Internet Safety: Some Context


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ConnectSafely co-director Anne Collier's presentation at the Safer Internet Day conference in Moscow, February 2012

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  • Environmental conditions – the climatic challenges that policymakers face…. I thought it might be helpful to offer a little context – some background on today’s media environment from a US perspective (I’m eager to learn about the Russian perspective today). This was the mid-’ 90s – I can’t believe more than a decade and a half ago!!... The Internet was more anonymous in 1993; there was more separation between “real life” and what’s happening on the screen, things were more binary. Tim Berners-Lee , the Web ’s inventor, said recently that first the Internet was about connecting computers ; then, with Web 1.0 in the late ‘90s and 1 st half of this decade, it was about connecting documents ...
  • Fast-forward 10 years and THE WEB was no longer connecting pages and people to pages, it was CONNECTING PEOPLE – but not just any people – ALL of us, your and my “social networks,” the people we associate with in “real life.” The Web is now integrated into and mirroring nearly all aspects of human life, of course including youth, for whom it’s just another “hang out” or place to socialize, communicate, collaborate, negotiate, etc. – so, more and more, everybody does know you’re a dog. It’ s no longer binary – the Web and “real life.” Young people – the so-called beneficiaries of our Net-safety wisdom – don’t make a distinction between online and offline.
  • I had the honor of co-chairing the Obama administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group in 2009 and ’ 10, and this is the title we gave our report to Congress… [My blog post on the report (linking to it): ]
  • So why “a living Internet?” : We all know this, but how much do we really THINK about it and apply it to policymaking at every level – home, school, and local and national government policymaking?: Today’s media is much more like a living thing than the professionally produced, gov’t-regulated mass media of our childhoods because it increasingly mirrors all of human life as it unfolds . In Facebook alone – now with 800m users in every country in the world, 3+ billion pieces of content are posted by its members every month (comments, photos, Web links, blog posts, videos, etc.). These are pieces of everybody’s lives as they live them – and express them in social media, moment by moment, from phones and computers all around the world. • What that means is a very different notion of media use, of content, and of risk and safety than what parents heard in the first 10 years of the Web and Internet safety.
  • So the word “content” has a whole new meaning now. Content is SOCIAL . Users don’t just consume entertainment, research, videos, photos, etc. They produce it, edit it (individually and together), share and talk about it. They post their thoughts, emotions, reactions, then update, retract, remix, etc. And they do all this in real time, AS they think their thoughts and express who they are in relation to others, moment by moment. So content is behavioral , more like life itself... THE SAFETY IMPLICATION is, it’s difficult to develop laws and policies that can stop users from over-sharing or regulate production occurring in real time from more than a billion sources worldwide.
  • And the way people use the Internet, just as they way they live their lives, is very individual . With photos, videos, comments, likes, avatars, it reflects our personalities and relationships. So young people’s Internet use is difficult to generalize about. Even in my own family, each person uses the Internet differently, adults differently than children, and even my two sons use the same site, Facebook, differently. Prof. Craig Watkins at the University of Texas wrote recently that “much of the public attention, scrutiny, and hysteria [around social media] treat young people as a monolith, an undifferentiated mass.” In his book The Young and the Digital, he wrote that young people’s social media behaviors are dynamic, constantly changing <> The safety implication is: Static, one-size-fits-all solutions do not exist . It’ s not wise to extrapolate anything about our children’s experience from news headlines, especially those about the worst cases. It’s best to work from the inside-out, to talk with our children and students about their online experiences and help them develop the digital literacy, media literacy, and social literacy that protect them wherever they go. It also means we need a very large safety “toolbox” with a wide variety of “tools” for protecting a great variety of young people at different developmental stages and in different situations, just as in all of life. Those tools include education, a range of protection products for families, content ratings, family and school policies, law enforcement, and privacy and safety features in Web sites and on devices.
  • But there are many other differences from the media we grew up with. It ’s very fluid. The fixed AND mobile Internet is another “place” where our producing, socializing, research, and play occurs. I t's constantly changing – the Internet, its content, and its users , of course.... The safety implication is: It ’s difficult to control, set policy or write laws governing … human lives, constantly updated, with continuously changing social and relational dynamics.
  • And it’s everywhere. The Internet is literally in the air we breathe – in terms of both the growing number of access locations in many countries and the rapidly multiplying kinds of connected devices – all increasingly portable. The safety implication: It may be filtered on computers at school, but much less on the mobile phones a fast-growing number of students take with them to school, where it ’s difficult to enforce policies concerning devices that fit in pockets and under desks.
  • THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: What ’s happening online is not something additional to real life, contrary to the media represent young people’s Internet. It’s GROUNDED IN their everyday lives and participation in their school and online communities. If a problem comes up between two people or in a group in a social network site, it’s usually about real-life relationships in the context of school life. The safety implication is that something done by the customer service dept. of a social network site – such as taking down a profile or hate group – RARELY resolves the situation. We can’ t realistically expect new media companies to bear the full responsibility of youth safety online. Though sometimes it helps to report abuse and get a bully’s account deleted, this rarely settles an argument or conflict involving schoolmates. Too easily the bully can just start a new account or page. As has always been the fact in “real life,” the resolution comes from people working things out – sometimes among themselves, sometimes with help from parents or school officials. In a social media, safety, privacy and reputation management are often a negotiation and always a shared responsibility. It can’t effectively be imposed from the outside.
  • And we’ re seeing from the research in North America and Europe that the risk spectrum online maps to that of real life . The young people most at risk online are those most at risk offline . Everything from eating disorders, self-harm, and substance abuse to arguments and wars is reflected online – which can be both a problem AND a help to law enforcement seeking evidence. But consider just one risk, the most well-known in our country – cyberbullying, the risk identified by a national task force we served on as the most common one. Cyberbullying isn’ t a single behavior; it’s a range of behaviors we’re all familiar with: mistakes, pranks that were meant to be “jokes” gone very wrong, mean gossip, harassment, extremely malicious behavior, and sometimes criminal behavior such as extortion. But usually cyberbullying is not criminal, and we’ re finding that laws are more effective when they govern schools’ responses to bullying and other adolescent behaviors than when they try to govern adolescent development.
  • Then there’s student power – youth activism. This story illustrates the instant mass distribution – across continents – of an idea or a movement. You may have heard of Camila Vallejo, a university student activist in one country, Chile, who is now – through the help of social media – influencing students throughout South America and Europe. We’re also aware of young people’s influence in political developments throughout the Middle East last year. And beyond youth, in our own country, now in our global SOCIAL media environment, 2 weeks ago, we saw a powerful, very wealthy lobbying group fail (SO FAR) in its efforts to get Congress to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. This was an unprecedented development. It was not just grassroots “people power,” of course, because giant Internet and media companies were involved, but it was a joint effort of users and corporations fighting the lobby. Only in a way are Internet users “citizen lobbyists.” But I predict that the next development will be “citizen regulators” – government and people collaborating on regulating business practices unacceptable to Internet users. [ For US U30s, SOPA was the story followed most closely the week of Jan. 16, when the MPAA, RIAA & US Chamber of Commerce lost their lobbying campaign; for the presidential election, it was 21%). For the US public as a whole, 7% followed SOPA most closely. Pew Research Center ]
  • Why did I mention all that about Camila Vallejo, the Arab Spring, and SOPA in the US? Because all those cases illustrate changes in the notion of protection – how it results less and less from control, such as “parental controls.” Whether we’re talking about controlling people or their media use, we know from parenting as well as research, children have a way of finding ways around control – ESPECIALLY in media. An educator recently wrote in the Washington Post that filtering in schools has become like “a knee-high fence” that students jump over and adults trip over ( ). He tells of a high school student who recent showed him a Facebook group called “How to access Facebook from school” (schools block FB) that has 187,000 members and offers simple methods for filter-free surfing and profile updating.
  • SO ConnectSafely promotes Online Safety 3.0 – to ensure that Internet safety education matches current environmental conditions and is relevant to young people, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of this education. [Well-known Canadian author and professor DON TAPSCOTT wrote in the Huffington Post in “20 big ideas for 2012” : “ Today's youth were told that if they graduated, worked hard, and stayed out of trouble, they would have a prosperous and fulfilling life. But that's not happening. Around the world, youth unemployment is far higher than the national average. Young people are disillusioned, and their high unemployment raises the specter of a new youth radicalization. ” Unlike the ’ 60s anti-war mvt, “ today's radicalization is deeply rooted in personal broken hopes, mistreatment, and injustice ” while “ today's frustrated youth have at their fingertips the most powerful tool ever for finding out what's going on, informing others and organizing collective responses. ” So the Q he asks is, “ How can we engage youth in finding new solutions? ” We can start by embracing the new media environment around all of us, embracing the media tools that are meaningful to them and working with them on using these tools to enable their success and healthy, constructive participation.]
  • Internet Safety: Some Context

