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May 20 2011

19:57

Children and Facebook: The Promise and Pitfalls for Social Media

With more than 500 million Facebook users across the world, it's hard to refute that the social networking site has profoundly changed the way we communicate and share information. But what's the Facebook effect on kids? When it comes to navigating the social networking world -- whether it's Facebook or fan fiction sites -- the terrain becomes even murkier.

Parents worry about what's age-appropriate, what should be kept private, and exposure to cyberbullying, among many other issues. And it's true -- there's a lot to navigate, even for adults. But Facebook and social networks aren't going away anytime soon, and the better parents understand this, the more they'll be able to help their kids comprehend the medium.

Rather than block all access to the Internet, parents can see that for every pitfall, there's a potential promise.

"Parents can and should moderate sites, but they have to give kids the opportunities to figure out what it means to be digital citizens, and allow kids to be empowered," said Carrie James, who's conducting a qualitative survey of kids and social networks at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "They need prompts and supports to develop guidelines together."

CONNECTION AND SELF-EXPRESSION

For better or for worse, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and their ilk provide ways for kids to connect with each other and express themselves.

This level of unchecked expression, some argue, is too much for young children who can't handle the complexities of social networking sites. "The amount of angst has increased in my school in the past few years," said Anthony Orsini, principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J. With three suicides (including Tyler Clementi) in the past year, he said, "it's been a fearful time in our town for our parents."

The irony is that the fear doesn't come from the traditional so-called stranger danger but from how kids behave toward each other online. "Stranger danger is unbelievably minute compared to the social and emotional damage they receive from each other everyday," Orsini said. And the matter becomes much more complicated when you consider that strict anti-bullying laws render schools responsible for kids' online behavior, he said.

But for administrators like Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in Bergen County, N.J., privacy and cyberbullying issues are a red herring. "What if a kid swears in the hallway? It's the same thing. People want to hide behind the legal issues, but it's the same as swearing on Facebook," he said.

girl with tablet.jpg

Either way, kids will have to learn that their digital footprint is born from the moment they start posting on each other's walls and create their first online avatar. They'll have to figure out that every YouTube video they upload will be a reflection of themselves as the public sees them. With guidance from parents and educators, they can figure out what the world knows about them.

But at the moment, it's not a high priority at most schools, Sheninger said. "Schools aren't teaching kids to be digitally responsible," he said. "We can't fault kids for doing something wrong on Facebook or Twitter because we're not teaching them. We need to have digital citizenship curriculum in schools."

It's important to note that Orisini is the principal of a middle school, while Sheninger is the principal of a high school, and the age difference can be a factor in how kids behave online.

LEARNING

Chances are, anytime the computer is on near a kid (and let's face it, even adults), some kind of social networking is happening. Whether it's Facebook or instant messaging, or watching or uploading videos to share, the distractions are endless. As we all know, one link can easily lead to another, until suddenly an hour and a half has passed and we've lost track of the task at hand.

Last year's comprehensive study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids age 8 to 18 actually manage to pack in almost 11 hours worth of media content into 7½ hours of using media.

So is there any time left for learning? Researchers like Henry Jenkins would argue that the best kind of learning -- engaged and collaborative -- is happening on social network sites.

Jenkins, who is a professor at the University of Southern California, talks about "deeply meaningful forms of learning...taking place through engagement with affinity groups and social networks online" such as the Harry Potter Alliance, which has mobilized more than 100,000 people against the Darfur genocide and labor rights at Wal-Mart.

But because of privacy laws like the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, most schools shut off access to social networking sites -- with a few exceptions. To principal Sheninger, "if you're not on Facebook, you can't really communicate with us. Our new hub of real-time information is Facebook. I post things about what the kids are doing, and when they comment or parents comment, as a principal, I'm proud," he said.

PRIVACY

Facebook's changing privacy settings and its tendency to default to more open information is a source of constant annoyance for many of its users. We have to keep close tabs on those changes, especially when it comes to kids.

