Friday, December 28, 2007

What Inspires Us?

An "interesting" article in the Washington Post takes issue with academics who study social networking. I know a lot of people who begrudge the Ivory Tower, but never had I seen it so blatantly attacked and mocked. To quote: "The culture of academia is like a land rush: professors poised around the edges of each new intellectual territory, waving flags emblazoned with theoretical frameworks, making frenzied dashes to stake claim on new topics, ready to shoot trespassers." Or how about " The lingo makes you want to give everyone with a PhD an atomic wedgie." I mean, really.

I'll admit: academe is a very competitive career choice, especially if you desire the all-coveted tenure-track position (note: I have opted not to go this route, placing me somewhat on the outside of this article's target range). And it is important in academe to publish, be noticed, and get the grant money flowing your way. But, is that why some are choosing to study social networking? Possibly, but I am not sure how likely that is.

Why do I study the internet? Because it's cool. It's fun and interesting. It's literally changed the entire way we communicate with each other. It's changed the process of learning. That's heavy stuff. Sure, MySpace is usually seen as a time waster, but a lot of living goes on in there, other SN sites, and virtual worlds like Second Life. Why shouldn't the intellectually curious be fascinated by it all?

Maybe I'm being defensive. It's a natural reaction. Or maybe articles like these make me realize it's important for people who study certain topics (usually those related to human interactions and phenomena) to be more transparent about their motivations for doing so. We don't pick topics out of mid-air to study. Sure, sometimes an advisor or mentor steers us in a certain direction, but those of us who decide to enter the 21st grade as it were, choose to be in school that long because something interests us to the point of obsession or passion. Or we have some internal itch to scratch. As my college boyfriend would say "Us Psychology majors are all here for a reason."

Rarely are we motivated to do what we do just to see our name in the newspaper. And if we are, then we are misguided -- there are much easier ways to do that.

Note: Chuck Tryon, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Fayetteville State University blogs about this attack on academics much more eloquently than I.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why Is Sex So Interesting and Sex Ed So Boring?

Here's a cool video contest for youth. DoGooderTV and Advocates for Youth are joining forces to host an opportunity for young people to use digital tech to talk about their sex education or tell people how to make it better. First prize gets $3500. No small potatoes!

I personally can't wait to see the entries, some of which are already posted here. As a professor of Human Sexuality at the college level, I have collected the stories of students' "sex education so far." And the themes I read, by and large, are quite negative, or uninspiring at best. It will be great to hear youth tell us a thing or two about how to do our job!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ego Surfing: Guilty as Charged

Another new report from Pew Internet and American Life finds that almost half of Internet users (47%) have searched for information about themselves online. I've done it. It's sort of interesting, actually. For example, did you know that I hold the Colorado high school record for longest field goal? OK, I guess someone else must share the same name as I, but it's cool to think of the possibility...

Funny thing is, most online adults (61%) don't really do much to limit the amount of information about them online. Is this one of those cases when we tell our youth "do as I say, not as I do?"

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A new report released by Pew Internet and American Life shows that girls are more likely than boys to use social media (blogs, social networking sites, etc.). More than one-third of girls (35%) blog, compared to only one in five boys. Older online girls (ages 15-17) are more likely to have used social networking sites than boys the same age --70% vs. 54%. And over half of girls stated they have posted a photo online -- 40% of boys have done the same. Boys, however, are more likely to post videos. Almost one in five boys (19%) have done so compared to only 10% of girls.

These gender difference seem to parallel the typical gender roles that we see already. Girls are more likely to express and stay in touch. Ergo, they blog and have online profiles. And boys are more likely to be techhies. Therefore, they post videos.

But no matter what content these youth are posting online, they are getting reactions: the majority of youth who post content online say they get comments at least "sometimes." Three-quarters post comments themselves. What they do is truly social networking

You can read a summary of the report at the San Jose Mercury News.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reality Bites

Maybe it's the kudos received by the movie Lars and the Real Girl, or maybe it's the recent release of the book Love and Sex with Robots by David Levy. No matter, the idea of people having relationships with, and even falling in love, with cyberdolls (see RealDoll website for examples but warning! This site is not suitable for work) is getting some attention.

In an age where people have commented on the loss of intimacy in youth relationships and the normalization of porn, this news can be especially disconcerting. How can we encourage people to see sex as a powerful act to be shared between two people who care about each other when the very presumption of "people" is being challenged?

But according to a recent interview of Levy, ""love and sex with robots on a grand scale are inevitable." Granted, this man is talking about beings with artificial intelligence, not static dolls, but the idea of this is so Brave New World. Will it happen in our lifetimes?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If You Can't Beat Them...

The New York Times reports that the Penthouse Media Group invested $500 million in social networking sites by purchasing Various Inc. Must be due to the fact that while traffic to social networking sites has increased lately, visitors to pornographic sites have declined.

Although Various owns the SN site adultfriendfinder (not suitable for work), a site for swingers, it also owns Big Church, whose motto is "Bringing people together in love and faith." Both sites are now owned by Penthouse.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I am a huge hockey fan, so the fact that I can justify writing about something related to the sport is pretty damn cool in my eyes. Poor Jiri Tlusty; he's just a 19-year-old youth -- who happens to be a forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs (think being a Yankee for the same level of publicity and scrutiny). He posted some "racy" photos of himself on his Facebook page, and one of them made it to the front page of the Toronto Sun (think NY Daily News). I had to get this story from ABC because The Sun wants $15 for the story online and I'm cheap.

The pictures were apparently taken using his cell phone while he was home in the Czech Republic.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Blog Roll Added!

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to check out my Blog Roll. I am really trying hard to find others who are addressing youth online or youth and sexuality and ideally youth sexuality online! But, it's hard. Check out who's trying!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Lads in Pubs," or Kids in the Cafeteria?

A press release by Juniper Research predicts that: "The mobile adult content market is forecast
to grow from its 2006 level of $1.4 billion to over $3.3 billion by 2011." However, the majority of that share is going to come from Europe and Asia, where the more "well-developed" markets reside.

According to Bruce Gibson, Research Director at Juniper Research: " The mobile channel will provide a different way of presenting adult content to traditional delivery channels and will reach new audiences. Mobile is about fun and instant gratification. I think the biggest opportunity is at the casual and "softer" end of the adult market - lads in pubs sharing a video clip after a few pints and people looking for a bit of fun when they have spare time to kill."

Hmmm. "New audiences?" "Spare time to kill?" If that doesn't scream teenager, I don't know what does.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Adina's Deck

Gotta support fellow Stanfordites! As a SUSE alum, I was happy to see that Debbie Heimowitz is getting a lot of praise, awards, and recognition for her Master's Project Adina's Deck, a video about cyberbullying.

