Monday, November 24, 2008

Study Released on Teens and Digital Media

Guess what adults...Social Networking isn't that bad after all...who knew?

Some people hear the names of sites like MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube and Second Life and immediately their minds conjure up images of cyberbullies, online predators, and online scammers just waiting to steal the identities of unsuspecting internet users. This blog also publicizes those dangers on a regular basis. Every now and again a story or a study comes out with the positive ways in which web 2.0 technologies are being used by teenagers. This past week, a New York Times article reported on a study released by the MacArthur Foundation. In the study, it was found that teens who socialize online develop important social and technical skills. In the article, one of the lead researchers of the study said that, "their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.” Researchers found that teenagers tend to fall into two distinct categories of engagement with digital media, "friendship-driven participation" and "interest-driven participation". The teens that fall in the friendship driven category, tend to hang out and communicate online with existing friends while teens in the interest driven category seek out information from online communities dedicated to that particular interest. These online communities are usually outside of the teen's local peer group and can consist of other teens and adults from around the world. The study also shows that teens are very interested in learning from their peers online and that the internet provides a platform in which youth can submit ideas or work and receive feedback from people all over the world. These teens tend to explore new interests and tinker with various forms of new media. Through these experiences, they acquire new technical and media skills. The teens in this interest-driven category tend to become self-directed learners and invite feedback from their peers. A report on the study also pointed out this very important detail:

most youth are not taking full advantage of the learning opportunities of the Internet. While most youth use the Internet socially, they may overlook learning opportunities. Serious learning opportunities are abundant online in such subjects as astronomy, history, creative writing, and foreign languages. Youth can connect with people in different locations and of different ages who share their interests, making it possible follow pursuits that might not be popular or valued with their local peer groups.

It is always important for parents and caretakers to be aware of who teens are socializing with online and what they are posting on their profiles, but it is also equally important to encourage teens to be creative, take positive risks, and learn new things...just like they should offline.

An executive summary of the study can be found here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What You Post Online Can Have Consequences!

Students need to be aware of what they and their friends are putting about themselves online. As more and more teens (and tweens!) post pictures, videos and information about themselves on social networking sites, they need to understand that what they post could have serious consequences whether they like it or not. Let's take a former New England Patriots cheerleader as one example. Fox news reported last week that a New England Patriots cheerleader was dismissed from the squad because of some photographs that surfaced on various web sites, including the extremely popular social networking website, Facebook. The photos, which were of the cheerleader and an unconscious man at a party, featured some very objectionable content written on the individual she was pictured with. As a result, the Patriots let her go from the squad.

This is another example in which photos posted and shared online can have some negative consequences in your professional life. Now, there can arguments made that the Patriots overreacted, or that online pictures shouldn't be a factor of your employment, but the fact is that more and more employers and schools are taking these things into serious consideration when deciding the fate of prospective employees or students. In fact some employers and college admissions officers are searching Social Networking sites of prospective applicants to get an idea of the type of person they might be hiring or accepting into their educational institution. It is very important that students are aware of their "digital footprint". What images of themselves are they posting online? What types of photos are their friends posting? Sometimes, it is a friend or acquaintance that may post an inappropriate photograph of you online, and usually, once it is online you have no control over that image or video. Career Builder released a survey earlier this fall which states that one-in-five employers use social networking sites to do research on their job applicants. The article also adds that one-third of those hiring managers have found content that caused them to dismiss the candidates from consideration. The two top areas of concern were about job candidates who posted information about themselves drinking or using illegal drugs, and candidates who posted provocative or inappropriate photographs of themselves.

On the other hand, sometimes a good online image can be beneficial to you. In the same survey, 24% of hiring managers that did research on potential job applicants stated that they found content that help solidify their decision to hire the candidate. The top two positive factors that helped influence the hiring decision were that the candidate's background supported their qualifications for the job and that the candidate had good communication skills. So, a more professional social networking profile can actually increase your chances of getting a job.

Teenagers and adults both need to understand that what they post online can have consequences in their professional lives. Eric Esteves, from TechBoston, went out to Boston Asian Youth Essential to speak to a group of teenagers about this very topic. He didn't tell students that they shouldn't be online, or that they shouldn't have social networking pages. He encouraged them to be careful about what they are posting. He explained to them that even though they can set their own profiles to private, photographs of themselves might get posted publicly by their friends. He had a good rule of thumb, which was not to post anything that you wouldn't want your parents or grandparents to see. He wasn't there to discourage the students from using social networking, but to encourage them to use it in a positive manner.

For more information on safe social networking for teens, please check out these links:

Social Networking Safety Tips from the Federal Trade Commission

NetSmartz 411 - How to keep my child safer while using a social networking website

Monday, November 10, 2008

Phishing Video Explanation

Common Craft is a company that creates videos that help to educate the public about different types of technology. They try to make the videos as straightforward as possible with little high tech jargon so that they are easy to understand. They do a fantastic job of explaining things like blogs, wikis, social networking and other web 2.0 technologies with a set of videos called "In Plain English". They recently posted a video entitled Phishing Scams in Plain English. The video does a nice job of explaining what some phishing scams are and who to contact if you are being targeted.

Phishing Scams in Plain English from leelefever on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Congress Passes Bill That Promotes Internet Safety

Schools systems around the country may be required to educate their students about internet safety in order to receive e-Rate funds according to the recently passed Broadband Data Improvement Act. According to an article in e-School News, The law includes language from an earlier proposed bill called the Protecting Children in the 21st Century. The language that the new law included from the proposed Protecting Children in the 21st Century act requires schools receiving e-Rate funds to teach students about appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room web sites, as well as the dangers of cyber bullying.The bill also says that the Federal Trade Commission will conduct a nationwide program to "increase public awareness and provide education regarding strategies to promote the safe use of the Internet by children."

You can look at the actual law here