Online Safety 3.0: From Fear to Empowerment


Published on co-director Larry Magid's talk at the CUE 2012 annual conference

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  • In 1994 I wrote Child Safety on the Information Highway and “My Rules for Online Safety.” I guess I must have done a pretty good job, because lots of Internet safety educators are still using those “rules.” Unfortunately, they’re more than a decade out-of-date. The world is a lot different than it was in 1994. Back then, most people in the world weren’t even on the Internet. Most of those online were using proprietary services like CompuServe or the Source or even cruder electronic bulletin boards, often running on old Apple II computers.
  • ----- Meeting Notes (3/16/12 15:07) -----Like a deer in the headlights, people tend to be paralyzed when they're afraid
  • THERE NEVER HAS BEEN A STUDY ON HOW MUCH CHILDREN ARE SOLICITED BY “PREDATORS.” NOTE THE HEADLINE: “All Children Vulnerable to Online Predators”. IT’S A TRICK QUESTION BECAUSE THE SURVEY WASN’T ABOUT PREDATORS. It was about unwanted sexual solicitations from anybody – flirting is often an unwanted sexual solicitation, as the researchers defined the term. Here’s what the 2000 study this refers to – updated in 2006 with the figure 1 in 7, so the no. of solicitations had gone down – actually said....READ THIS:“Youth identify most sexual solicitors as being other adolescents (48% in 2000; 43% in 2006) or young adults 18-24 (20%; 30%), with few (4%; 9%) coming from older adults, and the remaining being of unknown age.” THE TOTALS: 68% teens & 18-24-year-olds in 2000; 73% in 2006.
  • THESE ARE ALL IMPORTANT BUT VERY GENERAL – CERTAINLY EACH INCIDENT IS UNIQUE AND NEEDS CARING INDIVIDUAL TREATMENT - a full, nonconfrontational, child-caregiver discussion that looks at the situation’s circumstances. The psychological damage can be considerable – some kids have suicidal thoughts.School counselor I spoke with several years ago would find out all the parties involved, get them in a room, and do bully-victim reverse role-playing (empathy training). In families and schools, some of these incidents can be turned into TEACHABLE MOMENTS (maybe anonymized?) for all parties’ benefit.
  • Putting up a fence might keep a kid away from a specific swimming pool but teaching them to swim protects them around all water and helps them enjoy the water as well.
  • Positive adults improve resilienacy
  • Positive adults improve resilienacy
  • Online Safety 3.0: From Fear to Empowerment