A brief assessment of the video's impact shows that after watching the 30-minute video, youth understand the seriousness of cyberbullying -- both the effects on the victims and perpetrators. They also report being more likely to tell someone about cyberbullying instead of simply hoping it will stop.

Check it out!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Age of Consent

An article in the Edmonton Sun reports on online grooming by sex traffickers who find victims in Canada and then bring them to Las Vegas under the guise of being wined and dined by good-looking high rollers. Instead, these women (and sometimes men) end up being forced into sex work as "high priced call girls" after being beaten and raped. These sex traffickers tend to target young persons who have MySpace and Facebook profiles and state they are 18 years old "in order to avoid detection by authorities looking for predators after underage kids."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

More stupidity, showing that teens really DON'T know better

In a small Ohio town, a 19-year-old cheerleading coach is fired after she posed topless with one of her prototges (a high-school freshman). The photo, shock and surprise, made it through the email circuit.

Monday, November 05, 2007

News from Down Under

According to Austrailian newspaper, The Age, a survey conducted through Girlfriend! magazine (think Aussie Comso Girl) found that "one-third of girls had been sent sexually inappropriate material via the internet; 70 per cent had accessed pornography sites by accident and 21 per cent on purpose; 41 per cent had been asked to post naked pictures of themselves."

What I find interesting about this is its focus on girls. A similar study done in the US found that about 5% of girls reported "wanted exposure" to pornography. That's a far cry from the 21% cited above.

So, what accounts for this huge difference? Are the girls on the other side of the planet that different? Was it in the way the question was phrased?

I'm looking forward to a more "official" release of this data. Because although 21% sounds OK to me, especially given the sampling source (asking girls who read about sex in teen magazines. I checked out Girlfriend! online. Lots of pics of sexy boy buns featured), another article in The Age makes me question the validity of the reporting of these survey results. In this second feature, the headline blares:

Sex acts copied from online porn sites

But the article itself doesn't really address the issue. Just a sentence that reads: "Dr Carr-Gregg said large numbers of teenage girls had engaged in behaviour such as group sex or anal sex, which they wouldn't have done without seeing it online." Uh, exactly what is "large numbers?" No stats here like in the other article. Just a shocking headline and no meat. Maybe it wasn't suitable for printing?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sexual Health in Second Life

Researchers at Plymouth University in the UK have received a grant to build a free sexual health resource center on Second Life. Features of this island include an HIV education/awareness video, a news stand with refreshing headlines of the top sexual health stories on Yahoo! news, and even a counseling center. Check out this informational video to learn more:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So irrelevant, the NYT features her

The New York Times features the lovely Tila Tequila, the model/TV star/hopeful singer made famous simply because she has almost 2,000,000 MySpace friends. Despite talking about the superstar and her rise to fame, the prestigious paper tells its readers to: "Dispose of the information. You won’t need it for long."

Why? Because Tila is just today's flavor-of-the-month. Who knows who it will be tomorrow? According to the article, there are a lot of teens who think it will be them. The article references a study that found that almost one in three American teenagers had the "honest expectation that they would one day be famous" and the vast majority (80%) considered themselves "truly important". (The figure from the same study conducted in the 1950s was 12 percent.)

Or even if a teen doesn't become famous, s/he still might be the impetus for a feature in The Times.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We needed research to tell us this?

How often do we hear a teen say "Would you stop worrying about it? I' m fine! Everything is OK?" Well, add social networking to that growing list of concerns that parents have, but teens simply shrug off. A new analysis conducted by Pew Internet and American Life found that while 1/3 of online teens have been contacted by a complete stranger, only 7% of online teens said they have been contacted by a stranger and that contact made them feel scared or uncomfortable. This is similar to the older data about sexual solicitation. Even when a teen is propositioned online -- not just contacted -- only 25% are distressed. Sure, that is 1 in 4, but a sexual proposition is a lot more invasive than a simple contact. And isn't reaching out to meet new people one of the purposes of Social Networking?

More unsurprising findings (but, as a researcher myself, I appreciate the need to quantify and justify common sense with actual numbers): Girls are more likely to be scared and uncomfortable than boys when a stranger contacts her. Online teens who have social networking profiles are more likely to be contacted by strangers than teens who have no profiles.

Friday, October 12, 2007

TV as Teacher

It is often heard that TV warps the minds of its viewers. That it dumbs us down. We are urged by car bumpers everywhere to "Kill Your Television."

But sometimes, TV can spread some facts. Even in an often over-the-top drama. Take this episode of Boston Public for example. Although now off the air, this show attempted to educate watchers about teen sexuality and abstinence only funding. Decent drama with accurate facts thrown in for good measure. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

"The Naked Generation"

Welcome to the Naked Generation, proclaims a blog posting on CNet News written by Caroline McCarthy, a young Manhattan socialite who believes that the web can actually help one's social life. The Naked Generation is that group of people who choose to use the web as a means of self-promotion. In her words: "The Naked Generation is something different: its figureheads are smart, business-savvy young adults, typically in emerging creative fields, who see the embarrassing antics of 'MySpace kids' and their emotional outpourings, and see a window of opportunity. They're smart, and they know it, so they think they can use online exhibition as an advantage rather than an embarrassment."

But even by her own admission, "think" is the operative word here. What are the repercussions of putting your life online? It's simply too soon to tell. Some people have made a name for themselves by doing so, others have simply added more ignored material to the information super highway. For those who have made their mark, what impression does it leave? And for those who tried to get noticed but failed, how does it impact them?

It's hard for me to imagine what, besides complete narcissism, is going on in the minds of these "meta-exhibitionists." And there is evidence to back that up -- research conducted earlier this year found that college students are more self-centered than ever before.

Is it time for Sesame Street and other educational television shows to send a message to kids that they aren't so special after all?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Men Have Needs Too!

Most of the online dating advice given out has been geared towards women. Here is a small exception from the Yahoo! Personals Blog: 7 Reasons Why She Didn't Write Back. Although the information itself seems pretty basic to me -- don't talk about exes, read the profile of the person you are responding to -- the comments from readers make me believe that maybe the advice is warranted. My favorite:
"Addressing one as "babe" or "angel" is not a good way to introduce yourself."

This is good too:
"DO NOT copy your driver's license photo and put in online. Yes, I've seen it done--yuck!"
Ed Note: This could work if you are smiling purdy. But has a guy ever smiled for his license?

Is there that little common sense out there in cyberspace?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Making Time for the Big "O"

...If by the Big "O," you mean "online," that is. According to Reuters, 20 percent of 1,011 American adults said they spend less time having sex because of the amount of time they spend online. The survey was conducted by advertising agency JWT.

