Category Archives: 1

Teaching Internet Safety in School

The National Computer Security Alliance released a report February 2010 that investigated the delivery of Internet safety education, The State of K-12 Cyberethics, Cybersafety and Cybersecurity Curriculum in the U.S.

The survey found that America’s young people aren’t receiving adequate instruction to use digital technology and navigate cyberspace in a safe, secure and responsible manner and are ill-prepared to address these subjects.

More than half of administrators and technology coordinators agree their school/school district requires cyberethics, cybersafety and cybersecurity curriculum be taught in the classroom setting. However, a third of teachers have not taught any topics related to cyberethics in the past 12 months and more than 4 out of every 10 teachers have not taught any topics related to cybersafety or cybersecurity in the past 12 months.

Unfortunately, because of how the survey was constructed and interpreted, it did not yield a clear picture of the current situation. A large part of the problem is grounded in the fact that this was a self-report survey, that did not provide any objective way to measure the accuracy of the self-reports.

The survey asked for responses on the following questions: “My school/school district does an adequate job of preparing students regarding Cyberethics, safety, and security issues.” The responses on “strongly or somewhat agree” included administrators 84%, technology coordinators 83%, and teachers 65%. “My school/school district does an adequate job of preparing teachers to discuss with students topics regarding Cyberethics, safety, and security issues.” The responses were administrators 77%, technology coordinators 78%, and teachers 56%.

NCSA concluded that young people “aren’t receiving adequate instruction.” The issue of what kind of education or professional development constitutes “adequate” was never discussed – either from the respondent’s perspective of what constitutes “adequate” or how NCSA made the determination that the current efforts were “not adequate.”

It appears from the initial two paragraphs published in the NCSA Fact Sheet, the assessment of “adequacy” was at least in part tied to the question of whether every teacher had discussed these subjects in their classroom in the last year. Many had not. However, 72% of the teachers surveyed taught content subject matter. Only 4% were technology teachers and 2% were media specialists who are the likeliest teachers to be delivering instruction in this area.

NCSA’s apparent perspective is that all teachers should be teaching Internet safety. This is improbable, especially at this juncture. Given the instructional objectives that teachers are required to address within their content areas, the degree to which they apparently are also at least mentioning Internet safety appears to be commendable.

In today’s schools, it is most probable that technology teachers and media specialists would be assigned the responsibility of providing much of instruction on these issues, hopefully with increasing involvement of health educators and guidance counselors to address the higher risk areas of cyberbullying, sexting, and other risky sexual and personal relationship concerns. These professionals were not specifically surveyed.

The situation is even more complicated. If administrators and teachers have been teaching, or have selected material that teaches, that 1 in 7 young people have been sexually solicited online by a predator, that predators are tracking teens based on personal contact information and abducting them, or they are pretending to be other teens to trick them into meeting without disclosing that they are adults interested in sex, then when they are teaching is inaccurate. See CSRIU report.

NCSA also asked how prepared administrators and teachers were in teaching certain subjects. An amazing 75% of administrators and 50% of teachers indicated they felt prepared to teach about cyberbullying and 66% of administrators and 48% of teachers felt prepared to teach about Sexting or sending sexually explicit messages or photos by mobile devices.

I am a nationally recognized authority on cyberbullying and author of the first book to be published on this subject. In January 2010, I wrote extensive report on sexting. I would raise significant doubts about this perception of preparedness. Cyberbullying and sexting situations involve complicated harmful interpersonal relationship concerns that are exceptionally challenging to address both instructionally and when responding to specific situations. Given the current limited degree of understanding of these situations, it is exceptionally doubtful that the overwhelming majority of administrators or teachers could teach anything more than “don’t do it, don’t respond, tell an adult – and watch out you will be arrested for disseminating child porn.” This is not, in my professional opinion, “adequate” instruction and I sincerely doubt that these professionals are “prepared” to teach about these issues effectively.

Further, these high risk concerns cannot be effectively addressed simply as “cybersafety” subjects. Nor are they subjects that can and should be taught by all content teachers. The teachers who will be most effective in addressing these issues with students will be the health educators and counselors who have the training and expertise to provide instruction in areas of personal and sexual relationships.

The mission of NCSA is to address computer security issues. The organization apparently is striving to be helpful in this arena. But it is clear from an analysis of this survey construction, its results, and the interpretation of these results, that educators must take primary responsibility for researching these issues and developing comprehensive strategies to move forward with effective instruction and professional development.

Sexting Legislation

Several states, including Indiana and Pennsylvania, are considering amendments to child pornography laws to address the new challenges of sexting – young people providing nude or semi-nude images using digital technology. But the way they are trying to do this is to create a new crime that targets minors who self-create and disseminate nude images.

Yes, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. But the way in which these state legislatures are proposing to address this concern will cause significant problems – including exacerbating actual sexual abuse and leading to youth suicide. There have been several suicides reported relating to sexting. These were situations where there was massive adult overreaction, which legitimized peer harassment, and the abject failure of the adults to stop the harassment.

Laws against child pornography are supposed to protect minors – not be used to prosecute them. As the U.S. Supreme Court has outlined, these laws are designed to respond to situations where a minor has been photographed while being sexually abused with the intent to disseminate the image. Thus, laws against creating, possessing, and disseminating child pornography are designed to shut off the market for the images, to prevent the abuse.

This kind of a situation is not present in the vast majority of sexting situations. This new phenomenon is the result of a combination of factors: digital media technologies that allow for impulsive transmission of images, raging hormones, and well-known incapacity of teens to consistently and effectively predict the potential harmful consequences of their actions.

Unfortunately, many times when young people are actually sexually abused and photographed, they are afraid to report – for fear that they will be accused of doing something wrong. What is going to happen in these real cases of sexual abuse if the act of creating and sending an image is considered a crime? Young people who are being sexually abused will know that they cannot report this abuse because they will be arrested!

Other negative consequences are also predictable: Teens will still provide these images, frequently in an impulsive moment under a promise of privacy. If this happens, the person who now has the image can easily blackmail the teen. “If you don’t have sex with me, I will disclose the image and you will be arrested.” Criminalizing this behavior also will legitimize peer sexual harassment. “You were arrested for sexting. You’re a <expletive deleted>.” Additionally, if a teen has provided an image in private and it is now becoming public, the teen faces public humiliation and arrest. Suicide is an option they will consider.

Sexting is a concern that we do need to address. So let’s discuss how to respond proactively and effectively.

It is necessary to amend the state’s child pornography laws to create misdemeanor provisions. But the focus must remain on the purpose for these laws – to prevent someone from abusing a minor. The focus of the child pornography statute must remain focused on those who pressure or coerce a youth to provide such an image. This may include a teen who we need to ensure comes into juvenile jurisdiction, but not a situation that warrants felony prosecution.

It is also necessary to try to stop the viral transmission of these images, which is what causes the harm. These states could amend the law against invasion of privacy (currently addresses taking a photo in a place where privacy was expected) to address two other concerns: distributing a nude or semi-nude image of a minor and distributing a nude or semi-nude image of an adult without permission of the person depicted.

All states have established Multidisciplinary Teams, that include law enforcement, child abuse protection services, and school officials, to respond to the concerns of child abuse. The MDTs should be responsible for developing a protocol that will be followed in their regions when a sexting situation is reported. These incidents can include images shared by consenting teens in a romantic relationship, images created and disseminated by a teen for attention-getting purposes, images created under pressure or “sweet-talking” manipulation by a bully or abusive partner, images shared in the context of seeking sexual “hook-ups,” – as well as criminal trafficking in child pornography, criminal sexual solicitation, and teen prostitution.

The majority of these situations appear to be either non-malicious or at the bullying level. It is very important that a process be established where law enforcement, mental health, and educators will work together to investigate and respond effectively given the wide potential of situations.

I will be publishing a new guide on this issue shortly.

Web Access Management: A New Approach

The FCC recently requested comments on the new CIPA requirements for Internet safety education. The FCC also asked for guidance on two other issues that relate to this information request: How schools are interpreting the CIPA language “harmful to minors” and issues around overriding the filter.

I have been working on material that will soon be released addressing more effective Internet use management. These are my thoughts on the overall issue:

As you might recall, CIPA requires blocking obscene material, child pornography, and material harmful to minors. The definition”harmful to minors” basically also described obscene material – this is totally grounded in adult sexual materials. The FCC asked for insight into how schools were determining what material is harmful to minors and including community standards with this. This question is absolute nonsense. Schools are not determining any of this. They are totally reliant on the decisions made by filtering companies – that do not disclose how they are deciding what to block. Essentially what schools are blocking is the categories developed by the filtering companies that appear to block adult sexual material. The fact that the FCC thinks schools have any other ability to choose is really weird.

The other thing they asked for comments on was the provision about disabling that reads: An authorized individual may disabled the technology protection measures for adults in order to enable bona fide research or other lawful purposes. It is exceptionally important to understand how this provision operates. Under CIPA, schools must block access to “porn” sites – but ONLY “porn” sites. Not anything else. So the disabling provision refers to disabling the filter to access porn sites for bona fide research or other lawful purpose. And all of the other material that a school “chooses” to limit access to using a filter is up to the school.

