Sunday, March 31, 2013

why definitions matter...cyberbullying

I get a hundred emails a week telling me that should explain that cyberbullying happens to adults too. I reply, often, explaining that adult online bullying is called "cyberharassment" not cyberbullying. (and handles adult issues) While the actions may be identical, we traditionally use the word "bullying" for minors. We may say that a student who was beaten up on the playground was "bullied." When the same act occurs between adults, we call it "assault and battery." Why does it make a difference? Because youth deserve greater protection from harm, in our society. It's our job, as adults, to help protect them from harm. Adults have access to resources to protect themselves while many youth do not. And young people, as the bullies, often do not face the same consequences of their actions as adults. That means that cyberbullying solutions are different than cyberharassment solutions in most cases. Unless we define the problem carefully, we cannot define the right solution. So, if you say "cyberbullying" while I say "cyberharassment" and we can't communicate. US Supreme Court Justice Stephens said "I know it when I see it." (he was talking about porn, but it works just as well here.) We may know it's wrong. We may know it shouls be taken seriously. We may know it should stop. But unless we also know what to call it so people who can offer help understand what help you need, we can't offer help. Sometimes the simplest of changes, like using the right term to describe an action like cyberbullying, can be the start of something good.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Your "Permanent Record" in a Digital World

When we were growing up, threats to put something on our "permanent record" put fear into our hearts. It meant that we carried our past actions with us as we moved forward through the K-12 system. It meant no "fresh starts" and living with long term consequences of short term actions. Once we moved to college, we could breathe a sigh of relief. The "permanenet records" in life after school were limited to bad references from employers, credit histories and divorces. But that was then. This is now. Our kids can never start fresh. Their permanent records are really permanent. My line "what you post online stays online...forever" is often quoted. Old archival sites aren't the issue. The Facebooks, YouTubes and Twitters of the world are. Your posts are reposted, saved, printed and shared. When you move away, the new school students know what the former school students thought about you. The bullying can move with you. Your old fat pics, embarassing pics, boyfreind/girlfriend and what-were-you-thinking pics move too. Lies, exposed secrets, rumors, profiling, friends, enemies...they transfer too. You can't escape your past. Our kids can never reinvent themselves over the summer. They can never ditch the geeky period and become popular in a new school. You can never pretend that you were born with that "new" nose. We grow up online, with all our warts, lapsed judgment and experimental hair colors. It's like having someone capture a pic of you from the 80s and showing them to your future mother-in-law or even your kids. And it's not only things that others do to them. It's what they do to themselves! When I talk to teens about their online reputations, they cannot fathom the permanence. Brain specialists tell us that teens' brains are not sufficiently matured to appreciate consequences until they are in their early 20s. (I keep reminding my mom that my brain wasn't sufficiently mature when I was in my teens, instead of my doing stupid things. She still hasn't bought it.:-)) They don't comprehend the long term consequences of doing stupid things (whoops, I mean "things that an immature brain may cause you to do"). They sext, post far too much personal information and do things that should never be captured in their permanent record. School administrators tell me that the "permnent record" of our youth is no longer a "permanent record" as we knew it or as we feared it. That's good. But with social media and unlimited data storage and sharing, the new "permanent record" is far more permanent and far-further-reaching. No more fresh starts. No more reinventing our pasts. No more escapaing our mistakes, poor judgments or past romances. No more forgiveness. How sad.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why is SnapChat a Problem?

Many apps and technology tools take on a life of their own. They are designed for one purpose and used for another. The major influence with digital apps and tools is how teens use it. Teens made MySpace popular in 2005. They made FormSping popular in 2009. (They also dropped them both like hot potatoes, and caused their demise or imminent demise.) SnapChat is one of those tools. Designed to allow app users to share a quick pic that isn't important enough to post on your FB page or instagram to someone. Maybe you're at the Cheescake Factory and wanted to share a pic of the enormous slice of cheesecake with your friend whose on a diet. Maybe you want to snap and share a quick pic of your outfit. Or want an opinion on which handbag to carry, flowers to buy or the price of steak. A picture is worth 1000 words and sometimes conveys the thought better than 1000 characters in a text. The image sent dissolves after 10 seconds, and the tool won't allow you to save it. But, as with MySpace and FormSpring before it, SnapChat was discovered by kids and became the next hot tech tool, featured on the cover of BusinessWeek and in the Wall Street Journal. So far, so good. So what is it in my cross-hairs? Two reasons: Criminals Use It and Law Enforcement Can't: Because it is so easily abused, and the checks and balances that any responsible tech enterprise should build or put in place are lacking. Law enforcement needs the data to be maintained for longer than 10 seconds to track criminals (including child pornographers and child molesters). From the time the complaint is made, they need to serve notice to the network to preserve the evidence and data and then a subpoena demanding the evidence needed to track the criminals. SnapChat does store anything, or at least claim they don't. SnapChat makes every child porngrapher's fav list. They can tease others using child porn images that disappear in 10 seconds. :-( Because They Think It Can't Be Saved, Users Post Images They Wouldn't If They Knew It was Permanent: Young people are sexting (pictures of naked teens and preteens, including them engaged in sexual activities) more often, thinking the image will "self-destruct" like the contract instructions in Mission Impossible. They don't worry about the image making its way into the principal's hands or their parents email box. But what they hadn't considered was that most mobile devices have a screen capture tool, allowing the users to capture it indirectly. What the user thought was temporary, becomes permanent. While sexting isn't SnapChat's fault, promises it makes and lack of education/warning tips are. Young people need to learn that everything is permanent if it's digital. If they address these two major concerns, I will be happy to set my sights on the next digital tool that isn't using its power responsibly.

Friday, March 15, 2013

It's been a busy week - Charlie Sheen's rants about a ten yr old

It's been a crazy and busy week for online abuses. Charlie Sheen used his digital pulpit to attack a prestigious private school in LA-area that his daughter used to attend. Apparently, he claims that a classmate (when they were both 9 years old) bullied his daughter. He was unhappy with how they addressed the problem and withdrew his daughter from the school last year. Now, a year later he tweets that people should deface and attack the school and even names the girl he accuses of bullying his daughter last year. While most parents of bullying targets experience frustration over the handling of bullying and cyberbullying by the school, most do not encourage provokes against the school or retaliation against a ten year old. I just shot an interview for Inside Edition on this case. They asked me if what Charlie Sheen did was itself "cyberbullying." It's not. It's stupid. It's putting students, the school's teachers and administration at risk for physical and digital attacks. It puts the ten year old he accuses of bullying in the cross-hairs of any crazies who actually follow Charlie Sheen. It will hurt his daughter far more than he knows, as well. It's a shame that we put digital weapons like twitter into the hands of adults who act like children and put the lives, safety and emotional well-being of ten year olds at risk. shame on him!