In The News: NJ Teen Uses Facebook to Cyberbully Peers

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A 14yo boy in Jersey City was arrested this week for using Facebook and the telephone to cyberbully fellow students, according to Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray.

The teen reportedly used a series of fake profiles on Facebook to threaten one victim. As the victim blocked each profile, the teen would open a new fake profile and continue the harassment.

The teen called his victims names and threatened to kill one of his peers, describing a grisly dismemberment using a rope and car. His motivation for these extreme threats? Jealousy over the other boys’ interest in his girlfriend.

The boy faces prosecution and is currently in the custody of his parents. Prosecutors in the case describe cyberbullying as a “serious and growing problem” in  New Jersey. Belleville, where the youth was arrested, has a Cyber Crimes Unit.

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In The News: Kids Under 13 On Facebook Say “Lying to a Computer” is OK

Kids interviewed for the NY Times article, “Facebook Users Who Are Under Age Raise Concerns,” stated that lying to a computer was different than lying to a person.

“It’s one thing to lie to a person,” says one kid quoted in the article. “But this is lying to a computer.”

Kids under the age of 13 are forced to lie about their age, if they want to open an account on the popular social media site. This is because Facebook does not comply with COPPA, the act which mandates secure handling of private information, monitoring and oversight for kids under the age of 13 on web sites.

However, as we’ve reported previously:

  • COPPA is largely unknown among parents, who feel under pressure to allow their kids to gain Internet experience
  • Kids complain that “all my friends” are on Facebook – and they are likely close to being correct in this statement
  • Kids are attracted to the online games, like Farmville, which are only available on Facebook
  • Many parents report giving permission to their tweens to lie to Facebook so that they can have profiles there
  • An estimated 31% of all children under the age of 13 are using social networking sites designed for adults, according to the most recent survey available from the Pew Research Center
  • Other sources report as high as 48% and more kids in this category are using sites which are not COPPA-compliant

Expert Larry Magid is quoted in the story, as being critical of Facebook’s efforts to reign in under-age users.

“There is no question that Facebook has to be aware that they have a very large number of under-13 members on the site,” Magid is quoted as stating. “Facebook has no resources to help the younger kids…”

True enough. Facebook is no doubt well aware of the problem, and seems largely to side-steps the issue. To be fair, the issue is not an easy one to tackle; how are Facebook and other sites supposed to know when a new user is lying about his or her age?

Well, we think that there ARE some steps which Facebook and other social networking sites could take to help protect younger kids.

What Facebook CAN Do Better To Help

Here are some changes which could help – and which we call upon Facebook and other non-COPPA-compliant social media sites to make in order to protect our kids:

  • Do a better job to EDUCATE users on the reason for the age requirement. Most parents are not aware that the 13yo requirement is a mandate from the US government, as stated in COPPA. Armed with this knowledge, more parents might be willing to stand up to their tween and deny them a Facebook account. In short, 13 is not some arbitrary age limit put in place by Facebook – and it should not be ignored.
  • Enable the community to SELF-POLICE, by providing a notification flag of some sort to its users. If a user becomes aware that another person on the site is under the age of 13 - for example, if an adult or teen knows a child and spots them on Facebook – then they could report that to the site and have the profile removed.

Beyond Facebook and sites like it, it’s up to the parents to enforce the rules – and let kids know that it’s NOT OK to lie, even to a computer.

Want more incentive for your child? Explain that if they lie now, Facebook won’t let them correct their age later – and they will be stuck for life looking older than they really are on their Facebook profile.

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Happening This Week at South by Southwest: Net Neutrality Forever?

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South By Southwest (#SXSW) kicks off the week, with a series of presentations today on the topic of maintaining Internet neutrality.

The concept of “net neutrality” is the principle of having no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments, on the content, sites, platforms, and kinds of equipment that may be attached to the Internet. In short, net neutrality is fundamental to maintaining the freedom of communication to which we have all become accustomed on the web.

Those concerned that net neutrality may be at risk, cite recent (2010) court rulings on FCC policies which are supportive of net neutrality. In May 2010, a Federal court overthrew the agency’s order against Comcast, in which the FCC was attempting to enforce net neutrality. In late 2010, the FCC renewed their efforts by reclassifying broadband Internet into the same category as telephone networks - therefore, making their communications activities subject to the same rules as telephone networks – including bans against these providers preventing access to competitors and web sites with competitive content. Earlier this month, however, a White House subcommittee blocked this move.

Today’s speakers at the SXSW conference include:

  • Senator Al Franken on “An Open Internet: The Last, Best Hope for Independent Producers”
  • Sharon Strover and Alex Curtis on “Why the FCC Can’t Please Anyone: Net Neutrality Blues”
  • Tim Wu on “Net Neutrality Forever: The Very Long View”

We’ll be watching and reporting on audience reaction, following the conference discussions today.

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