SafeKids/NetFamilyNews 2/24/06 issue

  • From: Educational CyberPlayGround <admin@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: K12NewsLetters@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2006 12:48:48 -0500

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In 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson proposed a "Negro History Week" to
honor the history and contributions of African Americans. Nine years
later, his dream became reality. Woodson chose the second week of February
to pay tribute to the birthdays of two Americans that dramatically
affected the lives of Blacks: Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick
Douglass (February 14). The weeklong observance officially became Black
History Month in 1976. The Educational CyberPlayGround offers a
selection of Black History Month All Year Long Resources.


Dear Subscribers:

Blogging's upside, downside: Study

Most of the coverage of a Northwestern University study of 68 randomly
selected teen blogs zoomed in on what its authors said about
blogging's risks. New Scientist magazine
<>, however,
led with the man-bites-dog part of the story: "Instead of steering
them away from their computers, parents should recognise that
teenagers sharpen important social skills online, say psychologists
and anthropologists studying internet behaviour." One of the study's
authors, David Huffaker, "thinks the blog format enhances [teens']
understanding of how to build a narrative," according to New
Scientist. The Oregonian
739247150.xml&coll=7> had a similar lead, reporting that these social
scientists are saying to parents, "Just chill. The kids are doing just
fine, thank you."

The headline at, a healthcare portal in India, though,
was more like US ones in recent months: "Teens need to exercise
caution while using online blogs"
<>. Medindia
cited some of the study's other findings, bearing out parental
concerns: "The blogs, equal samples from male and female teens
[average age about 15], were studied minutely, to reveal that nearly
70% opened up with their real names," 61% with contact information,
some 30% linking to their personal home page, 44% giving IM contact
details. About 50% had "stories about love affairs, infatuations,
sexuality debates and homosexuality opinions"; "71% also discussed
school topics, homework, grades and stuff along with music
preferences." Here's the study's press release

Other academics are looking at the upside: Jodi Dean, a political
science professor at Hobart and William Smith College told the Finger
Lakes Times
ID=11097> that today's highly scheduled kids, not allowed to "just
hang out" as they were 20 years ago, now do so online, relatively
safely. This is how they "develop socially" now, outside of the
influence of the home "in an age when children?s lives are regulated
down to the last soccer practice." The Times also cites the law
enforcement view of social-networking sites an "incredible tool for
sex offenders," with Dean countering that "out of the millions of
interactions made online each day, contact with pedophiles is
statistically insignificant."

The St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times
s.shtml> presents multiple views, including that of a smart
15-year-old MySpacer with a mom who has steady input; a standup comic
who actually IMs with his fans on MySpace; Clay Shirky, an instructor
at New York University who researches electronic networks and their
effect on users' social lives and says these sites attract people who
like to play with identity; and Cheryl Hawkins, a single mom using
MySpace to "jump-start her longtime dream of being a jazz singer" and
who "now has nearly 900 people in her friendship network - from
rappers in Tampa to artists in Canada and Europe."

Clearly, the large, more general social-networking sites like MySpace
(despite its music focus) have many constituencies (which is probably
why some teens migrate to MyYearbook, Tagged, Facebook, and even more
specialized sites). Just in the coverage of the past week, there are
the high school students communicating within their peer groups,
mostly about what's happening at school (and/or in their social
groups); artists seeking notice and fans; people who just crave
attention (but maybe didn't make it onto "American Idol"); young
people trying on different personas or acting out fantasies in a
self-discovery process (with feedback); and people seeking a kind of
superficial, emotionally "safe" contact with a huge, diverse group of people.

Sampler of latest (local) coverage

More and more local news outlets are reporting purely local happenings
on social-networking sites?.

The Detroit Free Press reports
<>  that a
couple of weeks ago "prosecutors charged two Dearborn High School
sophomores who in a note on MySpace threatened to shoot up the school.
The teens, ages 15 and 16, told police the threat was a prank, and
school officials said it appeared to be a hoax. But authorities took
the case seriously, arresting the boys initially on suspicion of
terrorism and holding them in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention
Facility in Detroit." ­ e.g., two Dearborn [Mich.] High School
sophomores who, posted a note on MySpace threatened to shoot up the
school. Here are other examples:

* Cyberbullying cases in southern Florida, as told by the Palm Beach
* "Teens treading on dangerous ground?" in the Norman (Okla.)
Transcript <>
* Little High School "Students Suspended For MySpace Postings:
Students Say School Is Cramping First Amendment Rights" on Channel 7
TV in Denver <>
* The 600 teen MySpacers in Franklin County, Penn., as told by the
Chambersburg Public Opinion
* In Iowa, teen bloggers' experience and comments from
online-safety-ed organization Cyberwellness in Siouxland, in the Sioux
City Journal