Are these people part of the 38 million people who visited adult Web sites and spent an average of about 90 minutes there in December 2005? Or the 13% of Americans who said they have visited an adult web site or 4% who have downloaded and/or shared adult material according to Pew Internet and American Life? Or are these people just playing video games instead?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dating Violence and the Internet

Recent research out of Kansas State University, as reported by Yahoo, finds that "Approximately 30 percent of college students have been in relationships that involve physical aggression. Even more have been in relationships that are emotionally abusive." That is a very unsettling rate.

What can be done about it? Sites such as Love Is Respect, funded by Liz Claiborne, allow people who are being abused or harmed to seek help easily and possibly easier than calling a local hot line. The live chat option is available from the late afternoon to early morning, the times when people are more likely to be able to go online.

And the people behind the site seem to be pretty savvy about issues of privacy and tracking. Before you can even enter the site, there is a warning about computer monitoring accompanied by a phone number in case the computer is not deemed safe. Similarly, throughout the site, there are warnings about the true anonymity of online usage.

An example of some of the positive ways that the internet can impact teen sexuality and relationships.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Playboy U

The LA Times reports that Playboy will be launching its own social networking site called Playboy U. Although the site does not permit nudity, it naturally hosts several pictures of scantily-clad members of the Playboy mansion. Featured message topics focus on penis size and the number of persons one has slept with.

Aimed at college students, Playboy U "managed to get 2,000 members from 500 colleges in early beta tests." Only those with an email address ending in a .edu will be permitted to join.

Look out Tila Tequila -- here comes the competition!

I hope this does not become a new source of sex education for young men -- but it probably will be, since schools are teaching less and less of it. From the stories I have heard from my students, Playboy and other "adult" magazines are often one of the main places that boys learn about sex (girls too, for that matter). I see no reason why that wouldn't expand to its internet site.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Only 1,999,877 to Go!

Tila Tequila built her entire celebrity status through her page on MySpace. She currently has over 2,000,000 friends. Yes, I counted the decimals right. No, I am not one of them. Now, according to TV Week, Tila is the star of her own dating show, “A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila," which will premiere on MTV October 9th. What makes her unique -- aside from her self-created career -- is the fact that this dating show will be the first whose dating pool consists of both men and women. I'll let Tila explain it herself -- here's a quote from her blog:

"My show is about finding true love, because for me....having over 2 million friends is cool but sometimes it makes it hard for me to find someone real, and someone whom I can trust and love.....but there is a catch.....the show will be about me finding love as a BISEXUAL!!!!! THAT IS CRAZY RIGHT? So on my new reality show there will be 16 male contestants and 16 female contestants all fighting for my love....the only twist is....yes, there is another twist....the only twist is that these guys and these girls have NO IDEA that I am bisexual and that they are competing against each others sexes!!! GUYS AGAINST GIRLS....WHO WILL I END UP HOOKING UP WITH????? WILL I BE STRAIGHT OR LESBIAN IN THE END?????"

Tila is not exactly the best role model. It's not her bisexuality that is of any relevance to me, it's more the way she exploits herself and glamorizes her life of sex and drugs. Her page is littered with all sorts of interesting "facts" about her rise to fame: "Eventually tiring of Houston, she made her rounds to New York, where she experimented with drugs and a hardcore lifestyle. Tired of her all female mnage et trois relationship (sic), she headed to Los Angeles where at 18, she was scouted by Playboy, and eventually became their first ever Asian Cyber Girl of the Month." And she just launched her own online poker site and is almost finished with her first album!

And "finding "true love through a reality TV show? Puh-leez. Just ask Joe Millionaire's Evan and Zora (and so many other couples who have looked for partners this way) how well it works.

Hopefully there aren't too many young girls out there who hope to follow in her footsteps. At this rate, I'll take Paris any day.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Picking on the Intern

Maybe I am asking too much, or maybe I should just relax. Actually, I know I should just relax. But I found another column by that CNet intern that drives me a little crazy. This one is all about dating advice in the land of Facebook. She makes some decent points, like "Don't post makeout pictures on MySpace," so it's worth the read despite the fact that she also states to not judge a person by their MySpace page and then proceeds to make a strong judgment about boys who post pictures "where he's flexing his abs while simultaneously doing a thumbs up" (Advice: "Stay. Away."). Ah, teenagers.

Here's her situation: She's at a party, where she sees a gorgeous hunk with dreamy eyes. She admires him from afar. I can totally relate to this -- I think this happened to me every other day in high school and college. Then, she goes home and looks up Mr. Dreamy Eyes on Facebook by hunting down his profile through mutual friends. I can still sort of relate. I remember trying to casually ask mutual friends about that random dude while not really cluing in on the fact that I thought he was sexy as hell. I am sure I fooled no one (but I thought I was clever). Finally, after "a series of flirty messages, followed by some text messages and one phone call," she and Dreamy Eyes agree to go out. My parallel? Those random "I just happened to pass your dorm room (or locker) and you were there" chats leading to something else. It's the same, just a little different. The modern 2.0 version is somewhat more removed, but the steps are pretty similar.

While it's cool that she sets up the scenario of how meeting someone through the internet and then dating IRL might work, her hypocrisy is all-too apparent. While she herself admits to making initial contact online, she makes her first rule of teen dating in the digital age "When possible, strike up an in-person conversation before cyberstalking." Oops. Maybe this paradox is the result of an overbearing editor? Or maybe she is just a typical adolescent who wants everyone to do as she says, and not as she does. Who knows, but it set me off a bit for some bizarre reason.


Couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Teen to see jail time for stupidity

In Florida, a teen will get 30 days in jail for posting a nekked picture of his ex-girlfriend on a social networking site. He was 17, she was 15, when the picture was taken (consensually) and posted (not consensually). They were going out at the time of the posting.

He was charged with child abuse and attempted child abuse according to CBS news. This accusation was dropped from a sex crime charge which would have led him to become a registered sex offender.

Do you think these charges are justified? Did this boy get what he deserved? Was the punishment too harsh?

Although this may be one of the first instances, you can bet it isn't going to be the last. Not by a long shot.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I'm Almost "Old"

Teenager Sabeba Suri publishes her musings on about why 40-year-olds want to be on Facebook. Although somewhat amusing to hear this perspective, her post is simplistic at best, offensive and callous at worst. She ultimately concludes that it is just plain "creepy" for people over 40 to use social networking. I think the major flaw of her argument is that she is confusing "old folks" using SN with them contacting her and other teens via SN. I agree that the latter can be pretty "creepy," while the former would, ultimately, be none of her business. If non-hip, non-teen people want to use SN, why should she even notice? Wouldn't it be just as "creepy" if a 17-year-old wanted to befriend a 40-year-old? Note: if that happens to you, I bet you it is To Catch a Predator looking for TV fodder, so don't take the bait.