    1. 1. Internet Safety: Some Context Anne Collier Co-Director
    2. 2. Web 1.0…
    3. 3. Now, on Web 2.0... --Michael Kinsley,, 11/27/06 “ ... everybody knows you’re a dog.”
    4. 4. Task force report to US Congress in June ‘10: “ Youth Safety on a Living Internet”
    5. 5. A living Internet
    6. 6. Content is social now Pat Gaines
    7. 7. Very individual Ben Heine
    8. 8. Internet use is fluid Tom Olliver
    9. 9. … and everywhere Ben Heine
    10. 10. Embedded in ‘real life’
    11. 11. Risk spectrum reflects life too Marc Dezemery
    12. 12. Camila Vallejo <ul><li>Led “regular protest marches of 200,000” in Santiago </li></ul><ul><li>Lent her “star power” to movement in Brazil. </li></ul><ul><li>European students demonstrated in support of Latin American students </li></ul><ul><li>Tapped to run for Congress in Chile </li></ul>
    13. 13. Filtering as ‘knee-high fence’ Peter Liu Photography
    14. 14. Online Safety 3.0 needed <ul><li>Research-based , not fear-based, so relevant </li></ul><ul><li>Flexible, layered – not one-size-fits-all </li></ul><ul><li>Respectful of youth agency – stakeholders in making it good , not just potential victims </li></ul><ul><li>Positive, empowering : Not just safety from (bad outcomes) but safety for ... </li></ul><ul><li>Young people’s educated, constructive engagement in today’s (highly participatory) media </li></ul>