Social Media Full Disclosure – Be “Friends” with your Kids!

My FaceBook Friends

Image by Josh Russell via Flickr

Today, I will cover our third rule for working with your kids to protect and monitor them online, without them feeling like you’re watching over their shoulder all the time.  The rule we will cover today is:

You will accept all “friend” or “follow” requests from us on your social media accounts.

I know what you are thinking…. you’re supposed to be a guiding element and an influence in your kids’ lives, not a friend!  You are there to set boundaries and rules, enforce discipline, teach your children the difference between right and wrong, and so on.  This very important rule actually allows you to do all of these things.

What Does Being Friends Mean?

For those that are relatively unfamiliar with social media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter, the concept of being “friends” with your kids might not be familiar.  Simply put, when you “friend” your children on one of these systems, it allows you to see content and conversations that they are posting on that site.

For example, if you are friends with your kids on Facebook, all you have to do is log in to your Facebook account and view your news feed.  You will then be able to see all of the updates, pictures, and comments they’re making and sharing with other accounts they have “friended.”

Almost all social media sites have this feature.  Some sites call it a “follow” or “watch” function, but they all do basically the same thing.  Updates and content posted by the people you are following are available for you to view and consume.

Of course, this means you’ll need an account on every social media site your kids use.  This is actually a good thing; being familiar with the sites your children use (including possible security and privacy issues) is a great line of defense in helping to protect them!

Should I Chatter with my Kids on Facebook Now That We’re Friends?

This is a loaded question.  The short answer is: “It depends.”

Some kids will prefer that you do not comment on their posts or status updates, while other kids may not care one way or the other.  For instance, older teens may prefer more separation between their home lives and their other, public relationships.

NO kids want you posting stuff that might embarrass them.  Keep in mind that any of the following things might be things they are not sharing with their friends:

  1. Activities they’re involved in outside of school.
  2. Pet names you call your children (for instance, my wife calls our 17yo daughter “Bunny”… she is NOT supposed to post that!)
  3. Adorable pictures of your 2 year-old in the bathtub, your 8 year-old in pajamas, or their “chubby” phase at any age!  Yes, I know you love those photos.  They’re also likely to embarrass the heck out of your kids when everyone sees them.
  4. Affectionate language from you directed at your kids.  Some may not mind this, but others will be embarrassed by displays of affection online.  A good rule of thumb for this one is:  If they are easily embarrassed by hugs and kisses from you in front of their friends in person, they’re likely to react the same way to similar displays online.

I should state here that open communication is key.  While you are setting up ground rules for how your children will behave online, let them help set up the ground rules for how you will engage with them online.  Ask them to discuss their preferences, compromise where possible, and then respect those boundaries.  This gives them some control over the situation, without risking their safety.  Hopefully, this mutually respectful attitude makes them less likely to break your agreement and decreases the chance that your kids will try to hide online activity from you.

What if I Don’t Know What Social Media Sites my Kids are Using?

This is a common follow-up question.  If you are concerned that your children have started online accounts that you don’t know about, an audit of their online footprint is in order.  I have covered this in a previous blog post about the first rule of social media full disclosure.  Read through it and send us an email if you have any questions!

I’m Following my Kids, but I Can’t See Their Updates.  What’s Wrong?

In some cases, your kids might know enough about the advanced privacy features to be able to hide their updates from you.  For example, Facebook allows a user to put your friends into “groups” and you can set specific security for those groups.  So, in this case, it’s possible your kids did the following:

  1. After they accepted your friend request, they put you into the “Parents” group in their profile.
  2. They then changed their privacy settings so that the “Parents” group cannot see any updates, pictures, or comments.

If you know your children are active on Facebook or other social media sites, and you don’t see their updates, there is a good chance they’ve blocked you.   There is a logical order of operations to handle this:

  1. Log-in to their account yourself to see all of their updates.  You should have their log-in information if you followed the advice in my post about managing your child’s online accounts.
  2. Check if they have assigned your account to any limited access groups in their privacy settings.  You can find a great help page about Facebook Friend Lists on Facebook’s help site.  There is also a great Privacy Help Page as well, if you are generally unfamiliar with Facebook privacy.
  3. If your children have blocked you in any way, be prepared to have a conversation with them about your role in protecting them online.
  4. Almost all social media sites have some sort of privacy settings that users can leverage to hide (or reveal) information to specific people.  It might be a good time to make sure you understand those privacy settings in detail, for every social media site your kids visit!
  5. There are parental control tools that monitor online activities, including reporting on new friends that your kids collect on Facebook and other social media sites.  Check out our resources page for a Round Up of Parental Control Tools!

In my next “social media full disclosure” post, I will talk about how to help your children set up their privacy settings on several popular social media sites, and how to deal with online “stranger danger.”

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In the Spotlight: DailyBooth By and For Youth

Image representing Brian Pokorny as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

Keeping up with emerging social networks is a job in itself. To help make it easier, Online Social Savvy is introducing a new series to appear every Monday called “In the Spotlight.” This series will profile new social networking sites becoming popular among teens, their services, and any privacy considerations raised by the sites.