Some of the responders to her post raise some excellent exceptions as to why older persons may be contacting those significantly younger than they are. How about teachers who want to stay in touch with students (hey! that's me!), or relatives who live far away and are not as savvy to Skype? The most powerful response, however, is one from a person in the military who states:

"So I am 30, and I talk to 18 year olds on a social networking site. Why? I am in the military and 90% of my troops are ages 18 to 21. Now I don't have anyone on my friends list who is not family or close to me and no friends on my list are under 21. But, I talk to 18 year olds. Why, if one of my soldiers has a problem, how do I relate to them? They would loose confidence in me and wouldn't come to me if I could not communicate effectively in their language. That Means I must stay current, and sometimes it helps to bounce ideas off of other people their age to get perspective. I also spend sometimes 200 plus days away from home, thousands of miles away. When I can get time to send a message home to say I am alive, It's a little easier with a post, I'll save the phone call for my family."

While I will try to be sympathetic to a teen's limited perspective, it would help if her editors shed a little light on the matter before writing such a hostile post.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Global Curiosity

Nigerian school children who received computers through the One Laptop Per Child group are apparently looking up porn. The non-profit organization stated that from now on it would install filters on the machines.

Friday, August 17, 2007

No Second Chance

Florida now lists teens as young as 14 on the state's sex offender registry, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Florida legislators unanimously approved the law, citing the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act as justification (note: complying with this Act can result in significant federal funding). According to the article, "The Adam Walsh Act, which went into effect last year, requires children 14 and older who engage in genital, anal or oral-genital contact with children younger than 12 to be included in community-notification laws, such as the predator list."

Critics of the law state that parents, who are often the first to learn of teens' behaviors, "may be reluctant to seek help for their children if they will be labeled and their families' homes identified on the sex offender list." Thus, the behaviors will go unreported and the youth will not receive treatment or counseling. Other critics argue that a minor who commits sex offenses should be treated and rehabilitated -- not punished for the rest of his or her life.

Currently, in accordance with Megan's Law, a person who is classified as a sex offender has to register for the rest of his or her life -- and any contact information needs to be made available to the pubic. However, a person can petition to be removed after a minimum of 10 years.

Monday, August 13, 2007

For Research Nerds

danah boyd is compiling a list of all research on Social Networking. View the list here and write her a comment here to add any missing cites.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A level head in a sea of panic

You can always count on Larry Magid and Anne Collier of Blog Safety and Net Family News for a solid perspective on online predators. Last week they published an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News entitled Tell teens about good, bad sides of social networking. Here are the highlights:
  • MySpace has announced it has deleted 29,000 profiles of sexual predators. Assuming that there were no duplicates, that represents less than 5% of the known sexual predators in the US.
  • Using a news analysis, out of the 12 million teens online, 100 have been victims of sexual exploitation. That percentage is too small to calculate.
  • None of the youth that have been sexually exploited as a result of an online sexual predator were kidnapped -- all went willingly with their assailant, and many had sex "consensually" (as much as you believe a minor can consent to sexual activity -- but that is a discussion for another day).
The major message these two want to convey is to keep these numbers in perspective. That panicking about this issue and prohibiting teens from going online will only drive them "underground" -- away from healthy discussions.

And given that most sexual abuse happens closer to home, driving your teens away is probably the last thing you want to do if you are really concerned about sexual exploitation.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

They must have some pretty good bookmarks...

According to a survey of 750 teens conducted for eCrush, 46% stated they preferred to surf the 'net than go on a date. At least "only" 42% would rather watch TV...

Is dating that bad these days, or am I just not going to the right web sites?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Am I paranoid?

I loved the concept of the YouTube democratic debates and I appreciated the fact that there was a token question about sexuality education! However, to my chagrin, the video to that particular question on the site only has the actual question as asked by Planned Parenthood and not the two responses by Edwards and Obama (note: blogs written by people with more sexually conservative blogs are appalled by the fact that the question was actually asked by an affiliate of PPH called Planned Parenthood Votes and believe that this is an example the pervasive liberal media bias and promotion of improper values).

If you want to hear the question along with the two responses, as well as commentary about them, go to American Sexuality Magazine's blog.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Reality Bites

Newsweek covers Second Life, a virtual 3-D world where almost anything goes for the over 8 million people who roam there. And although Newsweek overall gives the concept of a computer-based society a positive spin, it does point out some of the negatives, such as the incredibly controversial criminal investigation in Germany against people who have virtual sex with a child avatar (note: the person behind the avatar was a legal adult).

There are stories of people who have become IRL millionaires through selling items such as clothing and land in Second Life. There are case studies of how businesses are using Second Life to enhance customer service. But the most startling statistic to me? "By 2011, four of every five people who use the Internet will actively participate in Second Life or some similar medium."

We need to treat this prediction as truth of the inevitable and start teaching virtual etiquette and develop general relationship education to prepare for this phenomenon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Post It, and They Will Come

Controversy continues over the running of a Trojan ad, Evolve, which features a bar scene where women are surrounded by pigs. Then, one pig goes to the restroom and returns with a condom, and transforms into an attractive man.

Sort of a cute idea, trying to not only normalize condom use, but also make it look as though condoms make you hot -- better than sending the message that beer makes you attractive. But apparently not everyone feels that way. According to the Kaiser Women's Health Report, the Pittsburgh market is not receiving the Trojan ad favorably; in contrast, Seattle has given it "the green light." This follows on the heels of the announcements by CBS and Fox that they would not run the ad because, according to the New York Times, "Fox said it objected to the message that condoms can prevent pregnancy, while CBS said it was not 'appropriate'" (note: these are the stations that bring you such shows as CSI, full of sexual fetish story lines and the recently canceled OC, which oozed sex).

But not to worry, the same NYT article also states that: "The commercial has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube, while has drawn more than 400,000 unique visitors since June 18." Of course, this topic has been discussed on several blogs, such as this one as well as the widely read and respected Huffington Post, drawing even more attention to it.

Let's hope these conversations get people -- especially the younger generation -- to talk about safer sex. No one wants to be a pig.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

(insert phallic joke here)

A little break from my normal serious posts. BoingBoing, a "directory of wonderful things" covered a story close to my town about some controversial bollards that have been installed in the city of Keizer, OR. Personally, I didn't think they looked THAT phallic, but my vote doesn't count in that more conservative area of Oregon.