    1. 1. Online Safety 3.0: From Fear to Empowerment Larry Magid Co-director Founder Revised March 21, 2012 Slides are available at More at
    2. 2. I wrote this in 1994. Too bad people are still following this old advice
    3. 3. Evolution of online safety Children as victims: 1.0 (most of the 90’s) Pornography & predators: Protecting children from bad adults. Children as consumers of information, not as creators and based on assumptions of risk, not actual research 2.0 (around 2007) Protecting children from peers. Recognizing that kids can create content harm other kids and themselves. Cyberbullying & posting inappropriate or dangerous content
    4. 4. From Guttenberg to broadcasting, the masses were just consumers of media
    5. 5. And pretty much the same model online in the 80’s and 90’s Me, in 1981 on my Apple II with an acoustic MODEM CompuServe 1981 Mosaic browser, 1993
    6. 6. But, in case anyone didn’t notice, things have changed Media is now: • One to one • One to many • Many to many We are all publishers and youth are leading the charge
    7. 7. Which calls for a new approach to “online safety” • Research-based, not fear-based, so relevant • Flexible, layered – not one-size-fits-all • Respectful of youth – stakeholders in positive outcomes, not just potential victims • Positive: Not just safety from (bad outcomes) but safety for good outcomes • Comprehensive = Incorporates safety, security, citizenship, and research/information literacy From Online Safety 3.0 (
    8. 8. • View youth as participants and stakeholders in positive Internet use rather than potential victims, and empower them to protect themselves & each other • Promote good citizenship • Teach media literacy & critical thinking • Understand the value of informal learning • Be accurate and honest about risks • Encourage industry to engage in best practices, including promoting good citizenship in the communities they run Elements of Online Safety 3.0
    9. 9. The ‘net’ is mostly like the physical world, but … • What’s posted can be permanent • Material can be copied and pasted • Lots of people can see it • You don’t know for sure who’s seeing it AND • Disinhibition: Lack of visual cues reduces empathy Source: adapted from danah boyd: Taken out of Context, 2008
    10. 10. We need to understand risk, not exaggerate it • Of course there are risks online, but they are not anything new or special • Pay attention to the research • Include children in the discussion • Understand the limits of regulation and the benefits of education
    11. 11. Fear works only if it’s credible & actionable • “How people respond to fear appeals depends on their assessment of the threat and their perceived efficacy. • When assessing threat, the audience considers severity, or the seriousness of it, as well as their susceptibility, or the likelihood that it will happen to them.” Based on research from Kim White @ Michigan State
    12. 12. Boomerang effect If the perception of threat exceeds perception of efficacy… • They will avoid the message • Deny they are at risk • Mock the message or become angry at the source or issue (and ignore it). • They may even increase their unhealthy behaviors (boomerang effect).
    13. 13. Fear can paralyze And lead to irrational decisions
    14. 14. Predator Panic of 2004-2006 Was based on faulty interpretation of accurate data “1 out of five youth received an unwanted “sexual solicitation”
    15. 15. “Juvenoia” “There are features of the Internet that increase risk for young people above what they already encounter or what they encounter in other environments, or what they used to encounter.” BUT … Source: David Finkelhor: The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of “Juvenoia.”
    16. 16. Things are getting better, not worse • Sexual abuse of children down by 61% from 1992 to 2008 • Teen pregnancies (15-17) down 43% 1991-2007 • Teen suicides down 38% 1990-2007 • % of kids feeling sad down 17% • Modest increase in math & writing proficiency • High school drop-out rate down 33% 1995-2008 • Crimes committed by juveniles down 33% 1996-2008 Source: David Finkelhor: The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of “Juvenoia.”
    17. 17. Moving right along The Internet Safety Technical Task Force found that: “Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most salient threats that minors face, both online and offline.” Which naturally leads to ….
    18. 18. Cyberbullying Panic!
    19. 19. It’s a problem, not an epidemic Source: Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Networks : Pew Internet & American Life, November, 2011
    20. 20. Sexting Panic A 2008 survey found that 20% of teens had sent or posted “nude or semi-nude images of themselves” Which led to stories like this:
    21. 21. Source: Crimes Against Children Research Center, Dec , 2011 • 1.3% sent an image where they showed breasts, genitals or someone’s bottom • 2.5% sent an image where they were nude or partially nude But a 2011 study found
    22. 22. Should we eliminate all risks? Why do we allow sports, sharp pencils & “dangerous” books in school, but ban social media?
    23. 23. Fences have their place but … To keep kids safe around all water, we teach kids to swim
    24. 24. Ultimately, the best filter runs between the child’s ears, not on a device Protection that lasts a lifetime & works on any “device” Training wheels for young kids
    25. 25. How you treat others affects your risk * EU Kids Online +Internet Safety Technology Taskforce “Youth who engage in online aggressive behavior by making rude or nasty comments or frequently embarrassing others are more than twice as likely to report online interpersonal victimization.” + “Among those who do not bully others, being bullied is relatively rare 8% offline only, and 4% online”*
    26. 26. Approaches to empowerment • Encourage student-led initiatives • Work on “cultural change” initiatives like: • Pink Shirt Day • Friend Zone • Poll your students about bullying and attitudes • Celebrate “random acts of kindness” • Celebrate diversity & bravery Based on: Changing the Culture: Ideas for Student Action by Anne Collier, Mia Doces and Lisa Jones
    27. 27. A few tips for educators • Create a bullying prevention team • Involve parents and community • Integrate “reflection” into discipline program • Support for targets (“it’s not your fault”) • Connect students with positive adults • Increases resiliency, reinforces positive behavior • Positive staff behavior: Don’t let students see staff acting as bullies Source: Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention, by Stan Davis
    28. 28. Bullying prevention programs • A structured curriculum that provides youth with materials over at least several sessions. • One-shot assemblies or pulling a few bits and pieces from a program is not going to make a difference. • Teach youth new skills. These should be spelled out in the program • Activities must let youth practice these new skills in active ways • Take a whole school or community approach to prevention. Offer training for school staff, involvement of parents, and assistance to help the school improve its response to bullying concerns and reports Source: Implementing Bullying Prevention Programs in Schools: A How-To Guide. By Lisa Jones, Mia Doces, Susan Swearer, and Anne Collier (
    29. 29. Social norms approach • People emulate how they think their peers behave • If people think their friends don’t smoke, they’re less likely to smoke. • Same is true with over-eating, excessive alcohol use and other negative behaviors, including bullying* *Assessing Bullying in New Jersey Secondary Schools: Applying the Social Norms Model to Adolescent Violence: Craig, Perkins 2008
    30. 30. Example of positive norming Source: Assessing Bullying in New Jersey Secondary Schools: Applying the Social Norms Model to Adolescent Violence: Craig, Perkins 2008
    31. 31. Resources • Born This Way Foundation ( • Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use ( • Committee for Children ( • • Cyberbullying Research Center ( • • Kinder & Gentler World Working Papers ( • Olweaus Bullying Prevention Program ( • Social & emotional learning •
    32. 32. Thank you! Larry Magid Slides are available at More at