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Bali, Indonesia — I’m at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF #IGF2013) in Bali where I’m participating in a workshop on child protection vs. child rights. As a child safety advocate, I’ve long argued that young people need “digital literacy” to understand how to safely navigate the online world. That can be protecting their emotional well-being by helping them avoid or deal with cyberbullying but it can also be helping young people understand how to protect their privacy online or to make sure they’re not posting images or other content that could harm their reputation. It also involves teaching empathy and social-emotional learning to help youth better understand how to treat their peers, whether they be close friends or people they only encounter online.
My personal approach to child safety is to start by assuming that “the kids are all right” and — as a default — treat children and teens respectfully by providing them with the tools and information they need to protect themselves and respect others. I’ve long said that the best Internet filter is the one that runs between the child’s ears, and have never been a huge fan of widespread use of parental control or monitoring software, except when parents have seen a real need to use it for their kids. It’s not that I’m against using tools that limit or monitor what kids do, it’s just that I think the tools need to be used thoughtfully, only when necessary, and not be a substitute for good parenting or helping kids develop their ability to do what’s right without external controls.
Yet, there are those who feel that most kids need to be controlled or monitored, and there are plenty of companies selling such tools. Schools too often use control software not only to block porn and sites that advocate violence or drug and alcohol use but often also block social networking sites, YouTube and other media that kids commonly access away from school.
To explore this issue, I organized a panel at IGF titled “Child Protection vs. Child Rights.” Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” Yet in the very countries that have ratified this convention, parents and schools are denying young people access to some types of content in the name of protection.
There are no simple answers. There are lots of adults who strongly believe in free speech rights for kids yet at the same time feel it’s necessary to limit their access to certain types of content and media.
Panelists include John Carr, Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety (UK); Janice Richardson, European Schoolnet and Insafe (Belgium); Nevine Tewfit, Ministry of Communications (Egypt); Yannis Li, Dot Kids Foundation (Hong Kong) and Larry Magid, ConnectSafely.org (US). The moderator is Anjan Bose, ECPAT International (Thailand).
I had a frustrating time upgrading two machines to Windows 8.1 and, based on the comments on my Forbes blog, I’m I’m not alone.
Facebook announced today that it’s changing its policy to allow teens to post publicly. Prior to today, Facebook members aged 13 through 17 were only allowed to post to a limited audience that maxed out with friends of friends.
In a blog post, Facebook said that teens will also “be able to turn on Follow so that their public posts can be seen in people’s News Feeds” As is the case now, followers can only see posts that they’ve been authorized to see. When a teen selects “public” as the audience for a post, Facebook will remind the teen that the post can be seen by anyone.
There will be some who will no doubt question Facebook’s wisdom and motives for allowing teens to share publicly. But I for one am all for it. My reason is simple. Teens deserve the same free speech rights as adults and many teens want to be able to speak out on issues that are important to them.
Free speech and youth activism
One need only look at the work of Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head for speaking in favor of the rights of women and girls. She was able to speak directly on this subject, to blog about it, to be interviewed and to make media appearances but – based on the rules that were in place until today, she wouldn’t have been allowed to post about it on Facebook.
Although the First Amendment applies to government, not the private sector, there is nothing in it that says that freedom of speech is only a right for people over a specific age.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which is law for most countries served by Facebook) is even more explicit. “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”
“Any other media” clearly includes social media such as Facebook and any arbitrary rules preventing teens from expressing themselves or accessing information expressed by others certainly violates the spirit that convention.
But forget rights for a moment and just focus on dignity. We are trying to teach our children to be good citizens and that includes speaking out on issues that concern them. Whether it’s the treatment of women and girls, the environment, the economy, issues of war and peace or even their thoughts on sports teams or their favorite foods, young people not only have a right to express themselves but, by doing so, they are helping our democracy by engaging in dialog about issues.
The notion that teens shouldn’t be allowed to share publicly is actually something that we’ve mostly been talking about in the age of social media. When I was a kid, my parents were happy when the local paper wrote a story about how I had done something laudable. My own son Will Magid, now a professional musician, performed publicly when he was in high school. Based on the old rules, he couldn’t have used Facebook to post his recordings or videos of his performances to share with the same people who might have been in the auditorium when he performed. Of course there are things teens shouldn’t post publicly on Facebook just as there are things they shouldn’t say to strangers on the street. The good news — based on recent surveys – is that most teens know this.