+ = + = + = +

Web News Briefs

1. MySpace to get safer

That's what its parent, News Corp., is promising, the Wall Street
Journal reports
<>. "News Corp.
plans to appoint a 'safety czar' to oversee the site, launch an
education campaign that may include letters to schools and
public-service announcements to encourage children not to reveal their
contact information." The site aims to be the industry leader in
safety, the Journals adds. Other measures the company's considering:
blocking links from MySpace to explicit photos stored on other sites
(a popular work-around to bypass deletion by MySpace); restricting
access to groups like "swingers" to people 18+ (though there's
currently no technology preventing people from lying about their age);
blocking search terms predators might use to locate users; and somehow
encouraging users 14-16 to restrict access to their profiles to people
they know. It could be that the best blog-safety tip is to encourage
kids to use
social-networking sites owned by large companies accountable to public

2. Teens & guns in the news

There were two sobering stories about teens and potential violence
this week, from Colorado and Virginia. The Richmond Times-Dispatch
55934842> that four boys ­ 16, 15, and two 13-year-olds ­ have been
charged with plotting to blow up two high schools. All of the charges
are felonies, which means detention until age 21 if the boys are
convicted (the juvenile trial starts next month). "Police, who seized
three computers, two shotguns and other unnamed items from the boys'
homes, said the four plotted in Internet chat rooms." In Colorado, a
16-year-old student at Evergreen High School was arrested after
posting in his MySpace profile photos of himself with guns, CBS News
<>. He
"was being held at a juvenile detention center facing three
misdemeanor charges of juvenile possession of a handgun and will be in
court on Monday." There were no threats in his profile, reportedly,
but some parents kept their kids home from school after seeing the
content and reporting it to the school, which reported it to the
police. "One photo allegedly showed him lying on a floor surrounded by
nine rifles with the caption, 'Angel o' death on wings o' lead'."

3. The Web 'hang-out': Study

Forget the mall. The Internet is becoming a favorite hangout and
"destination" in its own right. "Some 30% of Internet users go online
on any given day for no particular reason, just for fun or to pass the
time," the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports in its latest
survey <>.
Which makes hanging out just for fun tied for third (with getting the
news) in favorite online activities. First and second are email (52%
of Net users do this on a typical day, Pew says) and using a search
engine (38%). Fun and news both got 31%. And the number of fun-seeking
surfers is growing fast, from 25 million going online for that
"purpose" any given day (as counted in November 2004) to the 40
million cited in Pew's research this past December. Pew gives two
basic reasons for this growth: the growth of broadband connecting
(making Web use more seamless, fast, and convenient) and the growing
body of Web content and applications (multimedia blogging and
social-networking might be a part of this, I'm thinking). Pew also
found that leisure surfers are generally more experienced online,
younger, and male (34% of men vs. 26% of women go online "on an
average day with no particular purpose," Pew says). Here's USATODAY's

4. Apple: 2 worms, security flaw

Suddenly, Mac security is looking a whole lot more complicated. The
worms, both discovered last week, are basically harmless, the second
even called a "proof of concept" worm. But the security flaw,
discovered this week, is being called a serious one by both the BBC
<> and the Washington
for_unpatche_1.html>. Security experts say this is looking like a
trend (Mac users, ask your nearest authorized dealer what protection
they recommend). A German PhD student found the security breach in
about 15 minutes after watching a discussion on German TV show Mac-TV
in viewers called in to say it was "not possible for OS X users to
infect their machines just by clicking on a link or visiting a Web
page," the Post reports. Until Apple issues an update, the Post cites
advice from the SANS Institute: "Safari users should consider
disabling the option 'Open "safe"
files after downloading' in the 'General' Preferences section in
Safari." Here are ZDNET
<> and the BBC
<> on the worms, and
here's Apple's Security Updates page

5. 14-year-old cyberstalker

Usually in the online-safety area we read about cops catching
40-something men posing as teenagers to "groom" them. But this
MySpace-related story is about a 14-year-old posing as a 40-year-old
to scare a peer. It's a cyberbullying story. According to the Mail
Tribune in southern Oregon
m>, investigators were preparing to subpoena MySpace for user records
after a girl reported a "string" of threatening "electronic messages,
escalating to phone calls and notes?. They purported to come from a
40-year-old single, white man in Medford who had an account on
MySpace." But then the teen who made the threats confessed. She was
expelled from the school both girls attend. A detective on the case
said the case possibly could have resulted in identity theft charges
for creating a false identity or harassment charges, but no criminal
charges were filed. The victim's parents, relieved that their daughter
wasn?t targeted
by a predator, agreed not to press charges." Incidentally,
cyberstalking is now a federal crime. It was controversial, but it
passed with little publicity, USATODAY reports
-law_x.htm>, so now it's a "crime to anonymously 'annoy, abuse,
threaten or harass' another person over the Internet."

