Friday, December 17, 2010

Cyber self-harm?

This recent post by internet relationship extraordinaire danah boyd has attracted a lot of attention -- and with good reason. There has been extensive media coverage on cyberbulling these days; just a quick search on google news brought me stories from Montana, New York, and even Spain posted in just the last few hours. But what boyd and online quiz builder Formspring have uncovered (or at least made public) is something alarming, but perhaps not that surprising:

There are teens out there that bullying themselves online.

boyd as dubbed this "digital self-harm" but comments from readers criticize this term because physical self-harm is often motivated by the relief that follows after experiencing actual pain, clearly not happening online. But, no matter the term used, people are starting to come up with motivations/rationales as to why such behavior would occur. boyd's reasons from her article include a cry for help, to be cool, and to trigger compliments. Anne Collier, in her most recent issue of Net Family News appears to support the "cry for help" theory more strongly than the others.

However, to me, this behavior is somewhat parallel to some of the behaviors found in some persons who deal with borderline personality disorder, or some other personality disorder. These conditions affect approximately 2% of US adults, typically young women, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Such mental health conditions are characterized by unstable, volatile social relationships, and impulsiveness. My Mayo Clinic introduces personality disorders with this explanation:

"A personality disorder is a type of mental illness in which you have trouble perceiving and relating to situations and to people — including yourself."

To me, there is a lot of commonality between someone with personality disorder and someone who would post negative comments about herself and await either verification or contradiction.

Now, I am not saying that all persons who engage in "digital self harm" have personality disorder, or any mental health diagnosis for that matter. But, what I do want to bring to light is that this phenomenon might not be the representation of something new, but instead a new way for someone with a certain mental health issue to express herself. Why the need to differentiate? Because it may shape the way we approach this problem (and I do see it as a problem, no matter its cause) and its solutions.

Whatever comes of this issue, you can be sure that this might be the first, but it certainly is not the last, time we will come across this.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Texting or stalking?

OK, after a REALLY long break, I am trying to start writing again. I still care a lot about this issue, but so many others have been grabbing my attention, that it has been difficult to get back into the swing of things. I shall do my best, but perhaps I will be expanding what I write about, as different things related to youth catch my eye...

That said, I have had this story open on my desktop for some time. This Washington Post article addresses "textual harassment," to harass or stalk someone through text messages. Texting, frankly, makes it easier to experience abuse in a relationship. A person can constantly write messages -- threatening or not -- to their "significant other" to the point of where they are constantly reminded of the relationship. A person can feel controlled, followed, or lose their individuality if enough messages come through their phone on a daily basis (some of the stories featured allude to more than 100 a day).

This is one of the ways that technology has changed relationships for the worse. Before texting, it would have been nearly impossible to stay in such close touch with someone without physically being there. Now, with just a few button pushes, a person can infiltrate someone else's life constantly.

Understandably, little has been done to more thoroughly investigate the repercussions of such behavior. But the perspective of the stalker has been examined even less. Given the young ages of these textual harassers, do they really realize what they are doing? Is it possible that their lack of perspective really doesn't allow them to see how much is "too much?" While not wanting to defend their behavior, it would be interesting to see how the harassers themselves explain their actions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Teachers in need of instruction?

Thanks Jeff for pointing out this story about a teacher who somehow thought it was a good idea to send naked photos of herself to a 15-year-old student!

I find this incident very hard to wrap my head around. Outside of the obvious inappropriateness of the act, did the teacher honestly think that a teenage boy would keep naked pictures of a teacher a secret? Imagine being in high school and getting a hold of some compromising pics of a teacher. Imagine your classmates getting their hands on them. What percentage of them would just keep those photos to themselves as opposed to having some sort of "fun" with them?

That's what I thought.

