prosecutors say Ancheta wrote in IRC chat
that he was hoping this could help him delay getting a job.

4. Classroom wikis & podcasts

Just what is a wiki? you might ask. Same basic concept as a blog, only
better when you're talking about a whole class of students,
collaborating on research, posting and needing to find information ­
usually, for student and school security, behind a password. Of
course, the most famous example is, which ­ despite some
pitfalls ­ gets some 60 million visitors a day. But in the school
environment, "educators at all levels are finding ways to incorporate
wikis into their teaching," reports
CQSNDBCCKHSCJUMEKJVN?articleID=175802925&_requestid=805127>. "Take,
for example, a collaborative writing project. With a simple wiki,
students from one class, multiple classes, or even multiple schools
can post their writing samples for comment. The wiki structure makes
it possible for several students to work on an assignment
concurrently. Most wiki software packages track changes to a page
so students and their teachers can see when and by whom the writing
was edited." Then there are class podcasts, produced by students. The
New York Times reports
rss> that iTunes lists more than 400 podcasts from classes K-12, and
Yahoo nearly 900. "Some are produced by teachers wanting to reach
other educators with teaching tips, while many are created by
students," such as seventh-graders at Longfellow Middle School in La
Crosse, Wis., who have podcast about "a mealworm's metamorphosis" and
"improving memory and making studying easier." Those 7th-graders have
even podcast "a story about a classroom candy thief" (the Times links
to their podcast page).

5. Videogame pluses, minuses

One psychologist says gaming can be very effective for
stress-reduction in both kids and adults. They're not chemically
altering anything, and the sustained focus of attention can be good,
Boston College psychology professor Joseph Tecce told the New Bedford
[Mass.] Standard-Times
<> (he
recommends videogame play for kids with ADD). Indeed, one 30-year-old
dad and avid gamer said he doesn't relax by going out drinking or
driving drunk, he chooses to stay home with his family (but see
"Cellphones disconnect us?" about "absent presence"). Professor Tecce
stresses moderation, saying the difference between stress relief and
obsession is the amount of time spent. And of course it falls on
parents to set the time limits where young gamers are concerned. For a
psychiatrist's perspective, see "A Virtual World of Their Own"
<>, by Jerald
Block, MD. Meanwhile, the state of West Virginia is placing the game
Dance Dance Revolution in all 765 of the state's public schools, reports
<> - to fight the
"obesity epidemic" among West Virginia youth.

6. Not just Net safety

It's almost the West Coast version of the case Det. Frank Dannahey in
Connecticut emailed me about the story of 14-year-olds Valerie and
Stuart and how their online socializing turned into a nightmare for
Valerie's family, as told by the Petaluma (Calif.) Argus-Courier
Except that, fortunately, Valerie wasn't victimized by self-created
and peer-distributed child pornography. She and her family were "only"
the recipients of online threats never acted upon. But the article
does a great job of laying out multiple perspectives on struggles over
teen cybersocializing, at home and at school. Petaluma City Schools
have identified Internet safety as a "major issue," seeing that merely
filtering school computers is far from enough and that schools need to
help educate parents in this area. The story also illustrates the role
that social skills and street smarts are playing in kids' well-being
online and how the Internet is demanding these of children at very
young ages. For the view from Tennessee, see "Youngsters fuel the
online journal boom" at

7. Coming soon: MySpace UK

I hope UK parents have been reading news coverage of risky teenage
blogging, because MySpace is crossing the Pond. A British version will
launch within 30 days, the BBC reports
<>. Parents
everywhere should know that MySpace now supports video, so "home
movies" will join the millions of still pictures of teens at MySpace.
The two-year-old US-based site now has 50 million registered users,
among them about 32 million active ones, with about 1 million in the UK.

8. iPods & your privacy

Most people use iPods and other MP3 players to store music, and in
some cases video. But did you know car thieves have used an iPod to
store all the information that makes up people's identities? And used
those identities to steal very Jaguars and BMWs? That's the true story
told by CNET security writer Robert Vamosi
<>. A few months
ago, after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the New York Times ran a
helpful how-to piece on the benefits of keeping household financial
records, including account numbers and three years' worth of tax
returns on an iPod or flash drive in case our homes are flooded or
burned down. It's a great idea, but ­ if one happened to lose that
little pocket-size repository of our personal info ­ where would we
be? Just another thing for families to be aware of in this age of
supreme "convenience." It's not about kid safety, really. A lost
cellphone would be more of an issue where teens are concerned and how
it could be used to find its owner. [Meanwhile, a panel at the
Sundance Film Festival looked at the future of "cinema on the go,"
CNET reports
26-6029564.html>, and the Washington Post
6012000179.html> told the story of iPods sold pre-loaded with movies
and TV shows (find them on eBay, USATODAY reports

9. Female fighters in games

Female characters are taking the lead in some much-anticipated new
games. The downside of this is that they're pretty violent. See
USATODAY's review of the much-anticipated "Perfect Dark Zero" for Xbox
360, featuring 2020 bounty hunter Joanna Dark
m> (the game is rated "M" for Mature/17+ - "Joanna has an extensive
arsenal of weapons"). Then there's Kokoro the fighter geisha in Dead
or Alive 4. Reviewer Matt Slagle of the Associated Press
says there's a reason for its M rating: "In learning how to play this
game, I felt like Uma Thurman's "The Bride" in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, as
she's beaten down by sadomasochistic master Pai Mei. Moving into
gentler gaming fare, check out USATODAY's Mark Salzman on three games
rated either E (for "Everyone") or E/10+ for the most popular handheld
gameplayer, the Nintendo DS
an_x.htm>: Electroplankton, Lost in Blue, and Mario Kart DS. As for
the game version of the box-office hit The Chronicles of Narnia,
USATODAY's Ginny Gundmundsen says the E-rated version for Game Boy
Advance "focuses too much on combat"

10. Virtual book talk

It's just another sign that the line between the "real" and virtual
worlds is blurring. Author and Stanford law professor Larry Lessig
gave a book talk in the virtual world, Second Life
<> to promote his book Free Culture and talk
about the government's approach to copyrights, CNET reports
.html>." He took the form of an avatar that looked like him, and he
told CNET that, as far as book talks go, it was a freeing experience
because, in a discussion about "complex legal, social and
technological issues," he could actually read people's questions and
type out the answers (probably in the comfort of his own home or
office). The talk took place in "a digital amphitheater in a section
of [Second Life's] virtual world known as Pooley. The audience [of
about 100 avatars] was no normal book tour gathering. Instead, it
comprised avatars such as a giant Gumby, a huge white cat, a lion and
many other bizarre and unusual characters," CNET adds. Professor
Lessig's audience was primarily adults, but think how much more
appealing information delivered this way would be to kids, and think
of the educational applications (I'm sure many educators already have)!

Net Family News <> and
The Online Safety Project <>

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