And, for the record, there is material in the first CIPA regulations that indicates a recognition that filters are imperfect. So, no it is not necessary to block access to the blog sites category because some blog sites allow adult material.

So let’s talk about what is happening in the real world – outside of the myth of CIPA. when the Internet came into schools, a misperception was disseminated. That is that it is possible to prevent student and staff Internet misuse of the Internet by using filtering. And thus, it became the tech services dept’s job to prevent misuse. Preventing misuse was no longer a shared responsibility. And because the filters were preventing student misuse, it was perfectly okay for teachers to take students to the computer lab to “surf the Internet” because this was educational and the filter would prevent misuse. Many of you are laughing at this point in time because you know there are still teachers in your schools who believe this. IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT WE GET PREVENTING MISUSE BACK TO A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY.

Why? Because at the same time that the federal government was requiring schools andf libraries to install filtering, another branch of the federal government was providing funding for the creation of technologies to allow people to bypass filters. You think I am joking, right. Well, will you believe PBS’s Frontline:  “With the exception of Psiphon, which receives funding from George Soros’ Open Society Institute, all these programs (referring to circumventioun programs) have received some support from the U.S. government. Peacefire and Freegate receive funding from the Voice of America and TOR began as a project of the U.S. Naval Research Lab.” And there are moves in Congress to encourage more and better technologies to undermine the Internet restrictions of repressive leaders. See this Commentary by Sen Specter.

Now, most students were not inclined to use proxies to gain access to porn, but with the explosion of social networking sites, this bypass technology was quickly discovered. Google “bypass Internet filter.” I just did and got 1,530,000  hits. Hey, including a couple of YouTube instructional videos.

So to think that filters are preventing students from going anywhere they want online is a JOKE!!! And maybe we ought to start admitting this. Don’t you think? And maybe we ought to look for other ways to effectively manage student Internet use. The ONLY thing filters are good for right now is preventing the rare accidental access  (which can be prevented pretty effectively by setting search engines to “safe search” and keeping your computer security up to date) and defining possible boundaries (the site you are trying to reach may not be appropriate).

This is why preventing misuse must be a shared responsibility. And we need to shift from a ridiculous reliance on ineffective blocking to more effective staff supervision and technical monitoring.

But there is another problem that we need to deal with. The filtering companies are trying like crazy to deal with all of the bypass technologies. And it appears that the techniques they are using are preventing more and more access to RELEVANT INSTRUCTIONAL RESOURCES!!!

So now we look at the other side of this picture. The very fine research of the Speak Up/Project Tomorrow folks has consistently found that filtering blocking student and staff access to relevant instructional resources is the NUMBER ONE barrier to the effective use of the Internet for instruction.  If teachers and students are constantly frustrated that they can never count on being able to access the material that is relevant for instruction, they are not going to even try to use the Internet for instruction. And this pretty much describes what is happening. So all of the money schools are pouring into instructional technologies is not resulting in educational change in part BECAUSE of the filters (there are also some other minor concerns like NCLB, lack of funds for professional development, and the like).

So here is my radical suggestion: Under CIPA schools ONLY have to block access to “porn.” They can allow the filter to be disabled to provide access to “porn” sites – for a legitimate purpose (And, yes, I have having a hard time figuring out what this legitimate purpose might be). All of the other categories are blocked at the discretion of the school. There are no federal dictates whatsoever on this.

So why don’t we start treating teachers like professionals (radical thought, eh?) and give all instructional staff the authority to bypass the filter – on their own discretion – to access sites for instructional purposes that are in any other category than the “porn” category and maybe some other categories that the district really does not think ought to be allowed without some level of administrator review and approval, like hate sites.

Yes, some teachers will not be responsible. Some may not understand other concerns, like bandwidth. But districts can come up with clear standards for when using the bypass authority is appropriate, bandwidth “hogs” are pretty easy to detect, and bypasses are recorded so a periodic random review ought to be effective in identifying teachers who are misusing this authority.

And then perhaps, maybe, after a decade of trying to deal with the wrong solution, we can shift to a management approach that will support the effective use of technology for instruction. I say this with some exacerbation because I was saying the same thing way back in 2000. Here are the materials I submitted to the COPA Commission and the NRC committee that was studying these issues wherein I quoted:

“When we fall into the trap of believing or, more accurately, hoping that technology will solve all of our problems, we are actually abdicating the high touch of personal responsibility. *** In our minds at least, technology is always on the verge of liberating us from personal discipline and responsibility. Only it never does and never will. The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch.” Naisbitt, Megatrends.

And I stated: “Regardless of issues related to the use, effectiveness, and appropriateness of technology tools, laws, and labeling systems, the simple and plain truth is that virtually every young person in this country will, at one time or another, have unsupervised access to the Internet through an unfiltered and unmonitored system. Any young person who desires to access the “darkside” of the Internet will be able to find a way to do so. Technology tools, laws, and labeling systems are insufficient means to prevent such access. The more important question, therefore, is how can we help young people gain the knowledge, decision-making skills, and motivation to make safe and responsible choices when they are using the Internet.”

Which is the path I have been on for a very long time.

Illinois Legislation on Social Networking

Legislation proposed in Illinois that would directly impact the use of social networking sites by teens.

The Synopsis As Introduced:

Creates the Social Networking Website Access Restriction Act.

Provides that an owner of a social networking website must obtain and maintain in a database the written permission of the parent or guardian of each minor who is allowed access to the social networking website.

Provides that an owner of a social networking website must give each parent or guardian unlimited access to the webpage profile of the minor under his or her supervision.

Provides that an owner of a social networking website must implement procedures for verification of the age and information of anyone having a webpage on the social networking website.

Provides that an owner of a social networking website must also verify the status of the parents or guardians who have granted permission to a minor to host a social networking website.

Prohibits registered sex offenders from hosting or accessing a social networking website.

Provides that operators of a social networking website must allow the parent or guardian of the minor unrestricted access to the profile webpage of the minor at all times.

Amends the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. Provides that a knowing violation by an owner or operator of the Social Networking Website Access Restriction Act is an unlawful practice within the meaning of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

Student Investigation

These resources can help students investigate:

  • The reasons behind this legislation and the legitimacy of the those reasons.
  • The viability of the age and identity verification of minors.
  • The concerns associated with age and identify verification approaches.
  • Strategies teens might use to avoid such restrictions and the possible negative impact of those strategies.
  • Strategies teens use to protect themselves on social networking sites.

Reasons for Legislation

Representative Tom Cross has introduced this legislation. He is the House Republican Leader.

What are his reasons for introducing this legislation? How valid are those reasons? You can call or email the representative to ask for his reasons. Also look for the names of representatives who have signed on as co-sponsors. What are their reasons for supporting this legislation? Are any of these elected representatives in your district?

It is likely that Rep. Cross will respond that he has concerns about online sexual predators on social networking sites. Rep Cross might raise concerns about the fact that MySpace has removed 90,000 registered sex offenders from the site. He might also raise concerns about cyberbullying.

The Crimes Against Children Research Center has research resources you can consult for more insight into the problem of online sexual predators and cyberbullying:

Internet Predator Fact Sheet
News

Read this article to find an important fact about the 90,000 registered sex offenders (hint: last paragraph).

Age and Identity Verification

MySpace entered into an agreement with the state attorneys general to set up a task force to investigate the effectiveness of age and identity verification to protect minors online. The Berkman Internet Safety Technical Task Force was formed to do this. The Berkman Task Force released a report in January 2009.

This blog provides excellent analysis of the Berkman Task Force report and links to many other comments:

Here is a letter that has already been sent to Rep. Cross about this legislation by the American Electronics Association. Are the statements made in this letter accurate?

Questions to Ask

How would social networking sites be able to establish the age and identity of Illinois youth?

How would social networking sites be able to verify which adults have custody of which minors in Illinois?

How effective do you think requirement would be? Can you describe two ways that teens could easily bypass this requirement?

What strategies do you think parents should use to protect children and teens online?

What strategies do teens use to protect themselves on social networking sites?

Berkman Take 2

Introducing Digi-Parent: And Comments on the Effectiveness of Technology
Approaches to Address Human Behavior Concerns

Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Presentation to the Berkman Internet Safety Technical Task Force
September 23, 2008

Introducing Digi-Parent

Digi-Parent sits by a child’s computer screen so it can conveniently look over the shoulder of its child. The Digi-Parent can read terms of use agreements and privacy policies and discuss these in relation to important values. It can make sure its child has implemented all of the protection features on social networking sites and instant messaging. It will review the profiles of all of its child’s friends to make sure they are safe, as well as the material posted by its child and its child’s friends. It has been programmed to recognize all of the possible words and phrases that could be used to sexually solicit or cyberbully a child. It even knows how much homework a child so it can turn off the computer to ensure its completion. The advanced model can be used with “at risk” youth. This model will be programmed to say things like “I love you” “How was your day? “How are you feeling?” “You look a bit sad, is anything wrong?” “You know you can come to me if you have any problems.” Digi-Parent – the technology “quick fix” for the lack of an effectively engaged parent!!!