What I find wonderful is that several people have now posted numerous comments to this blog entry, adding their own links to and pictures of the most phallic landmarks throughout the world. Ha! Now people of all ages have convenient access to penis- (and boob-, and even a "moon-") look-alikes everywhere!

I don't think this is what the citizens of Keizer had in mind when they began complaining.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

One Abstinence Program Down, Many More to Go

The federal Title V abstinence education program has expired -- however, President Bush is still looking to increase the amount of abstinence-only dollars from $163 million to $191 million for the fiscal year 2008.

Abstinence-only funds require that its recipients teach that sex outside of marriage has harmful physical and psychological effects and bans most discussions concerning condoms and other contraceptive methods. These programs alienate children of single or non-heterosexual parents, sexual minority youth, and teens who have already chosen to have sex. In it's earlier versions, this program also implied that children who had been abused or raped had been "sexually active," but thankfully that had changed. Still, there are a lot of people this program does not speak to. Is it possible to create a sex ed program that speaks to everyone?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Smile! You've been cyberbullied

A new study by Pew Internet and American Life reports that 9% of social networking youth have had an "embarrassing picture" of them posted online. In addition, 16% reported that they have had a rumor spread about them online. Although the content of this cyberbullying is not sexual by default, the content of rumors often is about sex. As for pictures? They could range from partying (or, more likely, its after effects) or just a picture showing someone's "bad side." But they could also show people hooking up or pretending to be a Girl Gone Wild.

When conducting my own interviews of college youth about their use of social networking sites, I heard of a group of guys who contacted girls for anonymous sex. While the boys were receiving blow jobs, they took pictures of the act and posted them on their MySpace accounts -- and showed off the evidence of their conquests to anyone in the dorm who cared to see. Another group of guys turned on their webcams before taking a girl to bed after a party. I am not sure what happened to those videos.

Point is, it is really easy for "embarrassing pictures" to end up online. Is it more common among high school or college youth? Who knows, but the long-term effects can be serious and devastating -- not just humiliating.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Abstinence only message goes online

The Office of Public Health and Science's website has launched a new campaign that encourages parents to talk to their children about remaining abstinent until marriage. The facts offered to parents such as the Birth Control Chart skew towards the negative (e.g., publishing typical use rather than perfect use failure rates), but at least they cite all their sources.

On the site's homepage you can view a Public Service Announcement which says "Tell your kids you want them to wait 'til they're married to have sex." An acknowledgment about sex information online is there too ("So talk to me about sex. 'Cause...It's all over the Internet).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More harm than good?

I was quickly disappointed after I saw a headline that read "Teens learn about sex online" on a South Georgia news channel. After the initial excitement, I was immediately brought back to reality.

There is really no meat to the story. Just quotes from an angry mom with five teens who says she doesn't like the idea of her kids looking up information about sex online. And a shout-out to, which, incidentally, is one of the most progressive sites related to young adult and teen sexuality. Not exactly representative. But then again, maybe that is why South Georgia chose it. Or maybe it was because they have no idea what is going on. Either way, this is not the message I like to see reaching the general population on this topic. Couldn't the newscasters have gone a little more in depth?


Monday, June 11, 2007

Normal vs. Normative

In our never-ending desire to try to figure out if something (especially if it concerns sexuality and/or sexual desire) is "normal," why don't we first check to see whether something is "normative" -- i.e., how typical it is in the general population? Because, you see, if it is "normative," that means a lot of people are doing it -- "normal" or not.

So, what is normative? Visiting web sites with "adult content," that's what. In April of 2007, according to CNN's reporting of comScore Media Metrix statistics, "more than a third of the U.S. Internet audience visited sites that fit into the online "adult" category."

But is it "normal" to do this? Well, if you believe the answer is "yes," that viewing adult content online is not only normal but also non-problematic, then the buck stops here. People like to look at sexual content and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, if you believe the answer is "no," it is not normal to do this, then you need to face the facts -- since it is so normative to look at adult content online, then the "problem" cannot be addressed on an individual level (i.e., through counseling or other therapeutic techniques), but on a societal level -- something this prevalent yet supposedly problematic needs a systemic solution, a new way of thinking.

This CNN article believes that there are problems with this normative behavior. It stresses that the problems lie in the way they impact young women. That young women have come to believe that "unapologetic embracing of sexuality and exhibitionism" is not only the norm, but the way to get attention and approval.

I have commented on this before, but this phenomenon and the way we are addressing it deserve a lot of attention. The research community is depending on psychologists to tell us how internet sexuality is impacting young women. Like this article, most of the information we are gathering is anecdotal and coming from the expert opinions of counselors and therapists, who by nature address problems on an individual level. This perspective is needed, but it is not enough. We need to get at the root of how normative these behaviors are before we tackle a solution.

We need to start seeing internet sexuality as a public health issue.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Guilt by Association

After initial resistance, MySpace has been releasing information on registered sex offenders it has identified and removed from the social-networking Web site to the Attorney Generals of eight states. According to The Washington Post, MySpace has removed about 7,000 profiles, of a total of about 180 million (You can see the effectiveness of this campaign here, in a quick survey that found that five of nine discovered members were still online and actively networking).

Unfortunately, one of those 7,000 profiles belonged to Jessica Davis, a 29-year-old University of Colorado senior. The Wired Blog Network has been following the story of a woman wrongly accused of being a sex offender and having her MySpace account removed from the site. Although MySpace has yet to acknowledge the error, Sentinel, the company that built the sex-offender database, has.

Needless to say this new policy has, to say the least, many limitations and gaps. Will it protect children? As my Magic 8-ball would say "outlook not good."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Debunking the Myths

On May 3, the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee held a briefing entitled Just the Facts about Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths.

It's about time.

David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, perhaps provided the most challenging counter example to media portrayals of online victimization. Using the real-life tale of "Jenna" (not her real name), he shows how the 13-year-old girl knew that her new "boyfriend" was 45 when they met online. Nevertheless, she willingly went to the motel room where he was staying and they had sex. When her assailant was apprehended, she didn't want to press charges and stated that she was in love with the much older man.

Finkelhor says it is dangerous and misleading to have adults believe that online predators lie and physically force their victims to be with them. "These are not violent sex crimes. They are criminal seductions that take advantage of common teenage vulnerabilities. The offenders play on teens' desires for romance, adventure, sexual information, understanding."

In other words, this is an old story -- troubled child from broken home is taken advantage of by someone who says he cares. Same tune, different instrument.