Social Network in the Spotlight: DailyBooth.com

  • What it is: a social network which offers “one big conversation about your life, through pictures”
  • What you do: you create an account, you post a daily picture or two, you connect with other users doing the same and comment on their posts – it’s a literal snapshot into your life and the lives of others
  • Who is using it: the audience at DailyBooth is made up primarily of young women between the ages of 18 and 24, who browse the site from school
  • How popular is the site: the site is roughly the 2,000th most popular in the US, and the 4,000th in the world – and has gained 25% in traffic over the last 3 months
  • When was it launched: ~March 2010
  • Where is it linked: the site is linked with, and used from, both Facebook and Twitter – 43% of the site’s users come from those social networks

Who Runs the Site

Offering “one big conversation about your life, through picture,” DailyBooth appears invented by and for today’s youth.

Brian Pokorny is the CEO – and judging from his online bio he’s somewhere in his late 20s. Brian is not only CEO at DailyBooth, but also on the board of advisers of a number of other social media start-ups, including Rupture, Stitcher, Spotzer, and Ooyala. He also has investments in TweetDeck, RethinkDB, Chomp, Milo, Blippy, and Bump.

With his impressive credentials and associations, Brian qualifies as a person to watch in social media. He is online at LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as on DailyBooth and About.me.

Privacy Considerations

DailyBooth does not comply with COPPA and is, therefore, not intended for use by children under the age of 13. In the site’s privacy policy, they specify that their intention is to collect and share private information about their site’s users and that:

  • They will only connect your IP address with your personal information, if you violate the site’s terms of service
  • The site uses cookie technology – both session and persistent
  • The site shares private information about their users, with trusted third-parties
  • The site safeguards confidentiality of user information through the use of security technologies
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Teens Chatroulette and Other Peer-to-Peer Video Services Introduce New Dangers Along with Potential Benefits

A Trust 120 SpaceCam webcam

Image via Wikipedia

As described at one vendor site, chat-roulette is “just a way of meeting people online randomly, mainly for users with webcams.” This innocent-sounding description belies the real dangers that this style of chat has introduced to the web for kids and teens. In particular, as location-based features are offered in many of the more recent copy-cat sites, parents should take notice and consider restricting their children from their use.

The Original Chatroulette: One in Eight Sessions Reported to Include Objectionable Content

The original Chatroulette site enables anyone with a webcam to share their video and audio stream, live, with a random stranger from anywhere in the world. When users tire of one session, they can “spin” to find a new session. Thus the catchy “roulette” moniker.

And, as with the notorious “Russian roulette”, the consequences of landing on the wrong session with a spin can be potentially dangerous for your child, depending on the stranger on the other end of the session.

The site, launched in Nov 2009, experienced rapid growth to over 1.5M users by March 2010. One informal study conducted at that time, reveals that:

  • 1 in 8 sessions included objectionable content
  • 89% of “spins” connected to an individual male user, whereas only 11% connected to an individual female
  • Females were more likely to be found using Chatroulette in groups
  • Males often revealed their genitalia during the session
  • Males often requested female nudity

The reputation of the site became notorious, something which Wired Magazine described as “painful to remember” a few weeks ago. Wired also stated that Chatroulette had been “killed” by its members’ penchant for displaying their private parts. However, the site is still in business. There are also many copy-cat sites which have sprung up in response to the site’s popularity – even if that popularity is now “so last year.” Copy-cat sites include:

  • Bazoocam.org, which claims that a constant real-time monitoring team of 40 people help people to “keep their clothes on”
  • Omegle.com, which started as a text-only chat-roulette but added video after Chatroulette’s popularity
  • TeensChatroulette.com, a version of Chatroulette which requires registration to “protect you from the perverts” and which (attempts) to restrict its users to those under the age of 21; nothing is said, however, of those under 13 nor COPPA rules
  • vChatter, which randomly links users on Facebook, Bebo and the Web
  • Yobongo, an iPhone app launched this month which offers to connect strangers randomly and anonymously in mobile chatrooms which are grouped by city location

As a perhaps interesting side-note, the “man” behind the original Chatroulette site is a 17yo Russian high school boy, Andrey Ternovskiy. Youth culture continues to be a dynamic force in the adoption and continual evolution of social media, and helps to explain why these new services have such a strong youth appeal. In this case, the service was invented by and for teen culture.

Recent Introductions Eliminate Anonymity and Offer to Legitimize the Video Peer-to-Peer Concept

In Dec 2010, Bebo added a service called bChat as a ”safe” alternative to Chatroulette for its users. In Feb 2011, SocioEyes launched using Facebook Connect. Both services offer to clean up peer-to-peer video streaming by eliminating anonymity. The thought is that lack of anonymity will discourage abuse. Connections with these services are also not random, but based on shared interests or location.

At OSS, we agree that eliminating anonymity should help to clean up the content and discourage abuse of this type of service. However, the location-based nature of some of these connections to strangers should still raise concerns for parents.

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