“When we fall into the trap of believing or, more accurately, hoping that technology will solve all of our problems, we are actually abdicating the high touch of personal responsibility. … In our minds at least, technology is always on the verge of liberating us from personal discipline and responsibility. Only it never does and never will. The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch.”1

“[This report] will disappoint those who expect a technological “quick fix” to the challenge of pornography on the Internet. … It will disappoint parents, school officials, and librarians who seek surrogates to fulfill the responsibilities of training and supervision needed to truly protect children from inappropriate sexual materials on the Internet.2

Technology “Quick Fixes”

An ineffective technology solution that seeks to control the intentional behavior of teens online because of concerns related to safety or responsible use.

Technology Protections
An effective technology protection solution designed to protect against harm coming from the outside or accidental behavior.

Techno-Panic
A heightened level of concern about the use of contemporary technologies by young people that is disproportionate to the empirical data on the degree of risk.

The Porn Techno-Panic
Reliance on filtering has lead to …

  • Increased accidental access due to failure to educate.
  • Filtering companies making blocking decisions based on inappropriate bias.
  • Teens can easily bypass the filter.
  • Schools failed to implement effective management.
  • Teachers/students unable to access appropriate sites.
  • Safe school personnel unable to review online material that raises concerns on student safety.

Accountability

  • What is the data about risk and what are the implications?
  • How feasible are the proposed technical solutions?
  • Is there a substantial likelihood a solution will effectively address the concerns and not lead to unintended consequences?

What is the data about risk and what are the implications?

The young people who are at the greatest risk online are the ones who are already at greatest risk in the real world.3

  • Will engage in risk-taking behavior.
  • Do not have effectively engaged parents.

The greatest risks to young people come from people they know ~ especially other young people.4

  • Attempting to wall them off from strange adults will not effectively address the concerns.
  • The concern is NOT “stranger danger.”

The vast majority of teens report effective responses to negative online incidents and lack of distress.5

  • Young people do not perceive the Internet is exceptionally dangerous.
  • Many appear to have a healthy understanding of the real risks.

Teens are not reporting negative online incidents to adults.6

  • In many cases this is because they handled the incident effectively.
  • But teens are also do not report online concerns because of fear getting into trouble and losing Internet use.
  • The Techno-Panic is likely increasing the reluctance to report concerns to adults.

Teens whose parents are actively and positively involved engage in far less risky online behavior.7

  • No technology “quick fix” can substitute for an actively and positively involved parent.
  • Actively and positively involved parents do not need “quick fixes.”
  • The Techno-Panic can reduce the degree to which parents are positively involved.

It appears that a significant number of pre-teens (<10) are using social networking sites.8

  • It appears that the majority of their parents know and have approved.
  • It appears that as the social networking sites have increased their protective features, more parents are approving use by pre-teens.

There has been an unconscionable overhyping of data or presentation of inaccurate data by some media, politicians, companies, and advocacy groups.9

  • 1 in 5 children sexually solicited.
  • 50,000 predators at any time on social networking sites.
  • The Attorneys General have no incident data to support the argument that social networking sites are especially dangerous.10

Predator “stings” appear to occur in chat rooms.

  • How can they say that social networking sites are exceptionally dangerous if they have no data to support this?

How feasible are the proposed technical solutions?

To digitally identify someone requires a “trusted authority” to verify identity and age.

  • No such trusted authority exists and it would be very expensive to set this up.

An approach that requires parents to obtain a digital identification of their child requires a Trusted Authority that can accurately validate custodial authority.

  • No such trusted authority exists and it would be very expensive to set this up and impossible to keep it updated.

Digital identification would have to be global or young people would simply enter the sites from another country.

  • The U.S. does not control the world.

The approach would have to be universal, requiring digital identification of all users or minors will simply sign up as adults and lose the benefits of the protective features.

  • Social networking site users would not be happy, especially when there is no data on the degree of concern.

An approach that encourages teens to voluntarily limit their access to sites limited to minors would require that teens believe the social networking sites are extraordinarily dangerous and they are incapable of protecting themselves.

  • Good luck!

An approach that seeks to prevent pre-teens from establishing accounts by requiring verified parent approval would require that parents believe that the social networking sites are extraordinarily dangerous and they are incapable of protecting their child.

  • Good luck!

An approach that sets up COPPA-compliant social networking sites for pre-teens that are subscription-based, requiring parents to pay a modest price using a credit card and preventing market profiling and advertising appears feasible.

  • But the pre-teens are going to want to be on the popular sites.

Is there a substantial likelihood a proposed solution will effectively address the concerns and not lead to unintended consequences?

Establishing a digital identification for minors would be …

  • Impossible without the creation of a RealID program for minors.
  • Far too costly.
  • Unreliable because of the difficulty of establishing current custodial authority.
  • Exceptionally easy to scam.

Requiring all minors to obtain verified parental approval would result in …

  • Minors registering as adults and losing all protections.
  • Minors registering through another country.
  • Minors faking parent approval.
  • Parents approving pre-teens.
  • Increasing the perception of teens that adults have “gone off the deep-end” and can’t be trusted.

Requiring all U.S. social networking site users to digitally identify themselves would result in users.

  • Registering through another country.
  • Aggressive efforts to undermine the entire digital identification industry.

SUGGESTING that all social networking site users should digitally identify themselves would result in …

  • Aggressive efforts to undermine the entire digital identification industry.
  • Vicious rumors of ulterior motives.
  • Profiling, Homeland Security, Revelations 13.
  • Because AGs have no data to support their argument that sites are dangerous for all minors.

Trying to protect minors by walling them off from adults will not protect them and could harm them.

  • The greatest risks to minors ~ sexual, cyberbullying, unsafe or dangerous communities ~ are from their peers or adults they know.
  • Thinking that minors are protected because they have been walled off from contact with adult strangers will lead to false security and failure to address the greater risks!

Trying to control the online behavior of teens with “parental empowerment tools” will never be effective.

  • Because it is developmentally inappropriate and technically impossible to keep teens in “electronically fenced play-yards.”

Setting up systems for parents to register their children’s email addresses to prevent them from registering on sites will not be effective because …

  • A teen or pre-teen can create a new email account in less than a minute.
  • Most parents know and have approved the use of these sites by their teens and pre-teens.

Strong efforts to keep pre-teens off of social networking sites are unlikely to be successful because …

  • Parents think these sites are safe ~ and with proper precautions they ARE SAFE.
  • Would require significant FEAR-MONGERING that is unsupported by the data.

Promoting the need for technology “quick fixes” will require significant unsubstantiated fear-mongering, which will place teens at greater risk.

  • Because the fear-mongering will lead teens to avoid talking with adults about real online concerns.
  • Promoting the need for technology “quick fixes” will require significant unsubstantiated fear-mongering which will undermine the credibility of the fear-mongers.
  • Because ALL of the data argues against the effectiveness of a technology “quick fix” approach.

It appears that the “user empowerment tools” in the form of protective features on these sites ARE working effectively.

  • Making them default will increase usage.
  • Must pay attention to research and listen to teens to improve protective features.
  • Creatively use “social norms” approaches to encourage use.

Establishing social networking sites for pre-teens appears to be a good idea.

  • But pre-teens really want to be on the “cool, popular” sites …
  • Which their parents think are safe …
  • Which, with proper precautions, ARE SAFE.

The best ways to protect young people online remain education and effectively engaged parenting.

  • But the excessive, unjustified FEAR-MONGERING has resulted in many young people who are no longer trusting adults.
  • And this approach will not effectively address the concerns presented by the more “at risk” youth.

Recommendations

  • Increase use and ensure effectiveness of the user empowerment protection features on all general purpose sites attracting youth.
  • Need more research.
  • Focus on social norms approaches to increase use.
  • Encourage the development of COPPA-compliant social networking sites for pre-teens.
  • Subscription, no profiling.
  • Greater protections, such as notice to parent’s email if new friend or public post.
  • Encourage popular sites to create pre-teen section.
  • Provide option for parents to approve interactions with older users.
  • Stop the fear-mongering.
  • Provide effective education.
  • Encourage peer leadership, since many teens are no longer listening to adults.
  • Implement a comprehensive approach to address youth risk online within the context of current effective approaches to address youth risk.

Endnotes

1 Naisbitt, J., Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives, New York, N.Y. Warner Books, 1984.

2 Thornburgh, D & Lin, H., (2002) Youth, Pornography and the Internet. National Academy Press. http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309082749&page=R1.

3 Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K., and Ybarra,, M. (2008) Online “Predators” and Their Victims: Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment. American Psychologist, 63(2), 111-128; Ybarra, M., Espelage, D.L., & Mitchell, K. (2007). The Co-Occurrence of Internet Harassment and Unwanted Sexual Solicitation Victimization and Perpetration: Associations with Psychosocial Indicators. Journal of Adolescent Health. 41(6,Suppl): S31-S41, S37.

