Notes from the “Stop Cyberbullying” conference

June 6, 2008 at 5:43 pm | Posted in Online Safety | Leave a comment
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This week I attended WiredSafety’s International Stop Cyberbullying conference in New York City. Unfortunately I was unable to attend Day 1 (Community) but my understanding is that Day 1 involved participation from both students, educators and families in the community discussing what they expect of industry as far as online safety is concerned. Day 2 (Industry) was organized as a response with several different panels of individuals speaking.

The keynote, Attorney General Blumenthal from Connecticut, spoke about how anonymity on the Internet can be a tremendous source of danger and he referenced several sites as an example. While inappropriate content is still easily accessible and there are still some cases of predators taking advantage of children by posing as someone else, there is an even greater frequency of cyberbullying which is unknown to many parents. While industry, government and academia must take responsibility for protecting our children, so too must parents and other family. 80% of kids surveyed said they either had no rules at home regarding internet usage or they knew how to get around the rules and often did. We need to teach our children to be better “Netizens”. Several attorney generals in the Northeast are working on task forces on social networking and trying to create laws that require sites to authenticate profiles. Parry Aftab of WiredSafety.org is part of this task force. One of the products of this task force is stopcyberbullying.org, a website to educate children, parents, educators and law enforcement about this growing threat.

A skit by several teenangels and tweenangels demonstrated an example of cyberbullying. Some of the tweens taught us what to do when you are being cyberbullied: “Stop. Block. Tell.” Basically, stop what you are doing, block the person from your friend list and tell an adult you trust. Another survey discovered that sharing of passwords (especially among best friends) is prevalent. Many also, once they knew exactly how Cyberbullying is defined, admitted to having been Cyberbullied at least once and some told a friend about it. Few told adults for fear of having negative repurcusions like loss of internet access. Teenangels (13-17) and Tweenangels (9-12) are trained on aspects of online safety and also spread the word among their schools and friends.

The Panels:

The first panel consisted of two parents whose children were cyberbullied and a teen who had also been cyberbullied since she was 11. One parent spoke of her son, Josh, who was cyberbullied for 3 years before taking his own life. Another parent was the mother of Megan Meier who committed suicide after being harrassed and bullied online but a supposed boy interested in her who in actuality was the mother of a friend of hers. TeenAngels, myYearbook.com and others worked together to create the Megan Pledge to help fight against Cyberbullying and help protects others from the same fate.

The next panel is the industry panel which consisted of Facebook, Oracle, Newscorp(MySpace), KidZui, GirlAmbition, AOL, Verizon, Microsoft, myYearbook.com, and Jagex (Runescape).

  • FacebookMySpace/Newscorp spoke about the ways they ensure safety on their sites including privacy policies, report abuse buttons and more. Discussion around privacy policies ensued saying the most kids don’t read them and/or don’t understand them and something needs to be done about this to make them more engaging and clear.
  • Oracle spoke about their ThinkQuest contest and Think.com which Oracle uses to reach educators.
  • KidZui is the Internet for Kids! A safe environment with approved websites that lets kids explore but stay safe.
  • The founder of GirlAmbition spoke about empowering girls 7-12 with a Tweenized version of IM/Chat, Email, video sharing and games.
  • AOL described parental controls and explained that they have age brackets and default settings which parents change the restrictiveness of settings in each bracket. They also just acquired Bebo – a social networking site with a series of videos that encourages discussions in families.
  • Microsoft highlighted their free Family Safety Software. Yes, free (if you have Windows XP).
  • Both myYearbook.com and Jagex were commended and have received awards for their progressive safety policies. myYearbook highlighted the Megan Pledge on their site getting almost 250,000 e-signatures in the first week.  Jagex’s Runescape has strict policies with ramifications that encourage compliance and is one of the most popular MMPRP (massive multi-player role playing) games out there today. They also have offensive language filters, password and phone number blockers and parental controls.

Two other panels: one focused on law enforcement and one on media also took place. Discussion on recommendations and next steps will continue in the next blog post.

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