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.


Digital Identification and the Dangers to Youth

This nation’s attorney generals have been encouraging the development of digital identification – and pressuring social networking sites to implement such identification. There is a task force that is operating through the Berkman Institute that is addressing this issue. The leverage they are using is “fear of predators.”

So let’s first focus on research insight:

The overwhelming majority of young people are at no risk on online predation from strangers. The data on this (unfortunately 2000) indicated there were 500 arrests for online predation by strangers compared to 65,000 other arrests for sexual abuse of minors.

Children are not at risk. Predators target highly vulnerable teens who are providing online indicators (material and conversations) that they are vulnerable and interested in sex.

Young people face far greater risk from their peers. So separating minors from adults will not protect kids and teens. Further, minors generally become adults in their senior year of high school. Trying to convince teens that as soon as a peer becomes an adult he or she is now a potentially dangerous sexual predator and all contact should be ended would be an exercise in futility – to say the least.

On to digital identification:

In order to digitally identify someone, it is necessary for the Identity Provider to verify the identity and other variables, like age. This is pretty easy to do for adults, with credit cards or driver’s licenses. Who has this data for minors? Bingo! Here is where you come in. Schools have this information. In a recent Barkman task force meeting, the ability of schools to identify minors started to take on real steam.

So ok, we have concerns of student privacy under FERPA, as well as additional work. But there are other significant concerns.

One company, eGuardian has a solution to the additional work. “When parents enroll their children for a one-time $29 fee, the school their children attend will receive $11 for each verified enrollment. These funds may be used to upgrade technology or for any other area not covered by the school’s annual budget. Or, schools can choose to participate in our school fundraiser program and receive up to $13 per registration.” Eguardian is now partnered with WoogiWorld.

Identity.net just become aligned with ISafe and they are trying to use their connections with schools to promote school involvement. I have not been able to figure out yet how Isafe and Identity will seek to get schools involved in actually verifying identity. But they only announced their partnership today – October 17.

Both have initiatives that are attempting to sign students up in conjunction with the upcoming election. Do NOT do this!

Here is the danger:

The digital identification approach will allow market profilers to gain significantly greater insight into young people to allow them to send more effectively targeted advertising. These folks are using fear of the Internet as a marketing tool to gain the collaboration of schools – which will result in better targeting of advertisements to students – and the ability to track individually identified young people wherever they go on the affiliated sites.

How these companies work.

Take a look at the sites of two of the companies that are already trying to establish relationships with schools. Look carefully at the privacy policies. Note the language that focuses on personally identifiable information, name and address.

Eguardian: “We will never disclose the name or address of any child or parent in our database to anyone.”

Identity.net: “It is Identity.net’s policy to respect the privacy of Members. Therefore, Identity.net will not disclose to any third party Member’s name or contact information.”

Here is the deal.

To engage in effective market profiling, it is not necessary to have a name and address. Helpful, but not necessary – and sooner or later, you can trick a user into providing this information – like through entering a contest – and add it to the already established file. What market profilers want and are willing to pay premium prices for is a unique persistent identifier (the id) and other demographics, most importantly age, gender, and geographic location.

At the recent Berkman taskforce meeting the CEO of eGuardian indicated that this is the information that is provided to the sites – id, age, gender, location. Further, in the document they provided to Berkman, they stated: “Alternately, for partners that do not charge access fees and/or rely on advertising, we also offer revenue sharing models derived for this targeted advertising revenue. Our ability to provide identity verified information allows for better targeted, and more appropriate, advertising to eGuardian protected children.” I found an interview of the founders online where they reiterated this funding model and discussed the increased value to advertisers of having this information. Go here and scan down to eguardian

The same information is present on the identity.net site if you look closely. Look at their blog. “The Identity.net Profile API allows partner sites to easily register users, automatically provide an OpenID for each user, and maintain a rich profile of attributes about users.” Look also on their news page: “To further showcase how these these technologies can be applied, Identity.net and i-SAFE will also work together on a youth poll conducted among participating students to assess their impressions of the current presidential election. Identity.net’s identity verification technology ensures a scientific poll in that each user can only vote once, and their demographic information is confirmed. Results of the poll, which will provide authenticated demographic data such as gender, grade and zip code, will be released prior to Election Day.”

It is an outrage that under the guise of protecting children from online sexual predators, companies are promoting “solutions” that will allow “market profiling predators” to engage in more effective targeting of advertisements to children. The outrageousness of this situation is amplified with a consideration of the harm that is currently being inflicted upon youth by these same corporate advertisers – and the degree to which their advertising activities are encouraging youth risky or hurtful behavior that underlies risky sexual activities as well as other concerns related to the well-being of young people. The American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and others have focused on the harmful impacts of advertising on a range of youth risk behaviors.