4 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., and Finkelhor, D. (2006). Online victimization of youth: Five years later. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Bulletin – #07-06-025. Alexandria, VA. http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/papers.html; Rosen, L. D., et al., (2008) The association of parenting style and child age with parental limit setting and adolescent MySpace behavior, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2008.07.005; McQuade, S. (2008) A Survey of Internet and At-risk Behaviors. Rochester Institute of Technology. http://www.rrcsei.org

5 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., and Finkelhor, D. (2006); Rosen, L. D., et al., (2008).

6 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., and Finkelhor, D. (2006).

7Rosen, L. D., et al., (2008).

8 There is no study on this. Data in Rosen (2008 suggests this. Further insight provided through electronic communications with school librarians through LM-Net discussion list. 

9 Oft-quoted data that 1 in 7 young people are sexually solicited online leaves out critically important findings. The report asked about unwanted sexual related communications. Most of these communications came from other teens. 4 of 5 teens are sexually harassed in high school. Only 33% of these solicitations were distressing to the recipient. 16% of the solicitations were from females; 49% of whom were under 18. Only 9% of the solicitations were from people over the age of 25; 92% male, the others gender unknown. “It has been estimated that, at any given time, 50,000 predators are on the Internet prowling for children,” U.S. Attorney General Gonzales in a press conference. “It is estimated that, at any given moment, 50,000 predators are prowling for children online, many of whom are lurking within social networks. Representative Upton in the House Congressional Record: July 26, 2006 in support of the Deleting Online Predators Act. Gonzales apparently got his data from Dateline’s To Catch a Predator. Dateline said they got this figure from a FBI authority ~ who has denied providing this figure. Dateline created this figure out of “thin air.”

10  I asked for the data.

Berkman Internet Safety Technical Task Force Take 1

I was going to present for the Berkman Internet Safety Technical Task Force on September 23, but ended up not making it. Long story. I originally was supposed to have about a half hour. The presentation notes I prepared for this are below. Then I was told that my time was cut to 15 minutes, including Q&A. This was fair – that is all they gave the technical folks. I also had had some feedback on my first notes and decided to rewrite. Berkman Take 2 are my new notes.

Effectively Addressing Youth Risk Online:
The Fallacy of Believing it is Possible to Keep
Digi-Teens in Electronically Fenced Play Yards

Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Presentation to the Berkman Internet Safety Technical Task Force
September 23, 2008

“When we fall into the trap of believing or, more accurately, hoping that technology will solve all of our problems, we are actually abdicating the high touch of personal responsibility. … In our minds at least, technology is always on the verge of liberating us from personal discipline and responsibility. Only it never does and never will. The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch.”1

“[This report, Youth Pornography and the Internet] will disappoint those who expect a technological “quick fix” to the challenge of pornography on the Internet. … It will disappoint parents, school officials, and librarians who seek surrogates to fulfill the responsibilities of training and supervision needed to truly protect children from inappropriate sexual materials on the Internet.2

Positive Engagement and Education

The best way to ensure that young people make safe and responsible choices online is through positively engaged parenting and effective education.

  • When children are young, it is necessary ~ and possible ~ to keep them in protected places.
  • But as young people grow they must know how to independently make safe and responsible choices online ~ and will not stay in adult-created protected places.
  • Teens and tweens are at far greater risk online than children, because they are becoming independent and exploring who they are online.
  • The greatest risks to young people online are not from online strangers. The greatest risks are from hurtful peers and family or acquaintance abusers.
  • The teens who are at greatest risk online are the ones who are at greatest risk in the real world.
  • No technology “quick fix” can substitute for an engaged parent or address the concerns presented by “at risk” teens online.

The Trap of Believing in Technology “Quick Fixes.”

A technology “quick fix” is an ineffective technology solution that seeks to control the intentional behavior of teens online because of concerns related to safety or responsible use.

  • Technology “quick fixes” do not work because there are NO technologies that adults can use to effectively keep teens in “electronically fenced play yards.”
  • “Quick fixes” also will not fix the human behavior problem and are likely to lead to false security that could make the human behavior problem worse.
  • It is important to distinguish “quick fixes” from effective technology protection solutions that are designed to protect against harm coming from the outside or accidental behavior.
  • Protect against “malware.”
  • Create safer places for children online.
  • Provide users of social networking sites the ability to control who has access to their information and can communicate.
  • Some technologies function as effective protection and “quick fixes,” depending on how they are used.
  • Filtering can provide effective protection for children ~ but will not restrict teens.
  • Digital identification will be helpful for adults engaged in electronic commerce ~ but will never be able to effectively control tween or teen access to social networking sites.

Youth Risk Online ~ Range of Risk

Savvy teens have effective knowledge, skills, and values to independently make good choices. Naïve teens lack sufficient knowledge and skills and may make mistakes ~ but can become savvy with education and experience. Vulnerable teens are facing temporary emotional challenges ~ but still have a level of stability that can support making good choices. “At Risk” teens are those who are significantly “at risk” in other areas of life.

  • The greater the degree of risk, the greater the likelihood the teen will be …
  • Searching for acceptance and attention online.
  • Vulnerable to manipulation.
  • Emotionally upset and thus less likely to make good choices.
  • Less attentive to Internet safety messages.
  • Less resilient in getting out of a difficult situation.
  • Less able or willing to rely on parents for assistance.
  • Less likely to report an online dangerous situation to an adult because this will reveal evidence of their own unsafe choices.

Influences on Online Behavior
These are other influences on online development.

  • Didn’t Think. Children do not have the cognitive capacity to independently make good choices online. Teens’ frontal lobes, which support effective decision-making, are under development. They are biologically compelled to want to be in charge of their own decisions because this is the only way they can learn to make good decisions.
  • You Can’t See Me ~ I Can’t See You. The perception of invisibility and lack of tangible feedback of online activities can lead to online disinhibition.
  • Who Am I and Am I Hot? Teens are exploring their identity and emerging sexuality online, which can lead to posting of inappropriate materials or engaging in unsafe activities.
  • How Far Can I Go? All teens engage in risk taking, some more than others, and they are taking risks online.
  • Everybody Does It. Online social norms of teens and adults can support unsafe or irresponsible behavior ~ or safe and responsible behavior.
  • Doing What I Say. Many companies, organizations, and individuals are using sophisticated techniques to influence teens online.

Applying this Insight

  • Addressing the concerns of the more vulnerable and “at risk” teens will require integrating emerging research insight regarding youth risk online into risk prevention approaches that incorporate research-based best practices found to be effective in addressing real life risk.
  • The focus must be on addressing the risk factors and enhancing protective factors.
  • We can help naïve teens make fewer mistakes through more effective education.
  • Savvy teens are the resource we need to foster. These teens can effectively educate peers and siblings. They are key to establishing social norms that support safe and responsible behavior. They are in the best position to detect when other teens are at risk and can be encouraged to report.
  • Savvy and well-meaning adults can also use sophisticated influence techniques to influence safe and responsible online behavior!

Techno-Panic
What is Techno-Panic? A heightened level of concern about the use of contemporary technologies by young people that is disproportionate to the empirical data on the degree of risk.

  • There are risks to young people online ~ just as there are risks to young people in the real world.
  • Techno-panic promoters include some media, politicians, Internet safety and public advocacy groups, and companies. They often have other motives.
  • You can recognize the techno-panic promoters by their common message: “The Internet is dangerous.”

Underlying Factors of Techno-Panic

Digital Divide

The digital natives, are speeding down the Information Superhighway with their accelerators fully engaged, but without sufficient braking power, while most digital immigrants are struggling to get out of first gear. Deal with it. Most adults will never feel as comfortable with these technologies as youth, but can learn enough to play an important role.

The Internet Wants to be Free

Internet pioneers took the attitude that the Internet should be like the Wild west ~ anarchy, no rules, no rule enforcers, absolutely no censorship. Online disinhibition has led to a strong social norm in some communities that everyone should have the right to post and do whatever they want online without regard for the harm it might cause to another. The lack of social norms allows some to harm others. Appropriate social norms for cyberspace will largely be controlled through contract ~ terms of use agreements, which requires that industry abide by appropriate social norms, especially related to the use of sites to harm others.

20-Something CEOs

Never before in society have we had CEOs of major companies who are still in their 20’s. 20-something CEOs of Internet companies: Do not have the wisdom that comes from age and experience. Often believe the Internet wants to be free. Have too often failed to implement effective protections and to rapidly respond to concerns. Develop industry standards and expectations for protection features necessary to protect youth to assist new Internet companies in developing their approach. Must also empower teens to make good choices and to be peer leaders.

Change from an Authoritarian Society to a Networked Society

The underlying structure of our society is changing from authoritarian to networked. Some adults are very embedded in the authoritarian structure ~ especially those in law enforcement and other positions of leadership. Leaders must understand the social structure is changing and there is nothing they can do to prevent this. The invention of the printing press led to the scientific revolution, reformation, rise of the middle class, and democracy. Leaders should spend some time with 20-something CEOs to gain a better understanding of the emerging social structure.

