Cyberbullying Guide for Parents from Quibly

Our friends at Quibly are out today with a new eBook publication – their 2014 Cyberbullying Guide.

Quibly is a question and answer online community that focuses on the intersection of parents, kids and technology use, both the positives and the issues that arise that are sometimes not so positive, such as cyberbullying.  Questions posted at Quibly are answered either by parents or a large number of experts who are members of the community.

The Cyberbullying Guide offers statistics, tips and a list of resources that most families will find helpful. Since cyberbullying is a problem that we research and work with parents and families on every day, we are happy to announce that we contributed some answers for the free guide, which can be accessed using the link below.

 

quibly cyberbullying guide
Quibly Cyberbullying Guide

 

Note to readers: If your company, team or organization is putting together guidelines or educational material focused on cyberbullying or other aspects of internet safety, let us know how we can help.

 

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Social Media School Confession Pages – What Parents Need to Know

twitter confession pageMajor news outlets have been busy lately reporting on social media confession pages, usually on Facebook or Twitter, that air the dirty laundry of students at a given school, district or region. These pages aren’t all that easy to find – schools and parents do their best to have the pages taken down as soon as they start causing a disruption in school, often spurred by a cyberbullying complaint.

How students use the pages vary. Some posts have kids venting about school-related topics or engaging other students humorously, but in some cases the page is an outright cyberbullying forum. Whether the page is harmless or toxic seems to depend on how the anonymous moderators solicit content.

We took a look at one of the more negative Twitter confession accounts that is still active, @YoCoFessions from the York County School District in Pennsylvania, to shed some light on what is really going on and what teens are posting.

Of the harmless variety:

innocent confession

Not so harmless:

twitter-confession-bully

Calling out a student by name in this manner is definitely not appropriate. As you can see, this is more of an allegation than a confession.

twitter-confession-high-school

Again, totally inappropriate. Also, not a confession.

The moderators of confession pages remain anonymous by using a dummy account on Google, Ask.fm or a similar outlet to solicit content and generally go undiscovered until the police or school administrators appeal to the social network to take the account down. Even after an account is taken down, the person running the account is almost never brought to justice. In the case of the @YoCoFessions account, the operator feels that what he (she?) is doing is legal. We doubt it, but are not experts on Pennsylvania law.

confession page defense

The fact that confession pages exist speaks to one of the unfortunate truths of cyberbullying – when kids are anonymous they feel free to do things that they wouldn’t do face to face, or if there was risk of being found out. We have no doubt that some kids posting bullying comments or negative allegations are just trying to be funny and part of the “in crowd”. That doesn’t lessen the negative effect on those being bullied.

What can parents do? If your child is being bullied on an anonymous forum, you can report it to the school or the police. If your child is submitting “confessions”, there is not way for you to find out unless you are monitoring his every keystroke. If you are worried that your child is participating in the bullying, or may do so in the future, communication is the only way to ensure appropriate behavior. What is wrong in real life is wrong online, but online it often has a much broader audience and the evidence may be permanent.

Let’s hope this account gets shut down soon.

 

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Study: Anonymity Online Leads to Cyberbullying and Bad Behavior

We’ve been saying for a while that in the course of our research, we see significantly more cyberbullying and general bad behavior on anonymous sites and networks than we do on “real name” networks. Common sense would dictate that this makes sense, but some data out this week backs up our views.

Arthur Santana, an assistant professor at the University of Houston researched thousands of comments on online articles both at sites where readers use their real name and sites that allow anonymity (Full research here: It’s not free). In summary, from the NJ.com article linked above:

“53 percent of anonymous comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. By comparison, about 29 percent of comments on sites that require commenters to use their names were deemed uncivil.”

What does this mean for parents? Well, you’d be well served telling your teens to avoid anonymous networks for a start.

Santana is quoted as saying:

“One of the benefits of online anonymity is that it allows people to express their views, uninhibited, especially if it is an unpopular opinion,” Santana said. “It’s when commenting descends into hateful language, threats or racism that the conversation breaks down and any benefits of constructive dialogue goes away.”

Are social media comments all that different from article comments? We don’t think so. Anecdotally but consistent with the results of the study, reports of cyberbullying recently have been widespread on anonymous networks such as Ask.fm, 4chan and Whisper App.

The risk that your teen, if posting on an anonymous network, may be cyberbullied or otherwise treated harshly should not be ignored. Unfortunately, the chances that your teen will take the bait and get involved in a vulgar or hateful exchange is also increased on networks where anonymity is allowed.

We’re certain most parents agree that just because the typical comment or exchange is mean-spirited, that doesn’t make it OK. Encourage your teens to take full responsibility for what they do and say online, and stick to networks where the discourse is civil and good digital citizens are the norm.

 

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Are Anonymous Websites Safe For Teens?

If a teen is using a social media network or website where anonymity is allowed, or is the default, there is a perception that there is less risk than if the teen were online using his or her real name. I know that my kids believed this to be true, at least before I explained things to them. Parents should understand that this is not necessarily the case.

AnonymousLet’s take a look at a number of reasons why being anonymous, or thinking you are, can either lead to risky behavior or put an internet user at risk:

Nobody knows who you are – Let’s face it – the only thing that keeps some impulsive teens from doing or posting inappropriate things online is the fear of getting caught. If a teen “knows” that he is anonymous, bad or riskier behavior could become the norm.

Cyberbullying – Similar to the point above, cyberbullies are bolder when the fear of being found out is zero. If your teen is on an anonymous site, even if she is a great kid not likely to be a bully, she is vulnerable to being targeted by bullies herself.