In a recent report of the American Psychological Association Taskforce on Advertising and Children found ample evidence of harm in the form of parent-child conflicts, consumption of junk food, and consumption of tobacco and alcohol, expressed concerns regarding the advertising of violent media.

These concerns have also been expressed by the AAP. “Young people view more than 40 000 ads per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools. This exposure may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use.”

The American Psychological Association recently released a report on the Sexualization of Girls. The conclusion of the report was: “The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development.”
As further outlined in the report: “Psychology offers several theories to explain how the sexualization of girls and women could influence girls’ well-being. Ample evidence testing these theories indicates that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality, and attitudes and beliefs. …”

Yet to be studied is the impact of advertising on bullying. However, it is known that advertisers frequently communicate the message to teens that in order to be “cool” they must have a certain product. This advertising likely has a significant influence on the behavior of teens in relation to their peers – judging others based on the degree to which they fit the advertiser’s version of what constitutes “cool.”

In light of the evidence of the significant harm inflicted on young people by advertisers, especially related to the sexualization of girls that clearly is contributing to online risky sexual behavior, the support of supposed technical “solutions” to the problem of online predation that would allowing greater market profiling to support better targeted advertising to young people would be unconscionable!

I am working with some of this nation’s top privacy experts to get ahead of this issue. IF we need to move to a process to digitally identify minors, then there MUST be legislation in place that prevents the use of this digital identification for market profiling and targeted advertising of minors! Until such time DO NOT sell out your students to the market profilers!

Sexting – Adults Please Think Before You Act

There is a new report! on my site about sexting. These are more brief comments.
Sexting! Teens sending nude sexy images! Admittedly, the combination of teens, technology, and sex can tend to freak out many adults, but please can we stop the scorched earth approach of dealing with this new challenge?

When I first started investigating this issue, my theory was that this new trend is a combination of digital imaging technologies, teen’s raging hormones, and teen’s biological inability to effectively predict the potential negative consequences of their actions. The recent AARP story about seniors engaged in sexting blew that theory to shreds. It appears that sexting should be considered within the range of normal human sexual behavior. This being said, there are important reasons to discourage this behavior in teens. Their relationships are too unstable, the images are much more likely to be widely disseminated, and when such images “go viral” this can place teens at greater risk of humiliation or exploitation.

But PLEASE adults do not also demonstrate the inability to effectively predict the potential negative consequences before you act!!!

Clearly, some adults are freaking out. Two young Indiana teens, ages 12 and 13, who shared images privately in the digital version of “show me yours, I show you mine” were recently arrested and charged with trafficking in child pornography and exploitation of a minor. A young man, who was angry over the break-up of his relationship, distributed his ex’s nude images to others and is now registered as a sex offender. Yes, he deserved a criminal consequence. But destroying the lives of young adults for what is normative behavior and clogging up the sex offender registries with people who do not present risks of engaging in sex abuse is irrational.

The Attorney General of Texas is currently telling residents of his state that 1 in 4 teens are engaging in sexting and they all risk 10 years in prison and registration as sex offenders. He obviously has not calculated the costs of locking up 20% of the teens in his state. A district attorney in Illinois is not only warning teens that they face arrest, he is advising them how one teen handled the situation where she was publicly humiliated – by committing suicide. This kind of messaging can cause a teen to contemplate suicide as an option if an image shared under assurances of privacy is now being distributed.

There is a range of behavior involved here, from private behavior to egregious behavior. Some of these incidents should be considered developmentally normative – private sharing between partners or the digital version of “spin the bottle.” Unfortunately, sometimes these images are disseminated more widely than originally anticipated. Other times, there is evidence of pressure or even coercion in requesting a teen to create and provide such an image. This may be by an abusive partner or a bully. Other times, there is malicious distribution, such as distributing an image of a former partner after a break-up. In a minority of situations, the teen depicted appears to be engaging in high risk self-exploitation behavior or an older teen may be soliciting sex from a younger teen or trafficking in child pornography. Obviously, a tiered approach to consequences is necessary.

Should these nude images be considered child pornography? Except in a minority of situations, obviously not. The U.S. Supreme Court recently noted that laws against trafficking in child pornography are designed to address the concerns of “subcultures of persons who harbor illicit desires for children and commit criminal acts to gratify the impulses.” (Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition) Laws against child pornography are supposed to protect minors from sexual abuse – not be used to charge them as criminals.

These images are generally shared in trust that they will remain private. When they are disseminated, this is a violation of that trust and an invasion of privacy. There are invasion of privacy laws against taking a photograph in a place where privacy is expected. This is the legal arena where these situations need to be addressed. State statutes addressing invasion of privacy should be revised to cover those situations where malicious actions, such as manipulation or coercion, led a teen to create and provide an image, as well as to those situations where the image is distributed beyond the original private sharing – with increased penalties if the distribution was for malicious purposes.