What is the Actual Risk?
There is an unconscionable misrepresentation of the degree of actual risk to young people online!
It is ESSENTIAL that we address youth risk online in a manner that is grounded in research-based understanding of the actual risk!

Youth Victims
In a study reporting 2000 data, the Crimes Against Children Research Center reported that there were approximately 1,000 arrests in In Internet sex crimes involving identified youth victims.3 In half of those cases, the offender used the Internet to initiate a relationship with the victim. In the other half, the offender was a family member or acquaintance of the victim. This means that the “online stranger danger” warnings are inaccurate. In 2000, there were 65,000 arrests for sex crimes against children.

Going out on a limb, I would predict an increase in online stranger predation cases, but an actual decrease when viewed in the context of the number of teens active online. I would predict a significant increase in the number of family/acquaintance abusers who are now using technologies to groom and control, as well as those creating and disseminating child pornography of their victims. The issue is sexual abuse!

Online Sexual Solicitation
Oft-quoted data that 1 in 7 young people are sexually solicited online leaves out critically important findings.4 The report asked about unwanted sexual related communications. Most of these communications came from other teens. 4 of 5 teens are sexually harassed in high school.5 Only 33% of these solicitations were distressing to the recipient. 16% of the solicitations were from females; 49% of whom were under 18. Only 9% of the solicitations were from people over the age of 25; 92% male, the others gender unknown. The teens demonstrated effective skills in responding. Although only 21% told an adult, 69% of those who did not report to anyone, did not do so because it not serious enough. The issue is sexual harassment and the oversexualization of youth by the entertainment media and advertising.

Online Predators
“It has been estimated that, at any given time, 50,000 predators are on the Internet prowling for children,” U.S. Attorney General Gonzales in a press conference.6 “It is estimated that, at any given moment, 50,000 predators are prowling for children online, many of whom are lurking within social networks. Representative Upton in the House Congressional Record: July 26, 2006 in support of the Deleting Online Predators Act.7 Gonzales apparently got his data from Dateline’s To Catch a Predator.8 Dateline said they got this figure from a FBI authority ~ who has denied providing this figure.9 Dateline created this figure out of “thin air.” The issue is the accuracy of the data.

Attorney General Data or Lack Thereof
While the AGs have been focusing on social networking concerns for three years, it appears that none of the AG offices who were active in the agreement with MySpace have any online sexual predator incident data for their state. I requested such data on 9/9/08. In response to my request, one assistant AG told me they had no data but suggested that I look at Mycrimespace.com. This is an anonymous fear-mongering site that aggregates news reports related to problems on MySpace. This is not quality incident data.

To the best of my ability to determine, based on press reports, law enforcement officers are generally setting up predator stings in chat rooms, not on social networking sites.10

Why the focus on sexual predation by adult strangers on social networking sites when there appears to be no data validating the degree of the dangers?

The Real Data on Youth Risk
“Youth with histories of sexual or physical abuse, and other troubled youth, may be particularly vulnerable. Youth Internet users with histories of offline sexual or physical abuse appear to be considerably more likely to receive online aggressive sexual solicitations.”11

“The psychosocial picture of youth involved in Internet harassment and unwanted sexual solicitation is concerning, … (i)n short these youth are facing a multitude of personal challenges that negatively impact healthy youth development.”12

Youth risk online must be addressed as youth risk!

Further Insight
In repeated studies, the vast majority of teens report healthy responses to negative online incidents and report that they are not distressed by these incidents.13
In a study comparing parent and teen perceptions of dangers, parents reported a higher level of concern than teens.14

But the higher level of concern did not lead to greater parent attention to their child’s online activities.
Teens whose parents are both actively and positively involved in their children’s online activities demonstrate the lowest levels of risky behavior.15

The majority of cyber offenses involving children, adolescents and young adults are perpetrated by peers of approximately the same age or grade level.16

Techno-Panic and Social Networking Sites
Fear-mongering about social networking is especially damaging because this is the teen cyber-environment of choice. The primary focus of the AGs appears to be directed at finding ways to block young people from using social networking sites or encourage parents not to allow their children to use these sites. This is not wise.

  • If teens use the protection features and are careful about what they post and who they link to, their use of social networking sites can be very safe.
  • Used with care, social networking sites are far safer than anonymous chat rooms, chat rooms on gaming sites, public instant messaging, and virtual worlds.
  • As the social networking sites increase their protection features, it appears this leads parents of tweens to think the sites are safe ~ and, used with care, they are.

The Harm Caused by Techno-Panic

Harm to Young People Facing Concerns
The current “techno-panic” is placing teens at greater risk. It is significantly interfering with positively engaged parenting and effective education. When parents are fearful they do not engage positively. This is leading to a lack of trust between parents and teens. Many teens appear to be convinced that adults simply do not understand their online world.17

Teens will make mistakes online and could be at risk. If they are fearful of talking to an adult they will be at greater risk. When teens perceive that adults do not understand and are fearful, they will not report online concerns. They believe that the adult will overreact, blame them, not know what to do, do something that makes matters worse, or cut off their online access. To be cut-off from social networking constitutes “excommunication.” As a result teens may not be reporting online concerns when they really should. This could lead to significant preventable harm.

Harm to the Promotion of 21st Century Learning
In many schools, there is a “lock down” on the use of any interactive technologies for learning. The use of these technologies is essential to prepare young people for their future learning, work, civic responsibilities, and personal lives. The techno-panic has fueled resistance to the adoption of these technologies for learning.

Technology Quick Fixes ~ Learning from History: the Filtering “Quick Fix”
There are many problems grounded in overreliance on this “quick fix.”

  • Teens can easily bypass filters. Search for “bypass Internet filter” or “unblock MySpace.” In most schools today, the filters are only effectively blocking elementary students and adult staff.18
  • Teachers and librarians frequently report concerns of filter ovrblocking.
  • Because of the lack of effective Internet use management practices, schools are routinely blocking access to sites containing very valuable information related to contemporary society and educationally valuable technologies. Schools are currently unable to effectively prepare students for their continuing education, employment, and civil responsibilities in the 21st century.
  • Use of products from some filtering companies by public schools is resulting in blocking that is unconstitutional because of the viewpoint discrimination practices of some filtering companies.19
  • Despite an increase in reliance on filtering, more teens are accidently encountering pornographic material ~ by making mistakes that could be avoided through effective education.20

Digital Identification Questions

How will you accurately identify minors?
Accurate digital identification requires that the Identity Provider be able to rely on a Trusted Authority to provide accurate identity and age information. No Trusted Authority institution currently exists for minors, until they acquire a driver’s license, and would be enormously expensive to establish.

It is unrealistic to expect that schools will fill this role. There are strict legal requirements on schools related to the confidentiality of student records. The custodial status of parents will change. Schools would object to this unfunded mandate that is not in accord with their basic mission. Many students are home-schooled. It would be very easy to “scam” this approach, leading to false security? Who would accept the liability for mistakes?

How can you be sure an adult has custodial authority to approve digital identification?
Minors are not capable of legal consent to a contract. A digital identification is a contract. Thus, digital identification would require custodial approval. It would be impossible for for any Trusted Authority to accurately determine the custodial authority of an adult over a particular minor at any particular time. Again, who would accept the liability for mistakes?

What unintended consequences could lead to greater risk?
The concerns of identity theft would multiply. Actual predators could easily scam the system, especially family/acquaintance predators. Parents might think that since they have “protected” their child they do not have to pay attention to what their child is doing online ~ false security.

What would stop users from entering from another country?
To work effectively, this approach would need to be global. The U.S. does not control the world. If the approach is implemented in the U.S., there would be nothing to prevent teens from joining social networking sites from foreign portals or creating bypass portals.

What would be the impact of requiring all users to be digitally identified?
(Especially when there is no solid data about the degree of actual danger!) To work effectively, the approach would require that all users be digitally identified. Many users would object. Rumors of hidden agendas would abound. This initiative would be perceived as being grounded in a “Big Brother” hidden agenda to acquire centralized intelligence. Suspicions about who would be behind this hidden agenda would include market profilers and Homeland Security. This could seriously injure the emerging digital identification industry, which could eventually provide excellent benefits for adults in electronic commerce, banking, health services, and government services.

For voluntary approaches, how will you convince teens they are in danger?
No self-respecting teen will voluntarily use a digital identification system to limit his or her ability to freely use the Internet.

Appropriate Technology Solutions
Technology companies and web sites can offer an array of protection features, developed with an understanding of youth development and risk.

Children
It is developmentally appropriate and technically feasible to seek to keep children up to the age of 10 in safer places using technology protections. Parental empowerment technologies are appropriate for children.
These could include filtering. But kid-safe browsers or a way for parents to easily bookmark sites for children are far safer approaches. Most children are not at home alone, but if they are, time monitoring software might be effective.