You can view, hear, or read the entire presentation online. Plus, the Committee provides access to excellent resources concerning online youth victimization and online youth habits

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Caught in the Web

Eight states (Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania) have requested that MySpace turn over the names and other information of any registered sex offenders that are currently using their site. Although, according to CNN, it is not clear as to whether MySpace is directly responding to this request, the largest social networking site did say it was removing known offenders from the site. According to the article MySpace announced in December that it was partnering with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build a database with information on sex offenders in the United States.

Although efforts like these can't hurt, after reading Caught in the Web: Inside the Police Hunt to Rescue Children from Online Predators by Julian Sher, I am skeptical as to how helpful these efforts will really be. Sher, in his reporting of the issue of online child pornography (as opposed to focusing on older persons who try to meet F2F with youth for sexual encounters), brings up to essential points that are often overlooked when policy makers attempt to address the issue of child sexual abuse facilitated by the Internet:

1. For the most part, law enforcement works locally and within a jurisdiction. The Internet knows no geographical bounds and doesn't even stay within national borders. If society truly wants to stop online child sexual exploitation, it is going to have to embark on a serious international coordinated effort. Though Sher outlines steps that have been taken, showing that law enforcement has come along way in just a few years, there is nothing close to clear communication and/or a systematic procedure when dealing with this crime.

2. Child sexual abuse -- even that which begins online -- is still primarily perpetrated by family members or persons the child knows. Yes, strangers can abuse. But it is MUCH more likely that a child is going to be exploited by someone they know, and unfortunately trust.

Although sensationalistic at times (what True Crime book is not guilty of this tone?), Caught in the Web should probably be read -- or at least skimmed -- by anyone trying to "protect our children" from evil online predators. After digesting the information in this book, hopefully they will come away with an understanding of how the internet is a community to which the usual procedures of law enforcement cannot be applied -- especially if you ignore who the primary offenders continue to be.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Internet is for Porn?

A recent article in The Economist reports that social networking sites may be gaining on the popularity of internet porn. According to the article, 13% of American-based website visits were "pornographic in nature." However, this percentage seems to have declined to a low of around 11% in Februrary 2007. Interestingly enough, this pattern is mirrored by an almost directly proportional increase in the use of social networking sites.

Could it be that people are no longer interested in paying for their adult content, and instead are seeking (or creating) their own -- for free? The correlation is not lost in The Economist: "The growing popularity of social-networking sites is not entirely unrelated to sex."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Here we go again...

Another bill that would require web sites to have warning labels. Though this one would also require such sites to register in a national directory, as reported by CNET news.

The bill, sponsored by two democrats, states that a web site that contains adult content would have to be labeled as "Harmful to Minors" (read Levine's book of the same title to see the irony in choosing this label). These sites would also have to tag themselves with a special code so that they could be filtered and monitored easily. There is no exemption for news outlets in the current legislation.

According to CNET, "Harmful to minors is defined in the legislation as any type of material that appeals to the prurient interest by depicting or describing an actual or simulated sex act--and lacks serious scientific, literary, artistic or political values for minors." This definition is very similar to the one laid out in 1973 by the Supreme Court in Miller v. California which is still the most current legal definition we have for "obscenity."

Note how extreme violence is apparently not even considered as deserving of this label.

This is not the first time, nor the last, that such legislation has been brought up for consideration. So far, the First Amendment has won every time.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Girls Gone Wild or Forced into Insanity?

Girls Gone Wild host and creator Joe Francis remains at large after being found in contempt of court during his trial in which, according to the LA Times, "seven women, filmed on a Florida beach in 2003, say they were "victimized" by Francis' crew by being put in explicit scenes."

There is no question about the success this man has had getting young girls (all of age, he insists) to either make out with their friends, flash their boobs, or do something else sexual in order to become the proud owner of a T-shirt or a hat. Then, he turns around and sells those images turning a multi-million dollar profit.

Some say it's genius. Some say it's exploitation. But in a powerful story, also previously published in the LA Times by Claire Hoffman, states that the Internet has had an impact on these girls and their willingness to expose so much for so little: "Francis has aimed his cameras at a generation whose notions of privacy and sexuality are different from any other. Nursed on MySpace profiles and reality television, many young people today are comfortable with being perpetually photographed and having those images posted on the Internet for anyone to see. The boundaries that once contained sexuality have also fallen away. Whether it's 13-year-olds watching a Britney Spears video, 16-year-olds getting their pubic hair waxed to emulate porn stars or 17-year-olds viewing videos of celebrities performing the most intimate acts, youth culture is soaked in sexuality."

Other girls have tried to sue Francis for sexual exploitation. At least one claims he raped her and tells her story in Hoffman's article. Most of these women have received no justice through the court system or anywhere else.

Still think we can shy away from the role the Internet plays in the sexualization of our youth?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More on Teens, Texting, and Relationships

More on that research conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited about how teens are staying in touch with their significant others. According to an article in the Seattle Times, "From 10 p.m. to midnight, almost a third of teens in a relationship call or text 10 to 30 times an hour." Still no word on how many teens that actually is, but the data is a little more informative than when I first mentioned it here and tried to guess about the sample size.

So, as the Seattle Times article states, the incessant communication between young people is becoming more and more subtle. I remember needing to talk to my best friend and my s.o. constantly (usually on the phone after school and sports practice) even if I had just spent most of school with her or him. I remember in college, where I lived dorm style, that I was essentially living with my boyfriend in a dinky little room complete with twin bed and roommate. So the idea of a teen spending almost literally ALL of his or her time with that special someone is not new. It's just been put into stealth mode.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Some Comments on Comments

I am usually excited when the rare comment is posted on my blog. I love to hear what other people are thinking about regarding the same issues that whirl around my head constantly.

What is annoying, however, are spam comments. Those comments that read like the emails that land in my Bulk email folder. Those comments that are placed by a "bot," not a human. Those comments that find my blog probably because I have words like "sex" in it.

Here are some annoying examples:
Pheromones is sexual attractant for men and women, it helps to improve your sexual performance, satisfaction and enjoyment."

erotic sex toys for man and woman, it helps to improve your sexual experience, satisfaction and enjoyment."

These are semi-amusing because of the greeting placed in front of them. It's like there really is a person out there trying to educate us about something relevant to the post.

I wonder how common these comment-bots are. I wonder how often they appear on the blogs scripted by teens and young adults who are likely to type those "trigger" words that these spammers seek out.

And how numb have we become to the idea that there are a bazillion (yes, I counted) products out there advertising that they can improve our sex lives? Does anyone really think these things work?