But young children are not the primary target user for Facebook, which officially does not allow kids under 13 to sign up for an account. Parents must decide whether they'll allow their children to become a part of the vast Facebook network, or to harness the social networking world into smaller, more contained sites like Togetherville or Club Penguin.

Parents can use the subject of privacy settings as an opportunity to teach kids about navigating the online world. They can talk about social media etiquette and what information they agree is acceptable to be shared with friends and the public at large. With guidance and support, and with parents setting examples of what they think is appropriate, kids can learn their place and responsibility as part of a worldwide community.

Photo of girl with an iPad by Alec Couros via Flickr.

Tina Barseghian is the editor of KQED's MindShift, an NPR website about the future of education. In the past, she's worked as the executive editor of Edutopia, a magazine published by the George Lucas Education Foundation, as well as an editor at O'Reilly Media and CMP Media. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQED's MindShift, which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

April 14 2011

19:02

Facebook Moves Slow to Remove Offensive Content, Fake Profiles

When it comes to Facebook, what goes up may not come down, at least not without a fight. In many cases, the social networking giant has been slow to act when it comes to offensive content and fake profiles.

Robin Sinkhorn, mother of actress Lauren Potter, who plays Becky in the popular TV series "Glee," learned this last year. Potter has Down's Syndrome. When an onslaught of offensive messages suddenly appeared on her authorized fan page, it took her mother hours -- then days -- to delete them and block the offenders.

"When it was time to protect my daughter, it wasn't easy to do," Sinkhorn recalls. "I ended up having to delete everything -- even the pictures we wanted. [Facebook] needs to be more user-friendly for parents."

The incident had a happy ending when fans from around the world posted updates supporting Potter. The mother and daughter still use Facebook, in part to spread the word about a campaign to raise awareness that using "the R-word" (retard) in any situation -- online or off -- is not okay.

'An Absolute Nightmare'

Cathy Williams is still waiting for her happy ending. In early January, she discovered a fake Facebook profile of her 13-year-old daughter Cassidy, a good student and star athlete. Williams has struggled for three months to get the page removed.

"This has been an absolute nightmare," says the Peachtree City, Georgia, mother. "Facebook is just this giant entity that you cannot touch -- you cannot talk to. Between me and my sister it had to be reported 300 times and you never get anything," Williams said. "What does it take to get their attention?"

Privacy settings also played a role; the fake profile's tight privacy settings made it hard for Williams to see what was going on, while a classmate's wide-open settings allowed the imposter to snag Cassidy's photo.

A Facebook spokesman points out that Facebook, which is based on a "real identity culture," is self-policing.

"We provide 'report' links on nearly every page and encourage people to let us know when they see something they think might violate our standards," said Facebook's Simon Axten. "Our team of investigators reviews and takes action on reported content according to our policies."

Axten adds that Facebook takes its community standards and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities very seriously, and reacts quickly.
But Williams says efforts to report the page resulted in one dead-end after another. She even recalls a message from Facebook saying it no longer accepts a form the site directed her to.

The fake profile briefly disappeared from time to time only to reappear, sometimes under the names of other middle-schoolers. The impostor's friends included teens Williams says were expelled for alleged gang activity. The angry mother pored through the school directory calling students and parents, and Cassidy texted her real friends, to no avail. Neither local police nor the Georgia Bureau of Investigation could do anything. The authorities told Cassidy's mother they could only act if the site hindered the victim's professional reputation or ability to earn income. "The laws aren't in place to protect middle school kids," she says.

In response to emailed questions, Axten provided a direct link to a form he says can be used to request information associated with an account without having to provide a subpoena or court order.

"We did all the reading of the fine print and Frequently Asked Questions with a fine tooth comb," Williams said, but had never encountered that form.

As of now, the page appears to be gone, but Williams doesn't know whether Facebook finally removed it or whether it's gone temporarily dormant as it has many times before.