Tweens
The age period from 10 to 13 is the most challenging. These young people are generally in middle school and want desperately to be thought of as “older.” Many are joining social networking sites, with the approval of their parents. The more protection features implemented by the sites, the more parents appear to think they are safe for tweens. The “kick them off” approach of finding and removing profiles is not working.
Encourage the establishment of subscription-based versions of social networking sites for pre-teens. This will provide some digital identification because parents will use credit cards. No advertisement and no market profiling. Perhaps the major sites could set up subscription-based services, with enhanced protections, for pre-teens who want to be on the sites with the teens. On these sites provide a full range of protection features including automatic parent notice of friends and postings changes to the site. Give parents the choice of whether their child can add older friends.

Teens
Teens are at a developmental stage where they are becoming independent. They have far greater technical expertise than most adults. They can and will successfully resist all efforts by adults to keep them in electronically fenced play-yards.

  • Placing reliance on filtering technologies is a joke.
  • Time monitoring software can prevent access when parents are not present to supervise or late at night. But teens can get access in other places.
  • The use of monitoring technologies can interfere with the development of a relationship based on trust.
  • But can be effectively used as a consequence for misbehavior or if a parent has significant concerns their child is at risk from someone dangerous.
  • User empowerment technologies which provide the ability to prevent anyone other than selected “friends” to view postings and communicate are highly appropriate for teens.
  • While some risk-taking is to be expected, the vast majority of teens have no desire to place themselves in harm’s way or waste time dealing with “online creeps.”
  • They can and will successfully use user empowerment protection features under two key conditions:
  • The protection features are under their control. (Supports their need for independence.)
  • Many of their peers are using the features. (This is using the influence of social norms.)
  • Setting these protections as “default” is very important. Make it more difficult to undo the protections.
  • We can and must focus on peer leadership and appropriate social norms!

Other Protection Approaches to Consider for Teens

  • Eliminate all profile questions that encourage teens to post information that could put them at risk or create the perception that it is appropriate to share intimate information online.
  • Eliminate all advertisements and market research questionnaires, the “personality quizzes,” that encourage sexually risky or harmful behavior or create the perception that it is appropriate to share intimate information online.
  • Make “report abuse” features highly visible. Responses to abuse reports must be very prompt. Send a follow-up message asking user to complete a brief survey on the effectiveness of the site response and asking whether the issue has been effectively resolved. Follow-up if the problem has not been resolved.
  • Do a separate review of images posted by minors. Even if the images do not reach the site’s standards for deletion, send a “we are concerned” warning message to the user suggesting that the image be removed and providing a link to more information about safety. Encouraging teens to take safe actions is a better approach than simply removing the image and creating anger. Track the responses to see how effective this is.
  • Develop creative ways to “reward” users for reporting that someone else is making risky choices or is in danger. This could include “virtual currency,” coupons for free merchandise (ring tones, cell phone game, I-Tune download), or discount coupons ($2 off on a movie ticket). The response messages should provide strong encouragement and thanks for the user’s action. Do not advertise this. Let the news spread. Do a follow-up survey on the effectiveness of this approach.
  • Seek the assistance of teens to address the concerns.
  • Set up a “teen board” that is officially consulting with the site to address youth risk.
  • Set up a teen-run, adult supervised forum where teen users can ask for help from other teens.

Improved Internet Safety Messaging

Fear-based Messages
We know that fear-based, “just say ‘no,’” simplistic rules approaches are ineffective in preventing youth risk. Therefore, it is unwise to apply these approaches to youth risk online. The vast majority of past and many current Internet safety education messages are grounded in approaches that we know are ineffective in preventing youth risk.

Internet safety messages grounded in fear of dangerous online strangers that provide “just say ’no’” simplistic rules warning against normative online behavior that is not inherently risky are not effective!
Communicating with people unknown in the real world and posting pictures is normative online behavior that is not is not inherently risky. However, there are risks associated with this behavior. But there are also risks associated with crossing the street at a busy intersection. We do not tell young people to never cross a street. We each them about the risks and how to cross a street safety.

Effective Messages
It is essential to improve the Internet safety messaging for all youth and their parents. Messages must convey an accurate explanation of the risks and provide guidance on effective strategies for teens so they can prevent themselves from getting into a risky situation, detect if they are at risk, and know what to do to respond to the risk, including when they should request adult assistance. We also need to provide guidance on making ethical and responsible choices online. Parents need guidance on how they can be positively engaged ~ even if they do not fully understand the technologies.

Peer Leadership and Social Norms
Many teens are no longer listening to adults. The fear-messages and simplistic rules against normative online behavior have led them to believe that we do not understand their new world. We must focus on peer leadership/social norms strategies. There are many savvy teens making good choices online. They can influence positive online social norms. They can provide effective information and support to their peers especially of those peers are not making good choices or are being manipulated or harmed. They are the ones who will feel more comfortable reporting online concerns to adults. We must get them involved in invisible leadership and support activities.

An Initiative to Effectively Address Youth Risk Online

Youth Risk Online Consortium
Under NCLB, Safe Schools and Communities initiatives to address youth risk have been established at the national, state, and school/community level.21 These initiatives include safe school, mental health, and juvenile justice professionals. These safe school professionals often do not understand technologies ~ but they do understand youth risk and effective risk prevention. Technology services is frequently designated the responsibility for addressing “Internet issues” ~ which generally has no understanding of youth risk. Likewise, in Departments of Justice, juvenile specialists understand youth risk, but may not be associating with Internet crimes specialists.

  • Expand the Safe Schools and Communities Committees’ responsibilities to address youth risk online.
  • Expand the participation to include educational technology and Internet crimes professionals.

Effectively Ascertain Risks, Risk Factors, and Protective Factors
Every two years, states conduct a Youth Risk Behavior survey.22 There is no mechanism to assess youth risk online. Because youth risk online is associated with youth risk, it will be helpful to correlate the data.

  • Develop a companion Youth Risk Behavior Online survey that would enable states to assess incident rates, risk factors, protective factors, and correlate the data with the risk behavior survey.
  • Crimes Against Children Research Center has the greatest expertise to develop this survey.

Increase Research and the Translation of Research Into Practice
More funding for interdisciplinary research into youth risk online is imperative. It is also necessary to speed the translation of research into practice. It can take up to 18 months for a completed research study to even be published.

  • Lobby for increased funding for research into youth risk online, with a multidisciplinary oversight of research initiatives.
  • Hold regular “Expert’s Conference” to allow presentation of research, with analysis by experts in risk prevention, law enforcement, and industry. Collaboratively create recommendations for Internet risk messaging and safety initiatives based on this analyzed research insight. Recognize, and be comfortable with the fact, that this insight and recommendations may change with updated research insight.

Implement Education and Intervention Initiatives
Safe schools programs must meet Principles of Effectiveness Requirement and use research-based best practices.23 There are no research-based best practices to address youth risk online. It will be difficult to ever develop research-proven practices. Research will be constantly emerging. The technologies and activities are rapidly changing. But it is possible to implement approaches that are grounded in current research insight and to incorporate the insight from other effective programs to address youth risk. Such initiatives must also incorporate ongoing evaluation and modify their approaches based on this evaluation, as well as new research.

  • Provide funding for state and local-based education and community initiatives through the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SAMHSA)24 and Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities programs.
  • Funding should be placed in the hands of the implementers, not the the developers, of Internet safety education programs.
  • All funded programs should be required to follow the requirements for a waiver of principles of effectiveness, including:
  • A needs assessment based on objective data that describes the problems or concerns currently faced. The Youth Risk Online Behavior Survey could provide this documentation, as well as other local or regional measures.
  • A detailed description of the implementation plan, including: a description of the performance measure or measures the program or activity will address; a description of how the program or activity will be carried out; the personnel to be involved; the intended audience or target population; the time frame for conducting the program or activity; and a detailed description of all costs associated with carrying out the program or activity.
  • The rationale for the program or activity, including: how it is designed and why it is expected to be successful in accomplishing the improvements described in the performance measures; a discussion of the most significant risk and protective factors the program or activity is designed to target; and evidence to support that the program has a “substantial likelihood of success.” This evidence must identify the current youth risk online research insight and effective risk prevention approaches that have been incorporated into the proposed program or activity.
  • An evaluation plan that addresses: the methods used to assess progress toward attaining goals and objectives; the personnel who will conduct evaluation; the way the results of the evaluation and new research insight will be used to refine, improve, and strengthen the comprehensive plan; and the way progress toward attaining objectives will be publicly reported.

Endnotes
1 Naisbitt, J., Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives, New York, N.Y. Warner Books, 1984.

2 Thornburgh, D & Lin, H., (2002) Youth, Pornography and the Internet. National Academy Press. http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309082749&page=R1.

3 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K.J., and Finkelhor, D. (2003). Internet sex crimes against minors: The response of law enforcement. Alexandria, VA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/papers.html.

4 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K.J., and Finkelhor, D. (2007) 1 in 7 Youth: The Statistics about Online Sexual Solicitations. http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/factsheet_1in7.html

5 American Association of University Women (2001) Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing, and Sexual Harassment in School. http://www.aauw.org/research/hostile.cfm. 

6 http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=1973031&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312.

