Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Education and Legislation

New York has just proposed the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) to keep people safe online. In the words of Andrew Cuomo, "Today I believe we're proposing the most comprehensive, smartest, toughest law in the nation to keep people safe online, especially minors."

That it is the toughest and most comprehensive, there is little doubt. It may well be the smartest as well. Only a closer look and time will tell.

The bill would require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, instant message screen names, and any other online identifiers and make it a felony to not report changes in Internet activity within 10 day. It would allow judges and the state's Parole Board to restrict the online activities of sex offenders and would ban many sex offenders from using social-networking sites.

That all sounds sensible, but reporting your logins and then setting up a second set is something teens do routinely to get around the "legislation" that their parents create. Why would we expect criminals to do any less. Yes, the penalties for a predator getting caught are now considerably greater, but that does little to help someone who has been victimized by an offender who is trying to get around the law and has no intention of getting caught.

It must also be noted that this law has no effect on sexual predator outside of New York who contact teens in New York, though at least 13 other states have legislation proposed to limit Internet activities of sex offenders.

When it comes to Internet safety, my mantra has long been education not legislation, but I've modified that somewhat. I've come to recognize the need for smart legislation and my mantra is now education and legislation. Legislation is often poorly crafted and reactionary. Even the best crafted laws can provide a false sense of security. If e-STOP is to be touted as the smartest law, the legislators need to publicly acknowledge its limitations, counsel increased vigilance by parents, and provide funds for the training of the public and teachers in the development of safe, responsible netizens.

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posted by Art @ 9:13 AM   2 comments

Monday, January 28, 2008

Swim Team on Porn Site

Photos of members of an Orange County, CA water polo team have found their way to some gay porn sites, much to the alarm of students, parents, and school officials. A quick Google search will yield dozen of hits to give the details.

The article on the KNBC web site indicates that "police confirmed they are investigating whether a dispatcher, Scott Cornelius, photographed high school players for gay-oriented sites. Cornelius was granted a photo credential to the 2007 Junior World Water Polo Championships at Los Alamitos last summer"

Based on that snippet alone, you can be sure we will be hearing more about this. While those pictures may turn out to be attributed to the dispatcher is irrelevant. Once ANY picture is posted to ANY web site, for all intents and purposes the poster risks losing control of the picture. Anyone can grab it and do with it as they wish. As illustrated by my Ditherhead story and accented by this story, any picture can take on a life of its own with unpredictable results.

The simple fact is that nothing will prevent predators, creeps, and perverts from doing what they do. This sort of tragedy is bound to happen regardless of what we do, but parents and children need to be wary of what they post so as to not become unwitting accomplices to the twisted minds that do this sort of thing.

How we go about accomplishing this is not a simple matter. If I had a magic wand, every school would have a course on cybercivics where students would learn safe, responsible netizenship. But I'm not Harry Potter and even if I could magically conjure up the courses, we would still need knowledgeable teachers who are capable of understanding the online world of the teens. There are precious few of them right now and until today's teens become tomorrow's teachers, the numbers will be woefully insufficient to meet the challenge.

One thing we can do is to get kids talking to kids. That's what WiredSafety's Teenangels are doing. I'll talk more about them in the future. Until then, talk to your kids about incidents like this and have them take a look at my lesson titles Put Your Best Foot Forward.

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posted by Art @ 7:28 PM   20 comments

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hitting and Missing the Target at the Same Time

I recently read a newspaper commentary on the latest moves by MySpace to make teens safer. It correctly points out that that kids can easily get around every one of the safety measures that have been put in place and then advises parents to "Yank his or her profile. Forbid your teen from joining any popular social networking site, including Facebook, Friendster and Xanga."

If a child is willing to do all of the things outlined in order to get around the safety measures, why would one think that they wouldn't just as easily work around the banning and forbidding?

By taking such an action, all a parent would be doing is ensuring that they would be cutting off lines of communication and eliminating the opportunity to discuss problems should they arise. Rather than making their child safer online, it could have just the opposite effect.

Communication, supervision and education is a better approach. How that comes about depends upon the interpersonal relationships of parent and child as well as the knowledge of the parent as to what message to relate and how to deliver. It is also a topic too detailed to discuss single blog entry, but a good starting point is to read the report to Congress made by Dr. David Finklehor, one of the nation's top experts in the field of child sexual abuse. It will help parents understand that children who want to be safe generally are safe. It will also give them a profile of the potential victim and an idea of whether their child fits that profile.

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posted by Art @ 10:50 AM   0 comments

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Confucius, Socrates, Twain and Internet Safety

"Learn what your kids already know or will know soon," is a suggested line from some literature that will be sent to parents prior to a presentation I will give in April. When it was sent to me, I suggested that what children know is nowhere near as important as what they don't know and what they need to know.

It brought to mind a saying I first heard in junior high from Lyla Filippe, my 9th grade English teacher, but that's a story I will cover in my other blog, Truth, Lies, Rumors and Rumbles. It has been found as a Persian apothegm, in Sanscrit, and in the writings of Confucius and Socrates.

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool.
Avoid him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student.
Teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep.
Wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man.
Follow him.

As I thought about it in relation to Internet Safety, a quote from Mark Twain came to mind. "When I was fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. When I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."

In examining today's youth in the light of these two quotes, it seems to me that from about preschool age, a child knows not and knows that he knows not. As a result we teach him, but in the teens when it comes to many things, a child knows not that he knows not. The proverb advises us to avoid him, but I'm sure the proverb is talking about adults who know not and know not that they know not. In any case we have to teach teen and do it in a way that they come to the realization that that we do know a thing or two before they reach the age of twenty-one.

The adults I present to are people who know not and know that they know not, and thus must be taught so that they can pass the learning on the youngsters who know that they know not and to the teens who think they know it all.

In most of my presentations, I tend to deal primarily with the know it all generation and their parents. In April, I will be adressing parents in two different venues that span the age groups. There's a lot of territory to cover and it will make for an interesting two days.

All of this leads me to the Zen paradox of "The more I know, the less I know."

Something to think about?

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posted by Art @ 9:57 AM   0 comments

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Megan Meier and Fraud

The fact that there were no charges filed after Megan Meier committed suicide as a result of bullying by an adult who assumed the identity of a teenage boy has outraged the public. There is no law that covers the situation and now various agencies are examining non-traditional ways of approaching the problem.

It brings to mind the prosecution of Al Capone for tax evasion. In this case, legal experts are looking into pursuing fraud charges. While this might satisfy some, it might created a dangerous prescient which endangers the right to anonymous speech on the Internet, a topic that has been discussed in many forums and upheld by the supreme course.

The consequences could have negative effect on law enforcement agencies who routinely use false profiles in efforts to trap predators. It could hamper whistle blowers and a range of other positive uses of anonymous speech.

While justice needs to be served, we must use restraint and foresight in the creation of legislation and the use of existing law to deal with the problem. The former will do little to obtain justice for Megan and the latter must be examined in light of possible negative impact in the future. A rush to either solution is ill advised.

The best way to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future is public education. Carefully crafted legislation may be an integral part of the solution, but education is the keystone. Children and parents have to know the impact and consequences of cyberbullying, as well as how to deal with it. Lest you think that there were no consequences for the perpetrator in this case, you are wrong. Whether you think it is right or wrong, the vigilante reaction to the incident has taken a heavy told on the entire family.

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posted by Art @ 10:12 AM   0 comments