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************************************************************************** BLACK HISTORY MONTH ALL YEAR LONG RESOURCES 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. http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Culdesac/bhm/bhm.html
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 <http://www.newscientist.com/channel/info-tech/dn8748.html>, 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 <http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1140407 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 Medindia.com, a healthcare portal in India, though, was more like US ones in recent months: "Teens need to exercise caution while using online blogs" <http://www.medindia.net/news/view_news_main.asp?x=7991>. 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 <http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-02/nu-sft021706.php>.
Other academics are looking at the upside: Jodi Dean, a political science professor at Hobart and William Smith College told the Finger Lakes Times <http://www.fltimes.com/Main.asp?SectionID=38&SubSectionID=121&Article 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 <http://www.sptimes.com/2006/02/18/Worldandnation/Seems_like_MySpace_i 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 <http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006602130388> 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 Post <http://www.palmbeachpost.com/pbcsouth/content/local_news/epaper/2006/ 02/16/s1b_SKBULLY_0215.html> * "Teens treading on dangerous ground?" in the Norman (Okla.) Transcript <http://www.normantranscript.com/localnews/local_story_054004226> * Little High School "Students Suspended For MySpace Postings: Students Say School Is Cramping First Amendment Rights" on Channel 7 TV in Denver <http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/7129699/detail.html> * The 600 teen MySpacers in Franklin County, Penn., as told by the Chambersburg Public Opinion <http://www.publicopiniononline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/2006021 8/NEWS01/602180312/1002> * In Iowa, teen bloggers' experience and comments from online-safety-ed organization Cyberwellness in Siouxland, in the Sioux City Journal <http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/articles/2006/02/24/news/top/da8e25f3 bfc2649c8625711f0011ec9a.txt>
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Web News Briefs
1. MySpace to get safer
That's what its parent, News Corp., is promising, the Wall Street Journal reports <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114014309410176595.html>. "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 opinion.
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 reported <http://www.timesdispatch.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD%2FMGArtic le%2FRTD_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1137834283879&path=!news&s=10458 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 reported <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/23/tech/main1340282.shtml>. 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 <http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Surfforfun_Feb06.pdf>. 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 coverage <http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-02-15-poll-fun-surfing_x.html>.
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 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4739432.stm> and the Washington Post <http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2006/02/exploit_published_ 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 <http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1009_22-6041091.html> and the BBC <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4723390.stm> on the worms, and here's Apple's Security Updates page <http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=61798>.
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 <http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2006/0222/local/stories/06local.ht 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 <http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/techpolicy/2006-02-14-cyberstalking -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 <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_09/b3973033.htm> 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: myYearbook.com, 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, Tagged.com or STLpunk.com. But today's news from USATODAY <http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-02-19-aol-new-services_x.htm> 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? http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Teachers/dresscode.html
Actually, "fashion statement" is too shallow tech choices are becoming more like identity statements. The New York Times article <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/20/technology/20cell.html?ex=129809160 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 <http://www.informationweek.com/showArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=KSGLWTI1Y 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 <http://news.ecoustics.com/bbs/messages/10381/199385.html> 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 off" <http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/magazine/daily/13920962.htm> 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 http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/NCFR/opportunity.html
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 <http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2006/02/alarming_phishing_ 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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