I was in Teacher Education for a while, and I don't recall ever covering the inappropriateness of sexual relationships with students. I am sure it was covered elsewhere, but not in the classes I taught. Perhaps during those ethics classes (or wherever they talk about such issues) we need to address the fact that sexting counts as acting inappropriately? Show news stories such as this to scare the heck out of those even tempted to do so? Again, I find it odd that it would even be necessary, but given the viral nature of texts and other digital communication, perhaps it wouldn't hurt to offer these gentle reminders to instructors.

Update on blog management

Hi folks! Just so you know, I have now defaulted to moderating all comments in order to block spamming, which has gotten out of control. Mind you, I WILL post all comments that are sincere, even if they are just to say you liked the post or want to say "hi."

I also implemented a mandatory typing of a word to avoid macros as spam.

Thanks to all of you for your patience in this matter. Now, on to our regularly scheduled programming :-).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Still struggling with SPAM

Hello out there in Reader Land!

I am working on the best way to deal with all the SPAM responses to this blog. I think some solutions I have developed are going to be good ones. One is that, unfortunately, I deleted a post that seemed to attract most of the junk. I am also working on other strategies.

Thank you for your patience! Not monitoring this blog is a sign of disrespect to you all -- something I do not want to convey.

Internet communities: Strengthening the global or local?

I found this post (please excuse the numerous editing issues, as recognized in its own disclaimer) extremely interesting in the way it challenged how young people use the internet to form community. I have read quite a bit speculating (there is so little research and not much anecdotal information either) on how sexual and gender minority are reaching out online to form community. Most of this information discovers how these youth use the internet to reach out of their isolated communities to find others "like them" in other places.

This is not the case here.

Mary Gray, of the Communication and Culture dept. at Indiana University, gives an example of how rural youth use the internet to strengthen their LOCAL community of LGBTQ youth. It's a neat case study that makes me wonder how widespread it is.

Another point I appreciate: the fact that these youth feel safer in public venues rather than hidden in their own identities, or online. To me, a supporter of these youth, it is reassuring that they are trying to make themselves visible and part of the community.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Huge increases in media use reported

A recent article in the New York Times highlights that teens are spending more time with media than ever before -- an average of 7.5 hours a day. And, given that they can use several different types of media at once (listen to music while playing a video game or posting on Facebook), teens actually manage to bend time and get in nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.

Heavy media use (defined as more than 16 hours a day!) was found to be associated with several negatives, including behavior problems and lower grades. So, the increase in media, at least in its extreme, may be cause for concern.

The study was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, who has a strong history of researching media use and content. KFF is also known for its thorough analysis of the sexual content on television (the Sex on TV series). Major findings there include that the amount of sexual content on TV continues to increase, and that references to safer sex or sexual risks and responsibilities are rare (about 14% of sexual content alludes to them). The last Sex on TV report I could find was from 2005.

But maybe KFF realizes that those studies are outdated, and it's time to look more closely at the sexual content of the digital media teens consume instead. I look forward to it!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A look at adult priorities on dating sites

Nerd alert: This blog posting by the staff at OKCupid is full of statistics, but ultimately interesting. It demonstrates how much looks (i.e., your photo) matters when it comes to getting any hits on your online dating post. In fact, they determine that your picture matters more than anything else you post on the site.

What is sort of interesting, however, is how men and women respond to the attractiveness of the photo. Men will judge most women to be of "average" attractiveness -- very few will be found to be decidedly unattractive and, likewise, few will be seen as extremely attractive. In somewhat surprising contrast, women are MUCH more likely to rate men as unattractive to average attractiveness.

However -- how men and women react to that information differs. Men, despite there only being (in their eyes) very few attractive women will only write to those women. Women, who perhaps because they know there are so few (in their eyes) prime men, are more likely to write to those they find less attractive. The result? A highly attractive woman gets 5 times as many messages as an average woman and 28 times as many messages as an unattractive woman. These differences aren't as great the other way around where the most attractive guys get 11 times the messages the least attractive do.

Just another way to point out that even though we discourage our youth to post pictures of themselves that will gain "this sort of attention" we have to be honest with ourselves -- this sort of attention works in the adult world, too.