6. Kid-published content

Business Week
looks at the phenomenon of self-published media and how terrified
conventional media companies are (or should be) of it. It's half of
this new phase of the Net we're experiencing (the other half being its
mobile, multiplatform, 24/7 nature), and it explains MySpace's
popularity ­ as well as MySpace's growing competition. An example:, founded a year ago during spring break by two high
school students, now with 2.3 million visitors a month (home-page
selling points: "Vote for 'Best Butt' in Your School!" and "Bully,
Flirt, & Secretly Admire Everyone!"). One of Business Week's sources
"likens social network sites to teens' fervently decorated rooms and
notebooks" of the "olden days." Now, somewhat similarly to "American
Idol," they can display their talent (and themselves, of course), for
all ­ not just a few friends who come over - to see and comment on,
then instantly take it down
and go in a different direction. It's the allure of customization plus
socialization (local or global, whichever one prefers), and it's
easier than ever to experiment with so many free tech tools at our fingertips.

7. AOL 'AIM-ing at MySpace"

I was thinking that MySpace's competition, at least in the teen space,
will be a whole passel of smaller, more special-interest sites like,
for example, or But today's news from USATODAY
indicates that passel just may include online giant AOL. The latter is
planning soon to bring its 43 million active AIM (instant-messaging)
users to its own social-networking space. And we all know there are a
lot of teen AIM users. USATODAY quotes an analyst as saying the
clincher will be how well AOL links this space with its "substantial
music and video offerings." The service is expected to launch in a
couple of months.

8. Phone as fashion statement?

Actually, "fashion statement" is too shallow ­ tech choices are
becoming more like identity statements. The New York Times article
0&en=66209299b82326c1&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss> on 3G
phones (that connect to the Web and play music and video) starts out
by saying "gadget freak" Greg Harper is less than impressed with 3G
phones and suggesting that Sprint, Verizon, and Cingular should
probably be worried. The thing is, Greg looks a lot older than a
teenager, and I have a feeling teenagers will be quite a bit less
judgmental about the phones' functionality, and the phone companies
know it. Just look at Helio, a South Korean phone company, now in L.A.
too, has struck a deal with News Corp. to bring MySpace-enabled,
multimedia phones to US teens and young adults, Information Week reports
PCO2QSNDBECKICCJUMEKJVN?articleID=180203878>. They will be able to use
their MySpace screennames to IM each other, and there will be a
"presence" feature that, as in instant-messaging, tells you when a
"buddy" is online. Whether or not it takes off (before teens have
moved to a new "favorite" social-networking site or type of Web
service), I think Helio understands what young phone users want better
than Greg Harper does. Helio said in its press release
<> that this
is not a phone, but "a badge of personality," a "mobile lifestyle."

9. Tech smart, street smarts

Randy Schur, 15, one of the expert sources in a Philadelphia Inquirer
piece on parenting the digerati (basically all teenagers), had a
revelation as he was explaining socializing by IM: "If you want a girl
to like you, you probably should talk to them." "Connected and cut
is one of those great articles that digs in and offers multiple
perspectives. Among other things, it hints at why parents are
"dinosaurs," as one parent quoted in the piece put it, and why we
aren't. And it talks about adolescence as well as IM-ing - man *and*
machine - how adolescence and parent-child relations haven't change
even as technology very definitely has. Yeah, teens have tech
literacy, but we have a little more life literacy, and today - more
than ever ­ teens need the latter too, even if they don't think they do.
What they need

10. Beware 'IRS' attacks

Not really the IRS, of course ­ they're emails coming from phishers
posing as the IRS, or PayPal, or your bank, or Wal-Mart, saying scary
things like, "Your account's been compromised ­ click here or we'll
have to close it." Or "click here to check on the status of your tax
refund." These emails' numbers "skyrocketed in December," and
IRS-related ones can only be expected to increase as we approach April
15, the Washington Post reports
trends.html>. These messages are using "social engineering" to trick
or scare people into clicking on links that take them to Web sites
that automatically send software code to family computers ­ code like
Trojan horse programs that give control of the computer to the
phishers or keylogger software that captures personal information like
passwords and bank account numbers. This kind of social engineering is
aimed more at adults, obviously, but there's plenty employed on the
instant-messaging services, trying to trick young IM-ers to check out
a cool video clip or tune. Our kids probably know better than we do to
be on the alert to messages like that, but a family discussion about
social engineering might be interesting to all family members.


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  • » SafeKids/NetFamilyNews 2/24/06 issue