7 bulk.resource.org/gpo.gov/hearings/109h/30410.pdf.

8 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9878187/, http://www.newsweek.com/id/46167?tid=relatedcl.

9 http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com/2008/08/prime-number-where-50000-online.html

10 E.g. http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/press.aspx?id=3929.

11 Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K., and Ybarra,, M. (2008) Online “Predators” and Their Victims: Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment. American Psychologist, 63(2), 111-128.

12 Ybarra, M., Espelage, D.L., & Mitchell, K. (2007). The Co-Occurrence of Internet Harassment and Unwanted Sexual Solicitation Victimization and Perpetration: Associations with Psychosocial Indicators. Journal of Adolescent Health. 41(6,Suppl): S31-S41, S37.

13 Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., and Finkelhor, D. (2006). Online victimization of youth: Five years later. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Bulletin – #07-06-025. Alexandria, VA. http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/papers.html; Rosen, L. D., et al., (2008) The association of parenting style and child age with parental limit setting and adolescent MySpace behavior, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2008.07.005

14 Rosen, supra.

15 Rosen, supra.

16 McQuade, S. (2008) A Survey of Internet and At-risk Behaviors. Rochester Institute of Technology. http://www.rrcsei.org/.

17 This is based on multiple conversations with teens. Not validated by data. 

18 These assertions are based on numerous ongoing conversations with educators on three discussion email groups: Edtech, LM-Net, WWWEDU. 

19 See if you can figure out which filtering company blocks access to sites with information addressing sexual orientation in the same category as swinging and sexual technique. Or find the major filtering company that has a close corporate relationship with the American Family Association. 

20 Wolak, et. al.. (2006).

21 http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osdfs/index.html.

22http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/.

23 Section 4115. http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg52.html. 

24 http://www.sshs.samhsa.gov/.

About the Author
Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D. is the director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use – http://csriu.org. She has degrees in special education and law. She taught “at risk” children, practiced computer law, and was an educational technology consultant before focusing her professional attention on issues of youth risk online and effective management of student Internet use. Nancy is author of two books. Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Cruelty, Threats, and Distress (Research Press) and Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens, Helping Young People Use the Internet Safety and Responsibly (Jossey Bass). Nancy’s focus is on applying research insight into youth risk and effective research-based risk prevention approaches to these new concerns of youth risk online.

My Review of I-Safe

An imposter has been posting comments in my name lauding I-Safe. One comment posted read: “The best thing for parents to do is to learn about how to REALLY keep kids safe online. Go to http://www.isafe.org. This is the best Internet Safety Organization out there.”

This is NOT my opinion of I-Safe. I did write a review of I-Safe last fall, that I kept private. I think it is time to make this public.

Review of I-Safe Curriculum
Nancy Willard, November 28, 2007

The I-Safe organization has reportedly received over $11 million in funding from the Federal Government. HR 4134, which just passed the U.S. House of Representatives would award $5 million per year for the next five years to I-Safe, for a total of $25 million for one organization. Another bill, that has passed the Senate, S 2344, would provide funds for Internet safety on a competitive grant basis.

I have expressed concerns about the I-Safe curriculum over the past several years. My concerns are grounded in my understanding of youth risk online and effective risk-prevention education. I have also received many credible reports from educators who have used or reviewed the materials that the curriculum is lacking, engages in too much fear-mongering, does not keep the interest of students, does not reflect how young people are using the Internet, and does not adequately address the concerns.

After the passage of the bill in the House, I took the time to review the I-Safe curriculum and other related material. The lessons I reviewed have a 2006 copyright. I presume these are the newest materials. The following is an analysis of specific information or lessons and my concerns.

Evaluation of I-Safe

An independent evaluation was conducted of I-Safe, released April 2006. This evaluation concluded:

“Findings from the outcome evaluation noted positive and significant changes in knowledge between the treatment and comparison groups, both on average and over time. For the most part, there were no significant changes in behavior between the treatment and comparison groups on all scales.”

The conclusion that there were significant changes in knowledge should be kept in perspective, as the questions that led to this conclusion were:

How much do you know about plagiarism?
How much do you know about copyright laws?
How much do you know about cyber bullying?
How much do you know about computer viruses?
How much do you know about moderated chat rooms?
How much do you know about intellectual property?
How much do you know about Internet predators?

For these questions, the answer choices were: | Nothing at all | A little | Some | A lot.

These survey questions obviously do not solicit sufficient information to conclude an actual increase in knowledge – or the accuracy of that knowledge. Of greater concern is that receiving the I-Safe curriculum did not lead students to make any changes in potentially risky online behavior.

Fear-Mongering Regarding Dangerous Online Strangers

Of significant concern is the degree to which the I-Safe curriculum focuses on online stranger danger. Organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children discourage the use of stranger danger messages. NCMEC indicates that children do not understand how to judge whether or not other people are safe. Further, NCMEC argues that children should not be taught that the world is a scary place.

Online stranger danger messages are conveyed throughout the I-Safe curriculum:

Kindergarten: “Sometimes strangers do not tell the truth on the Internet. They might be trying to trick people into believing them, so it’s not a good idea for anyone to send messages back and forth with a stranger.”

Fourth Grade: “Think about what you know about being safe in your community. How many of you know that strangers sometimes do bad things to trick kids?” …“Sometimes strangers try to do bad things on the Internet to trick kids too. Sometimes strangers lie about who they are, how old they are, what their names are, and where they live. They may even pretend to be your friend in an email or other type of computer message. They are trying to trick you into believing them, so don’t be fooled, be safe!” (Note: At this age, many of these students are regularly waddling around Club Penguin safely communicating with online strangers.)

Seventh Grade Powerpoint on Predators: “A predator is someone who victimizes somebody else. A predator uses lies, secrecy or stealth to get close enough to another to harm them.” … “Not all online solicitations are unwanted.  Sometimes you meet someone online and WANT to meet them offline. Predators want you to be a Willing Participant. (Note: Nowhere in this Powerpoint was the term “sex” used.)

Seventh Grade Handout on Willing Participants: “When you engage in an online friendship with a stranger, you are considered a “willing participant.”

Questions regarding Managing Risk were also asked in the I-Safe Evaluation: The survey asked the young people the following questions (pg 151 of the report):

How likely is it that someone you meet online would pretend to be someone they are not?
How likely is it that someone you meet online would try to hurt or scare you?
If you reveal your personal information to someone you only met online, how likely is it that person will try to contact you?
If you agree to have a face-to-face meeting with someone you only talk to online, how likely is it that the person will try to harm you?

The answer choices were: | Not at all likely | A little likely | Somewhat likely | Very likely.  The answer “very likely was considered “desirable.” (p. 64 of the PDF)

To quote from the NCMEC document:

“Today, kids need to be empowered with positive messages and safety skills that will build their self esteem and self confidence while helping to keep them safer. Kids don’t need to be told the world  is a scary place. … Rather, they need to know their parent, guardian, or another trusted adult is there for them if they are in trouble; and most adults they encounter in their lives are basically good people.”

Today’s “digital natives” (young people) know that many “digital immigrants (adults) do not understand the Internet. They will dismiss fear-based messages as evidence that adults fear what they do not understand. Young people will be interacting with strangers online. They and their parents need to know how to find safer places to engage in these communications, limit access to personal information, evaluate the trustworthiness of anyone met online, the danger signs, and how to meet safely.

Of significant concern is the suggestion by I-Safe that any teen who is willing to “engage in an online friendship with a stranger” should be considered a willing participant in online predation.

Providing Inaccurate Information

A document entitled Eluding Internet Predators Tip Sheet is provided on the I-Safe site.  The document states:

“One in five children who use computer chat rooms has been approached over the Internet by a pedophile.
Only one in four youth who received a sexual solicitation reported the incident to an adult.”

The first statement is inaccurate; the second misleading. The data reported came from a 2000 study conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which was updated in 2006.  A pedophile is an adult interested in sex with children – not teens. The 2000 and 2006 study data indicates that some teens (not children) were receiving unwelcome sexual messages online – the majority of which came from other teens.

Many teens did not report – why? Because, according to them, the situation was “not serious enough.” They reported successful strategies to deal with the situation, including leaving the situation or blocking, confronting, or ignoring the sender.

Encouraging the Authoritarian Delivery of Incomplete Information

The curriculum scripts provided by I-Safe encourage an authoritarian-style delivery of information to students by their teacher. The following is the script from a lesson on Personal Safety, Grade 4:

Question: “Can anyone think of a way we communicate, or write to each other, in Cyberspace?” Provide time for students to respond.” (Gauge this part of the discussion to your students’ Internet experience level: Briefly review that on the Internet, people can communicate through email.) …

“We talked a little bit about e-mail messages in the last lesson.  E-mail messaging is a great way to communicate with someone you and your parents know. But…no one should be making you fell uncomfortable – ever! If they are, talk it over with your parents.”

“Now let’s talk about other kinds of cyber communication.” …

Question: “Does anyone know what instant messaging is?” Provide time for student responses.  “Instant messaging is just what it sounds like – messages that are sent instantly in a little window on your computer screen. People make Buddy lists of the friends they want to exchange instant messages with.”