Let's hope the kids are too smart to fall for them because they probably getting these messages more than I do.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Another Case of Child Pornography

According to Maine's Bangor Daily News, a 15-year-old boy has been charged with downloading child pornography. There is no mention of the age of the children in the photos that were confiscated. Given the fact that the person charged with the crime is a "child" himself, it is possible that he was looking at sexually explicit pictures of persons his own age.

In the article David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Again Children Research Center is quoted as saying: "A large number of teens have said they have downloaded child porn (ed note: he does not mention the source of this data, but he and his colleagues are those responsible for reports such as the oft-quoted Second Youth Internet Safety Survey). Many do not realize it's criminal. [To them] it's sexual exploration...We also know many kids are taking sexual photos of themselves and friends and sending them to people. That is child pornography production and that's criminal as well."

This may be one of the first times an academic expert has stepped forward in the news to defend a minor's use of not specifically child pornography, but pornography in general.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What's the Right Thing to Do?

Lots of recent coverage on the ethics of reporting about online predators -- most of it having to do with entrapment and vigilantism. Take for example Perverted Justice founder Xavier Von Erck, the man and web site behind NBC's Dateline series, To Catch a Predator. In an Oregon Public Broadcasting story Von Erck claims to dislike children and authority, both of which are integral parts of his outfit. Yet, he willingly takes NBC's money (enough to carry his organization comfortably through the year 2009) to champion the cause of saving children from these bad men he outs -- one even killed himself to avoid arrest. Von Erck shows no remorse and instead complains that the suicide "robbed us of a conviction." Who is the "us" exactly? Society? His organization? Dateline? Unclear.

Then there is the case of New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald. He published a series of articles about Justin Berry, a former child prositute who turned 18 and was currently grooming other children to follow in his footsteps. Berry was groomed himself, starting with an innocent purchase of a Webcam, then being paid to take off his clothes while online, and eventually meeting men face to face for sex. Eichenwald is on trial for allegedly "loaning" Berry $2,000 -- an ethical violation in journalism. Nevertheless, he is still the recpient of a Payne Award, University of Oregon's award for ethics in journalism.

I am not writing to support the actions of online predators. But what happened to trying to apprehend them the old-fashioned way? By arresting them for wrongdoing? I worry about the growing popularity of entrapment, paying off sources, and being rewarded for it. We don't need people like Bernhard Goetz or Batman serving as model citizens.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Alberta: Three years ahead or behind?

According to a study reported by CBC, more than one third of Alberta boys aged 13 to 14 have watched pornography on the internet "too many times to count." This percentage can be loosely compared to the study just published in Pediatrics on US youth which found that about a third of 16-17 year old boys had "wanted exposure" to online porn.

Both the US and Canadian studies found that exposure in girls in the same age categories was 8%. So, similar percentages, just younger age groups.

One possible explanation is that far fewer Canadian youth reported having filtering software on their computers as compared to US youth. In the Canadian study, only 13 per cent of the 8th grade students said they had blocking technology on computers and TVs, whereas over half of the US youth said their computers did.

The authors of both studies cite the need for parent and youth education to stop this behavior.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Glimmer of Optimism

A couple of weeks ago, Regina Lynn's Sex Drive Column from Wired Magazine put a new spin on online predators -- that, in some perverse way, there could be a benefit to them.

Of course no one is saying that online solicitation is a good thing. But Lynn argues that all the coverage and publicity online predators are getting can be turned into teachable moments by the media and parents. That watching Dateline and visiting Perverted Justice can alert children to the strategies of online predators and also show them that this sort of behavior from adults is NOT OK. That these people really are bad guys who deserve to be confronted.

She also says that sex offenders, by going online to find their victims, are actually making it easier for us to understand their tactics and motives. My favorite quote:
"If we acknowledge that the internet did not create sexual abuse any more than freeways created reckless drivers, we might be able to analyze better why some adults continue to seek sexual contact with minors -- even now that we have the transcripts."

Although Lynn ends her column by saying that it would be fitting if the internet actually helped put an end to sexual abuse, I am not as optimistic. As she does state, the vast majority of sexual abuse takes place within families or among acquaintences. For the most part, the cases (at least those we are aware of) are strangers reaching out. Are there patterns? Perhaps, but it remains to be seen.

In the meantime, putting stranger solicitation into perspective is still the educated way to go.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The hypocrisy in protecting our youth

Are teens old enough to make their own sexual decisions, or do we need to protect them from their sexual desires and experimentation? In Florida, the answer is apparently neither -- they can't engage in their own sexual choices (however misguided) and when they are caught, they are punished like adults who are responsible for their actions. That is essentially what happened when an underage couple took pictures of themselves engaged in "sexual behaviors" and emailed the pictures to the boyfriend's email account. How the police ended up with the photos is unknown, as there is no evidence either teen shared the pictures with anyone but themselves. But the end result is that the teens were arrested and charged with "producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child." In other words, they became kiddie porn creators and possessors.

Their lawyer tried to appeal the decision arguing that their fundamental right to privacy was violated by whoever snooped in their emails. No go, said the appeals court, as minors have no right to privacy in this case. The court voted 2-1 in favor of upholding the conviction. In the dissent, Judge Padovano stated that the law ""was designed to protect children from abuse by others, but it was used in this case to punish a child for her own mistake."

Kudos to Anne Collier of NetFamily News for addressing this issue.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sparking Debate

US district court judge Sam Sparks threw out a case filed on behalf of a 13-year-old girl who claims she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-0old man she met on MySpace. The Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, which states that operators of Internet services are not to be considered the publishers of its content was cited in the decision to stop the lawsuit. The CDA is worded such that those in charge of Web 2.0-like sites are not legally liable for the words of those who use their services. In a sense, CDA allows MySpace to clear itself from blame from both the solicitations of the 19 year old as well as the fabrications of the 13-year-old, whom the potential defendant claimed she said she was 18 on her page.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Cyber-Stalking and Teens

A study put out by a Teenage Research Unlimited, a for-profit research and marketing company, and funded by the Liz Claiborne Company found that teens are obsessive about keeping track of their significant others by using technology. Yahoo News reports that survey findings include the statistic that almost one-quarter of teens surveyed who were currently in a relationship stated that they had received hourly text messages or phone calls to check up on them between midnight and 5 a.m (just how late do these kids stay up?). This amounts to 46 teens, based on the fact that 615 13 to 18 year olds were surveyed and 30% of them claimed to be in a relationship at the time (can't find this currently, but I know I read it USA Today notes that 382 of the sample, 62%, had ever been in a relationship). One out of six (n=30) said they had received messages 10 or more times an hour overnight.

In addition, over one-third of teens who had been in a relationship said a boyfriend or girlfriend had harassed them with text messages. In addition, one out of every four said their significant other had used a cell phone, e-mail, blog or Web chat to insult them (of course, this finding begs the question, what percentage of teens are insulted by their partners overall?).