Removing Fake Profiles

rachel stilwell.jpeg

California attorney Rachel Stilwell has found it relatively simple to remove fake profiles of her celebrity clients. Last year an imposter urged people to donate to a "charity" her client -- a regular on General Hospital -- had never heard of. In that case, using the "report" link saved time and expense. Facebook deleted the fake page within two days.

"This was the first phase and it happened to work. Had they not complied promptly, absolutely I would have sent a cease-and-desist order," said Stilwell, with law firm Gladstone Michel Weisberg Willner & Sloane in Marina Del Rey.

But since then, Facebook changed its reporting process. A few days ago she asked Facebook to remove a fake profile of another client, a former "American Idol" finalist. The dialog box was only large enough to enter her client's name, but not her relationship to him. To be safe, she also filed Facebook's Notice of Intellectual Property Infringement; Facebook deleted the fake site within hours and sent her a confirmation email.

"One of the unique things about Facebook is that it changes constantly," Stilwell said. "I saw Jimmy Fallon perform a stand-up comedy bit about Mark Zuckerberg having bought a modest five-bedroom house recently. The only problem, Fallon states, is that 'once you get used to it, he rearranges the furniture for no reason.'"

Facebook Page Supporting Cop-Killer

Jeff Whitmire took a roundabout yet effective route to getting a Facebook page (rather than a profile removed). Last month, two Athens-Clarke County Georgia police officers were shot in the line of duty, one fatally. Unable to attend the funeral, Whitmire created a page for community members to offer their condolences.

Then he realized someone anonymously created a page supporting alleged cop-killer Jamie Hood. Almost 2,000 people "liked" the pro-Hood page. Liked, of course, is a relative term -- people who despised Hood also connected with the page. Whitmire was horrified not just by its existence, but by extreme language and threats of violence. "It became an online race war," he said. (The suspect and wounded Officer Tony Howard are black; officer Elmer "Buddy" Christian, who was killed, was white.)

Whitmire then created a new page: Shutdown the Jamie Hood Fansite. "This is not a page to bash or speak about what should be or will be done to Jamie Hood," Whitmire posted. Instead, it urged its 13,000 followers to report the pro-Hood page to Facebook. To keep things under control, he closed the page to comments.

Jamie Hood Facebook Fan Page Causes Outrage: MyFoxATLANTA.com

Whitmire estimates that if only half the page's followers complained, Facebook would have received 6,500 reports. Still, he believes it was actually the page's creator -- a middle school student -- who took it down.

shutdown jamie hood site.jpg

"On the day it was deleted the creator posted, 'I just saw the story about this page on the news, I will be deleting it tomorrow. Ya'll know where I stand and I salute Jamie Hood.' The page was deleted not even two hours later," Whitmire says.

He credits the news media with the victory. "I feel that had it not been for the segment on FOX5 that the amount of pressure would have not been as 'real' to the actual creator." (Full disclosure: I am a former FOX5 news producer.)

While the initial pro-Hood page caused the most controversy, several more pages that both support and vilify the suspect remain online. One, which bears the same name as the deleted site, was started by a different person.

Unlike the difficulties Williams had with the fake profile, Whitmire says reporting the page was easy. Still, he says, that's not necessarily good. "That may be too simple to the extent that it doesn't require an in-depth complaint so that Facebook ... can see the severity of a reported page."

Finding a Balance

Via email, Axten says Facebook's policies try to strike "a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express their opinions and viewpoints -- even those that are controversial to some -- and maintaining a safe and trusted environment." When asked whether Facebook or the page's creator removed the site, Axten said Facebook generally doesn't comment on actions taken against specific accounts or pieces of content.

One frequent question about fake profiles and subjectively offensive pages is, "Who would do something like this?" It's often hard to say.

"Page administrators have the option of listing their names on the Page, but this is not required," Axten says. "People who like or comment on a Page must do so using their real identity. When we find or receive reports of people using fake names or false identities, we take action to disable their accounts. We also disable Pages when we find that the administrator is using a fake name or false identity."