Question: “Who knows what a chat room is? Has anyone gone into a chat room before, or have you watched while your older brother or sister has been chatting”.  Present the idea:  “A chat room looks like a window that appears on your computer, or a webpage.  People communicate, talk, by typing in their messages. It’s a lot faster than e-mail. Lots of people can look at the messages at the same time, and everyone can see everything that each person types.”

Question:  “Does anyone know what a bulletin board is?”  Provide time for student responses. (Refer to your own classroom bulletin board, where you post things.)  Present the idea: “Online bulletin boards are another way to communicate in Cyberspace.  Someone types in a message and it appears on a webpage.  Anyone who goes to that webpage will be able to read what it says.

To put this lesson into perspective, consider the following. Many fourth graders are communicating on animated avatar sites like Club Penguin and Webkinz. Some also have MySpace accounts – not that they should and many are using instant messaging. Hopefully, they are not going to chat rooms other than monitored places like Club Penguin. Bulletin boards are an older technology and are highly unlikely to be of any interest to fourth graders. Many fourth grade teachers have only had experience with email.

This lesson directs the teacher to provide information about communications technologies to students – who likely know more about some of these technologies than the teacher. It omits several communication technologies that are popular with today’s youth. Further, there is no discussion of important safety guidelines for these technologies. For example, when students implement instant messaging, they should make sure their address is not made public and should limit their buddy list to people they know, or friends of friends with parent permission.

Registration of Students as I-Mentors Without Asking Parent Permission

In the curriculum, students are encouraged to register on the I-Safe site as I-Mentors. In the I-Safe online registration, there is an option to check that you are a “Kid or Teen.” There is also an option to indicate you are with an “Elementary School.” The registration form requests full name and email address.

At no time does the registration process require obtaining parent permission before providing this information, despite the fact that these are young children.

Instruction that is Not Developmentally Appropriate

I-Safe provides a lesson for kindergarten students on computer viruses. Some of the statements suggested for the teacher include:

“Does anyone know what a virus is?” Provide time for student responses, and provide appropriate feedback. (A virus is a germ that can make you sick.) “Computers can get viruses too, but they don’t catch them from people’s germs.  Let’s find out what i-Buddy learned about computer viruses.” “i-Buddy found out from his computer repair man that sometimes computers get computer viruses from messages that hide in e-mail.”   “The best way to keep your computer from catching a virus is never to try to open an e-mail letter without help from your parents.  That’s the best way you can keep a computer virus from making your computer sick. You will be a hero for your whole family if you keep a virus from attacking your computer!”

Kindergarteners are learning their “A, B, C’s” and “1, 2, 3’s.” They should not be considered responsible for maintaining computer security against viruses.

Messages that Will Not be Effective in Communicating to Young People

Here is text from the I-Safe Powerpoint on Piracy, Donny the Downloader, for intermediate and middle school students:

“Let’s talk Piracy
So what is piracy? When you hear the term “piracy” what do you think of? The high seas, patched eyes, parrots, and PIRATES?
What did pirates do? What were they known for?
Pirates were thieves. They were unethical, immoral, and operated illegally!
Just like the pirates of old, current pirates also operate illegally – stealing copyrighted items. Piracy is the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted book, recording, television program, patented invention, trademarked product, etc.”

The approach of trying to denigrate pirates in the eyes of young people will be totally ineffective – and will probably even encourage copyright infringement. I-Safe has not paid attention to the media. Pirates are all the rage with the younger set. They are the heroes. They are the scoundrels who make off good. They are the Robin Hoods – robbing from the rich to serve the poor. They are the ones to be emulated – if you can get away with it. And online you can.

Now, if you see any blog comments noting that I applaud the I-Safe curriculum, please let me know – or provide a link to this page. Thanks bunches. Nancy

Social Networking Risks: The Myths and Realities

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School recently announced that it will head a newly formed Internet Safety Technical Task Force. The Task Force, comprised of leading Internet businesses and organizations, will focus on identifying effective online safety tools and technologies that can be used by many companies across multiple platforms.

An open letter to the members of this Task Force.

My 14 YO daughter would welcome the opportunity explain to you the basic precautions for using MySpace in a safe manner. She will help you register correctly and establish preferences so that only the people you accept as friends can see your profile. She will advise you to accept friendship requests only from people you know or people who your friends know in person – and if someone behaves rudely, you should terminate the friendship link. She can show you how to file a complaint, although she has never had to do so. She will tell you to never to provide a phone number online or address online. She will provide you with guidance on the kinds of material and images that are safe to post and those that are inappropriate or unsafe.

My daughter feels perfectly safe on MySpace. And as her mother, I agree. Apparently my daughter and I are not alone. A recent Pew Internet and American Life study revealed that 55% of U.S. teens have established accounts on social networking sites. Quite obviously, the majority of U.S. teens do not perceive these sites to present dangers, and the majority of parents agree.

It is appropriate that MySpace continues to explore and implement new safety measures. It is helpful that this nation’s Attorneys General have decided to stop attacking MySpace in the press and will work together to find additional solutions to the safety concerns. But I respectfully suggest this Task Force consider the following questions regarding the effectiveness of their recommended “techie fixes:”

Current fear-mongering about online predators is not grounded in research. The Crimes Against Children Research Center just released a report that addresses the myths and realities about these situations. This is not new research. This is the research that I have relied on for years to guide my understanding. But this recent report is an incredibly excellent review of the current state of our knowledge.
The fear mongering about online sexual predators is  getting in the way of healthy teen/adult communications and disuading teens from reporting online concerns – because they are quite sure that adults will overreact, not know what to do, or make matters worse.

Internet sex offenders do not target young children by posing as another youth.
They to not track young people through personal information they post online, then abduct and rape them. They are adults who target teens and seduce victims into sexual relationships. The teens see these relationships as romances or sexual adventures. The majority of the offenders are charged with statutory (non-forcible) rape. Teens meet with these men knowing they are adults and intending to engage in sex.

Young people who are most vulnerable to online sex offenders have a history of sexual, physical abuse, and/or family problems and tendencies to take risks both on- and offline. Boys who are gay or questioning are also at risk.

The use of social networking sites does not appear to increase risk. Online interactions that do increase risk include talking online about sex with unknown people and posting sexually suggestive material. Social networking sites, which allow young people to control who has access to their personal information and limit communications to friends are far safer than chat rooms.

Current educational efforts addressing online predators are likely ineffective, including:

  • Discouraging children from giving out or posting personal information in the context of predator warnings. This guidance is too simplistic for the myriad of ways in which young people are using the Internet.
  • Warning about the dangers of online strangers and deception. Stranger danger warnings are not effective. Most strangers are safe. Predators are not deceptive.
  • Encouraging parents to monitor their children and children to report concerns to parents. While we do need to encourage parents to be more attentive to what their children are doing online and educate them about these concerns, these efforts will not reach the most “at risk” teens because one major reason they are at risk is lack of parent involvement.

Let’s consider the “techie fixes that have been proposed:

Establish an email registry, where parents can submit the email addresses of their children and no one would be able to register on a social networking site with this address. Are the AGs aware that it would take a teen less than a minute to create another email address? How would this registry be more effective than keeping the computer in a public area, checking over their child’s shoulder, and looking at the history file? How will the proposed service ensure the security of the vast database of personal information about children and that the person who registers an address is the custodial parent of the person whose address has been submitted? How will this registry help those young people who are at greatest risk – those who do not have involved parents?

Establish age verification. Age verification can be done for adults – who have identification that is independently verifiable, credit cards and driver’s licenses. But no such uniform identification system exists for minors. Would such a system be created? How would this be implemented, how much would this cost, and who would bear the cost? What about concerns of identity theft?

Have parents establish their identity and then provide permission for their child to register. How could the web sites effectively establish which adult has custodial authority over any particular child? Will parents be required to go to their local court to establish that they do indeed have parental authority over a certain child?

Other questions. What would prevent U.S. teens from registering on these sites from a foreign hub? What would the AGs propose to do about the millions of teens who already are registered? The evidence will show that none of these proposed “techie fixes” has a chance of working effectively.

What will work?

  • Teens must understand the concerns about romantic relationships with adults and the dynamics of Internet-initiated sex crimes, so they can learn not to place themselves at risk and to recognize if they have received contact from a potential predator.
  • To better reach the more “at risk” teens, we need to encourage savvy teens to talk with their friends about their online choices and report to an adult if they believe that a friend is in danger or making bad choices.
  • We must find better ways to address needs of “at risk” teens. This will require adopting effective risk prevention approaches used for other areas of youth risk.

I end with a quote from Megatrends

When we fall into the trap of believing or, more accurately, hoping that technology will solve all of our problems, we are actually abdicating the high touch of personal responsibility. … In our minds at least, technology is always on the verge of liberating us from personal discipline and responsibility. Only it never does and never will. The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch.

Naisbitt, J., Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives, New York, N.Y. Warner Books, 1984.