Yes, I am picking apart the methodology and the sample size, but I am glad this sort of thing is being looked at. And it is all going to a very good cause. Liz Claiborne has launched as a resource for teens to use if they feel they are in an abusive relationship and want to talk to someone about it 24/7.

Technology can be both the good and bad guy in this case.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Teens do it on purpose, you know

The University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center has finally revealed the other side of the coin. Known for its work in documenting sexual solicitation and unwanted exposure to sexual material online, UNH has published a study in Pediatrics that found that forty-two percent of Internet users aged 10 to 17 surveyed said they had seen online pornography in the past year. Of those, 66 percent said they did not want to view the images and had not sought them out.

Which means, that 34% of them either did want to view the images or did seek them out. That's a sizable minority. More than one-third of 16- and 17-year-old boys surveyed said outright that they had intentionally visited X-rated sites in the past year.

By the way, online pornography was defined in the study as images of naked people or people having sex. So, we are not automatically talking hard-core here. More like Playboy online.

When I get my hands on the actual survey, I'll share more. I am curious to know how many girls are intentionally looking up porn. The coverage of the story doesn't say. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Oh, Canada

According to WebProNews, a study conducted by Microsoft Canada revealed that teens are relatively trusting of online friends. Study highlights include:
  • 70% of surveyed teens believed that the information they put online and sent to friends would be private.
    • Of this 70%, 37% of females and 22% of males had emailed a picture of themselves to somebody else on the internet.
  • 25 per cent of children would feel safe getting together with a person they have only met online and talked to for "a long time" online.
Of course, Canada and the US are not the same, so maybe we can't draw similar conclusions about American youth. But the questions asked were interesting, and show that adults may not be truly understanding the complexity of the issue of teen social networking. Teens know not to talk to strangers. And for the most part kids don't pay attention to sudden solicitations and probably can smell trouble in cyberspace (note: this study also revealed that 96 per cent of parents have spoken with their children about dangers to be aware of online). But what we may not be grasping is the fact that teens can run into problems by running with the "wrong crowd" online -- just like they do in the physical world.

Normally, I shy away from fear based posts -- there are more than enough of those. However, I think this is simply a case of believing that parents should try to get a handle on who their children are spending time with. Most parents want to know if their kid is hanging out with someone who is "trouble." As researchers, we know that peer behavior is a strong predictor of and influence on a youth's behavior. So know who your kid is hanging with online the same way you would want to know who is hosting the party and who is going to be there. Because although your child's new online friend is probably not one of those predators from Dateline, he or she could be a bully, heartbreaker or manipulator. Are those the type of friends you want your child meeting or sending pictures to?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Center for Democracy and Technology says "Just Say No"

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) released its legislative recommendations. Although they support additional funds for parental controls and internet filtering, they do NOT support the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which would expand the censoring due to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (which pertains to mostly schools and libraries) to include social networks. In other words, DOPA would result in people not being able to access their MySpace, Facebook, and BeBo accounts at their local school or library. They also may not be able to access Amazon, as there are ways to connect to people through sites such as those as well. "Social networking" has not been defined by the authors of DOPA yet.

CDT joins the American Library Association in its official stance against this bill which many believe is more about censorship than truly protecting youth. The CDT also opposes mandatory labeling that would require Web sites to label some content as "sexually explicit," if the bill did pass.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Should I stay or should I go?

A new column in TechNewsWorld states that MySpace is here to stay because it has critical mass of people and therefore will not lose popularity, as people do not want to but forth the effort to rebuild their profiles and network of friends if they migrate to a new social networking site.

However, others have argued (danah boyd amongst them) almost the exact opposite: that teens don't really mind starting over and don't have much stake in their online identities should they disappear or migrate. Take, for example, the former popularity of Friendster which is now a mere shadow of itself.

Using this POV, it would follow that teens WILL pick up and leave MySpace and it's new and impending rules and restrictions to go somewhere else less regulated and moderated. And when that new space is dominated by adults, the young will pick up and move again. And again.

A never-ending cycle of regulation futility.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New Jersey to expand sex offender registration requirements too

This in from a local New Jersey rag: bills are being drafted to require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, cyber identities and computer passwords in addition to their physical location. Both Republican and Democrat representatives are quoted, giving bipartisan support to the legislation.

Expect more states to go down this path and eventually have the Feds expand Megan's Law, making this standard procedure across the nation within the year.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hypocrisy at its Finest

The news has declared MySpace as a breeding ground for sexual predators. It depicts the social networking site as a place of danger, where teens need to beware of strangers. These news stories often offer information to parents and teens on how to stay safe online. Tips include not providing any identifying information such as your real name or school, IM screen name, or even hometown.

Meanwhile, the public bemoans the fact that our youth are hyper-sexualized and that the popular media is encouraging our youth to be too sexual too soon. They decry that the images of young girls on network TV and the music scene send the wrong message to our youth about what it means to be a mature woman.

So, how does the NBC news cover a story about a group of high school cheerleaders in Dallas, TX who are accused of being bullies and a living example of the movie Mean Girls? By using a slide show of some of their MySpace photos. And what is the opening picture? See for yourself.

Nothing like getting the attention of your viewers by showing the back ends of three young girls in short skirts.

Responsible news coverage at its finest.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Danger for Girls or a Safe Place for Boys?

A new report by Pew Internet and American Life shows that 15-17 year-old boys are twice as likely to use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to flirt than are girls the same age. They are also more likely to say they use these sites to make new friends in addition to maintaining existing friendships.

Though we can't know for sure why this is the case, a few theories come to mind. One is that girls are more likely to be on guard and wary of meeting friends (or more) online -- unfortunately, girls simply have more to be afraid of, since they are more likely than boys to be the victims of sexual violence. Thus, girls are not going to reach out into cyberspace to meet boys. They've been taught to be careful.

Another possibility for this finding is a bit more optimistic. Perhaps boys are more likely to reach out to girls online because it is safer for them to express themselves there. In the face-to-face environment, boys are socialized to be tough -- the strong and silent type. However, this macho front does not really allow a boy to take a chance on reaching out to a girl he likes or even wants to get to know better. The possibility of rejection and ridicule is simply too much for the fragile ego underneath the bravado.

Enter the cyberworld. Here is a place where boys can perhaps open up a bit more, using the computer monitor for protection against rejection. Boys can practice opening up, expressing themselves, and making themselves vulnerable with someone they are attracted to. I don't think that it is a good idea for boys to stay within the safer boundaries of cyberspace, but starting there might be a good idea.