The next obvious question is -- what should teens and parents do to protect themselves?
Williams worked as hard as she could to make other parents aware. "I don't want to lay down in bed at night knowing I haven't told another parent that their child is friends with a site that we have absolutely no idea who's on the other end," she says.

"The main thing, especially for kids, is to keep open communication with their parents," adds Robin Sinkhorn.

"Always speak up for yourself," actress Lauren Potter concludes, adding "Think what you type. Be careful. And don't pick on anyone else."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

19:02

Facebook Sometimes Slow to Remove Offensive Content, Fake Profiles

When it comes to Facebook, what goes up may not come down, at least not without a fight. In many cases, the social networking giant has been slow to act when it comes to offensive content and fake profiles.

Robin Sinkhorn, mother of actress Lauren Potter, who plays Becky in the popular TV series "Glee," learned this last year. Potter has Down's Syndrome. When an onslaught of offensive messages suddenly appeared on her authorized fan page, it took her mother hours -- then days -- to delete them and block the offenders.

"When it was time to protect my daughter, it wasn't easy to do," Sinkhorn recalls. "I ended up having to delete everything -- even the pictures we wanted. [Facebook] needs to be more user-friendly for parents."

The incident had a happy ending when fans from around the world posted updates supporting Potter. The mother and daughter still use Facebook, in part to spread the word about a campaign to raise awareness that using "the R-word" (retard) in any situation -- online or off -- is not okay.

'An Absolute Nightmare'

Cathy Williams is still waiting for her happy ending. In early January, she discovered a fake Facebook profile of her 13-year-old daughter Cassidy, a good student and star athlete. Williams has struggled for three months to get the page removed.

"This has been an absolute nightmare," says the Peachtree City, Georgia, mother. "Facebook is just this giant entity that you cannot touch -- you cannot talk to. Between me and my sister it had to be reported 300 times and you never get anything," Williams said. "What does it take to get their attention?"

Privacy settings also played a role; the fake profile's tight privacy settings made it hard for Williams to see what was going on, while a classmate's wide-open settings allowed the imposter to snag Cassidy's photo.

A Facebook spokesman points out that Facebook, which is based on a "real identity culture," is self-policing.

"We provide 'report' links on nearly every page and encourage people to let us know when they see something they think might violate our standards," said Facebook's Simon Axten. "Our team of investigators reviews and takes action on reported content according to our policies."

Axten adds that Facebook takes its community standards and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities very seriously, and reacts quickly. But Williams says efforts to report the page resulted in one dead-end after another. She even recalls a message from Facebook saying it no longer accepts a form the site directed her to.

The fake profile briefly disappeared from time to time only to reappear, sometimes under the names of other middle-schoolers. The impostor's friends included teens Williams says were expelled for alleged gang activity. The angry mother pored through the school directory calling students and parents, and Cassidy texted her real friends, to no avail. Neither local police nor the Georgia Bureau of Investigation could do anything. The authorities told Cassidy's mother they could only act if the site hindered the victim's professional reputation or ability to earn income. "The laws aren't in place to protect middle school kids," she says.

In response to emailed questions, Axten provided a direct link to a form he says can be used to request information associated with an account without having to provide a subpoena or court order.

"We did all the reading of the fine print and Frequently Asked Questions with a fine tooth comb," Williams said, but had never encountered that form.

As of now, the page appears to be gone, but Williams doesn't know whether Facebook finally removed it or whether it's gone temporarily dormant as it has many times before.

Removing Fake Profiles

rachel stilwell.jpeg

California attorney Rachel Stilwell has found it relatively simple to remove fake profiles of her celebrity clients. Last year an imposter urged people to donate to a "charity" her client -- a regular on General Hospital -- had never heard of. In that case, using the "report" link saved time and expense. Facebook deleted the fake page within two days.

"This was the first phase and it happened to work. Had they not complied promptly, absolutely I would have sent a cease-and-desist order," said Stilwell, with law firm Gladstone Michel Weisberg Willner & Sloane in Marina Del Rey.