As a private company Facebook doesn’t have to give teens the right to speak in public but as a forum that has more members than the population of any country besides China and India, it has a moral obligation to allow unfettered speech to all of its members.
Right to privacy and free speech
Having said that, Facebook also has a responsibility to protect the privacy of teens and everyone else, which is why it’s important that teens be made aware that they have control over who sees each of their posts. By default new teen accounts will default to friends only (it used to be friends of friends) but now they can expand or narrow that audience. Both teens and adults need to be aware that if you post publicly, subsequent posts will also be public until you again change the audience. I wish there was the option to have the audience settings automatically revert back to the user’s preferred default so that if you usually post privately and decide to post publicly, the next time it would revert back to private.
Parents, privacy advocates, teachers and anyone else who interacts with teens should do all they can to make sure that young people understand how to use Facebook’s privacy tools and remember that there are consequences to what you post – in some cases even if it’s only shared among your friends
But there are also consequences to keeping people – of any age – from being able to express themselves and I for one am glad that Facebook has finally unshackled its teenage users.
Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook
Click for Larry Magid’s 1-minute CBS News & CNET segment about Facebook dropping the search setting
Facebook has eliminated a setting called ”Who can look up your Timeline by name?,” which controlled whether you could be found when people typed your name into the Facebook search bar.
In a blog post, Facebook’s chief privacy officer Michael Richter said that the setting was “created when Facebook was a simple directory of profiles and it was very limited.” The feature also created a false sense of security because it gave some people the sense that they were hiding just because they couldn’t be found in search. Not true. There are many ways that people can find you on Facebook including links from other people’s profiles.
If you block someone, they can’t find you via search or any other way on the service.
Protecting what you post
While it may be hard to hide on Facebook, you can protect the privacy of your content. Every time you post you have the option to determine the audience. It can be everyone (Public), Friends, Friends of Friends or limited to a smaller group of people or even “just me.”
For more, here is Facebook’s privacy settings help page
Facebook’s blog post about the change
Disclosure: Facebook provides financial support to ConnectSafely and co-directors Larry Magid and Anne Collier serve on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board.
While bullying has been around forever, there was no such thing as cyberbullying until about 20 years ago when people discovered the ability to use technology to display their mean, cruel, annoying and generally negative side. And since the late 1990s we’ve seen lots of stories about the “epidemic” of cyberbullying among young people. But as my ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I explain in our new booklet, A Parents’ Guide to Cyberbullying, it’s a serious problem that deserves our attention but it’s far from an epidemic and not just limited to young people.
For the most part, cyberbullying is pretty similar to in-person bullying, but there are some differences between in-person and online communications that can change (not necessarily worsen) its nature and impact. As bullying expert Elizabeth Englander pointed out in a recent post on Harvard Education Letter, communicating online takes on different dimensions from in-person relationships including the fact that “Talking digitally can make you feel uninhibited and lead you to say things you might not say anywhere else” and “Texting or posting back and forth about a feeling can cause that feeling to escalate and can make the situation worse.”
Other differences between in-person and online is that a negative online comment can stick around for a long time and be seen by a lot of people. And, unlike a physical confrontation or verbal abuse at school, bullying via text message, email or social networking can follow children home and haunt them after school on weekends and during school breaks. Depending a lot on individual factors including the nature of the incident and the child’s resilience and psychological state-of-mind, the impact of cyberbullying can range from mildly annoying to devastating. It’s impossible to generalize and — even when something tragic follows an episode of cyberbullying, it’s not always possible to assign a single cause for what happened.
Not all unpleasant online interactions are cyberbulling
Having an online argument isn’t necessarily cyberbullying. In fact, the U.S. government’s StopBullying.gov website’s definition of youth bullying (endorsed by most experts) is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” A single mean, rude or insensitive comment in an email or on a social networking site — however hurtful it might be — doesn’t, by itself, constitute bullying. If it did, the cyberbullying rate among both kids and adults would probably be close to 100%.
Tips for parents and teens
ConnectSafely.org’s new cyberbullying booklet answers parents’ top five questions and provides tips for both parents and young people. Tips for parents (which are greatly expanded and explained in the guide) include:
- Know that you’re lucky if your child asks for help
- Respond thoughtfully, not fast
- Kids who have been bullied need to be listened to
- The ultimate goal is restored self-respect
Children and teens are advised to:
- Remember that “it’s not your fault”
- Save the evidence
- Not respond or retaliate
- Reach out for help
- Use available tech tools to block he person
- Take action if someone you know is being bullied
This post first appeared on Forbes.com