It is exceptionally important to be cognizant of the unintended negative consequences of telling teens they can be arrested for creating child pornography and proposed legislation that would create a misdemeanor crime of self-creation. We know that young people who are sexually abused frequently do not report such abuse, because they are afraid they will get into trouble. Online predators, sexual abusers, and abusive partners will still be effective in manipulating or coercing teens to provide nude images. What are the chances teens will report such sexual abuse, or use of their image for blackmail, if they risk arrest for self-creation? This approach merely provides support for sexual abusers.

It is also necessary to address sexting situations that involve peers of a similar age, but where one is considered to be an adult because he or she is 18. Destroying the lives of young adults by registering them as sex offenders for behavior that appears to be relatively commonplace is outrageous – and will simply make it harder for law enforcement to keep track of the truly dangerous sexual abusers. The safe harbor exceptions in the statutory rape laws recognize the reality that sexual interactions cross this arbitrary designation of when someone becomes an adult. This same approach should be taken when dealing with sexting issues. Privately shared images between peers of a like age, where there has not been coercion or distribution, should have no legal consequence.

Lastly, we have to address how to investigate and intervene in these situations. In every state, there are Multidisciplinary Teams that investigate child abuse. These MDTs include law enforcement and mental health professionals. The MDTs should be designated as responsible for overseeing all investigations and plans for intervention. In many situations, it would be best if school officials conduct the initial investigation because they know the participants, have rapport, and can effectively respond to the minor incidents through education, working with parents, or school discipline.

It is imperative that everyone strive to prevent these incidents from being publicly reported. Such reporting appears to widen the distribution and legitimize peer sexual harassment. How many more teen suicides do we need before we realize the need to respond to these sexting situations privately? (Hope) (Jesse) Schools have a legal obligation to prevent the sexual harassment of students – even if the student engaged in actions that have led to the harassment. Preventing harassment is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, when these sexting situations are publicly reported.

Please everyone, especially law enforcement officials, legislators, and school officials, take a deep breath and think before you act in ways that could damage young people.

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

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?

Prez O’s Blackberry ~ Teachable Moment

Great story on CNET. Prez Obama gets to keep his Blackberry. Thank goodness. As far as I am concerned going without a Blackberry would be like trying to quit smoking. Not that I know about the smoking bit – having never started. Am totally addicted to my Blackberry.

Note the following from the article:

Gibbs didn’t offer details, but the contours of the compromise seem to be: official, work-related e-mail messages will be subject to the Presidential Records Act and the possibility of eventual disclosure. But strictly personal communications–with family, for instance–will be exempt.

This makes sense. As we reported last week, federal law explicitly exempts from disclosure any “personal records” that do not relate to the president’s official function.

Those include electronic records that are “of a purely private or non-public character” and don’t relate to official duties; the law lists diaries, journals, notes, and presidential campaign materials as examples. Similarly, the Freedom of Information Act prevents files from being released if the disclosure would significantly jeopardize “personal privacy.”

This provides a great Teachable Moment for students. Students must learn to distinguish between personal/social online activities and professional/educational. Most school acceptable use policies provide that students should use the Internet in school for “educational activities only.” This limit should not be for class assignments only. Just like students were able to explore personal interests in the school library, high quality online activities that are outside of class assignments should be allowed. Does this extend to checking MySpace? In most schools this does not. Classwork, high quality research = educational. MySpace = personal/social.

One reason it is important for students to learn this distinction is that when they enter the work world, their use of their employer’s interactive technologies should be limited to professional, employment related communications and activities only. Employers are allowed to monitor their employees use of interactive technologies and many employees have been fired because they were engaging in personal online activities, including really inappropriate online activities, during work time.

Suggested class discussion and activities:

  • Have your students make a list of the kinds of activities that Prez O might engage in using his Blackberry, especially the kinds of communications. Put these into to lists: Presidential and Personal.
  • Then create a list of the kinds of online activities your students engage in, both in school and out. Put this into two lists: School and Personal.
  • Discuss issues of privacy. What level of privacy should Prez O expect for his Blackberry communications? Yeah sure, really private communications do not have to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. But what are the risks? How much privacy can Prez O expect in any of his electronic communications? None! Any electronic communication that Prez O sends or receives is where? On someone else’s electronic device. Just like every one of your student’s electronic communications.
  • Have your students write their personal guidance for Prez O for how he should handle the situation where he will be using his Blackberry for both Presidential and Personal communications. Have your students write their guidance on how much privacy he should expect in any of these communications.

As soon as I get my head above water with an overload of work projects, I am going to create a new blog that will provide ongoing Teachable Moment suggestions. All best. Nancy