But since then, Facebook changed its reporting process. A few days ago she asked Facebook to remove a fake profile of another client, a former "American Idol" finalist. The dialog box was only large enough to enter her client's name, but not her relationship to him. To be safe, she also filed Facebook's Notice of Intellectual Property Infringement; Facebook deleted the fake site within hours and sent her a confirmation email.

"One of the unique things about Facebook is that it changes constantly," Stilwell said. "I saw Jimmy Fallon perform a stand-up comedy bit about Mark Zuckerberg having bought a modest five-bedroom house recently. The only problem, Fallon states, is that 'once you get used to it, he rearranges the furniture for no reason.'"

Facebook Page Supporting Cop-Killer

Jeff Whitmire took a roundabout yet effective route to getting a Facebook page (rather than a profile removed). Last month, two Athens-Clarke County Georgia police officers were shot in the line of duty, one fatally. Unable to attend the funeral, Whitmire created a page for community members to offer their condolences.

Then he realized someone anonymously created a page supporting alleged cop-killer Jamie Hood. Almost 2,000 people "liked" the pro-Hood page. Liked, of course, is a relative term -- people who despised Hood also connected with the page. Whitmire was horrified not just by its existence, but by extreme language and threats of violence. "It became an online race war," he said. (The suspect and wounded Officer Tony Howard are black; officer Elmer "Buddy" Christian, who was killed, was white.)

Whitmire then created a new page: Shutdown the Jamie Hood Fansite. "This is not a page to bash or speak about what should be or will be done to Jamie Hood," Whitmire posted. Instead, it urged its 13,000 followers to report the pro-Hood page to Facebook. To keep things under control, he closed the page to comments.

Jamie Hood Facebook Fan Page Causes Outrage: MyFoxATLANTA.com

Whitmire estimates that if only half the page's followers complained, Facebook would have received 6,500 reports. Still, he believes it was actually the page's creator -- a middle school student -- who took it down.

shutdown jamie hood site.jpg

"On the day it was deleted the creator posted, 'I just saw the story about this page on the news, I will be deleting it tomorrow. Ya'll know where I stand and I salute Jamie Hood.' The page was deleted not even two hours later," Whitmire says.

He credits the news media with the victory. "I feel that had it not been for the segment on FOX5 that the amount of pressure would have not been as 'real' to the actual creator." (Full disclosure: I am a former FOX5 news producer.)

While the initial pro-Hood page caused the most controversy, several more pages that both support and vilify the suspect remain online. One, which bears the same name as the deleted site, was started by a different person.

Unlike the difficulties Williams had with the fake profile, Whitmire says reporting the page was easy. Still, he says, that's not necessarily good. "That may be too simple to the extent that it doesn't require an in-depth complaint so that Facebook ... can see the severity of a reported page."

Finding a Balance

Via email, Axten says Facebook's policies try to strike "a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express their opinions and viewpoints -- even those that are controversial to some -- and maintaining a safe and trusted environment." When asked whether Facebook or the page's creator removed the site, Axten said Facebook generally doesn't comment on actions taken against specific accounts or pieces of content.

One frequent question about fake profiles and subjectively offensive pages is, "Who would do something like this?" It's often hard to say.

"Page administrators have the option of listing their names on the Page, but this is not required," Axten says. "People who like or comment on a Page must do so using their real identity. When we find or receive reports of people using fake names or false identities, we take action to disable their accounts. We also disable Pages when we find that the administrator is using a fake name or false identity."

The next obvious question is -- what should teens and parents do to protect themselves?
Williams worked as hard as she could to make other parents aware. "I don't want to lay down in bed at night knowing I haven't told another parent that their child is friends with a site that we have absolutely no idea who's on the other end," she says.

"The main thing, especially for kids, is to keep open communication with their parents," adds Robin Sinkhorn.

"Always speak up for yourself," actress Lauren Potter concludes, adding "Think what you type. Be careful. And don't pick on anyone else."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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