Other inappropriate conduct – The number of incidents involving cyberbullying and other inappropriate conduct that we see on anonymous sites and networks is much higher than on “real name” networks. If your teen frequents these sites day in and day out, he may learn that this inappropriate behavior is normal, or may join in just to seem cool.

Doxing – Short for document tracing, doxing is the process of internet users exposing the true identity of another user, even though that user had been posting anonymously. If your teen has been acting inappropriately online, and gets outed, there could be serious repercussions.

Predator risk – If your teen is anonymous, then so are the predators, making it easier to craft an online identity that may seem like a friend-able type of person to your teen. Beware as not all internet users are who they appear to be.

Now let’s take a look at the places online that teens frequent where anonymity is either common or the default identity.

Ask.fm – Ask.fm is a question and answer site designed to allow users to post questions and receive answers from friends and strangers. It is a forum frequented by teen cyberbullies, and has been linked to numerous teen suicides. Anonymity is optional on Ask.fm, and from what we’ve seen, victims are often users with their real name as a handle while the bullies choose to remain anonymous. We caution parents that teens should proceed with caution when using Ask.fm.

Reddit – Reddit is a news, general interest and commenting website designed to allow users to post and vote on content. Reddit is mostly anonymous, and commenters can be extremely cruel. There is a lot of great content on Reddit (100 million unique users last month), but users need to have a thick skin to engage here.

4chan – 4chan is a fully/mostly anonymous image posting and discussion forum, organized by topic. All users are anonymous on 4chan and the content is totally unmoderated. Teens should avoid it.

Whisper App – Whisper App is a photo and group-messaging app designed to allow users to post stock or personal pictures along with comments – usually secrets or confessions. While mostly harmless, Whisper has recently been used for anonymous cyberbullying. Fortunately, the app does offer a relatively easy way to report bullying.

There are many sites and networks where, wile most users operate under their real name, but many are anonymous, such as Twitter, Snapchat and other messaging apps, Instagram, Tumblr and online gaming platforms. We advise teens to use good judgment when interacting with users whose true identity is not known.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Inside NYC’s Social Media Guidelines for Students

With little fanfare, at the start of this school year New York City’s Department of Education issued a new set of social media guidelines for students. The eight-page document is a valiant effort, and clearly shows a student-first attitude on the part of the DOE. In the first paragraph of the introduction, the Department makes its goal clear:

“The New York City Department of Education (DOE) works to provide all students with access to an education that prepares them to succeed in college and careers. Part of being a successful citizen is understanding that social media and digital communication are essential parts of our world today.”

ThereNYC DOE Logo are a few things that we especially like about the guidelines:

Stress a positive online image – The guidelines lead off with the idea of building an online image that will further higher education and employment goals. We like the fact that they don’t start our warning about the negatives of online activity.

Emphasis on family involvement – Parents are often in the dark about what kids are doing online. The guidelines urge students to keep their parents up to speed on what they are doing and solicit input. Also, this nugget is very forward-thinking, “you may know more about social media than your family, so you may also want to show your parents and other family members how to create an online presence themselves.” We can’t stress enough the fact that parents have to be involved in raising good digital citizens. Schools alone can’t get this done.

Bystander effect – The guidelines not only address what a student should do if cyberbullied, but also clearly calls out students to report incidents if other students are being bullied.

We understand, due to cyberbullying and other abuses, that schools need to be involved to some extent in students’ social media activity, especially as it impacts student wellbeing and keeping order in classrooms. Stressing the positive aspects of social media and strongly urging parental involvement are laudable efforts.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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How To Avoid Getting Emails from Creeps Via Google+ and YouTube

We wrote last week about how pending changes at Google could make YouTube a lot less safe for young users.  We’ve gotten a look at the official email from Google and taken a look at the settings ourselves. The way Google tells it, the changes are designed to allow your “friends” on Google+ to reach you via email even if they don’t know your email address.

Google Gmail People You Dont KnowThe problem as we see it is as follows:

  • Most kids and teens, from what we’ve seen, use YouTube
  • As of last year, Google requires people leaving comments on YouTube to use their Google+ account to do so
  • People (especially kids) trust messages in their email inbox more so than they would a random message on YouTube or other social platform
  • Your “friends” on Google+, according to this Google policy, aren’t necessarily people you know, rather they’re people who have added you to a circle

So, let’s say your tween watches a video on YouTube. As long as she has a Gmail account, she has a Google+ account for all intents and purposes. If she leaves a comment on the video, other users can see her YouTube user name, and therefore her Google+ name. A user who is up to no good can add her to one of his Google+ circles then send her an email. For predators and cyberbullies, this seems to good to be true.

According to Google, all users will be initially opted in to the program, but there is an opt out available. We would encourage parents of users who watch YouTube videos with their own Google account to opt out as soon as the feature becomes available.

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 10.19.33 AMTo opt out, log in to your Gmail account and click the gear icon in the top right

  • Click on “Settings”
  • Under the “General” tab, scroll down to “Email via Google+”
  • Click the drop down menu and click on “No one”

Note: if you are an active Google+ user, you may want to click on “Circles”. By doing that, someone who you really are friends with on Google+ (in your Circles) can email message you.

We aren’t against kids watching YouTube videos, but parents do need to stake steps to make sure they are safe.

 

 

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Monitoring Your Teen on Whisper App

A new app called Whisper has been getting a lot of buzz recently, particularly in the teen community. Parents should take note.

whisper-appLaunched in the spring of 2012, Whisper allows users to post a message, secret or confession, and the app superimposes that message over a picture – either a stock picture from the Whisper library or one from the user’s phone. The app uses GPS settings to determine a user’s location, and the default location setting is “on”, so parents wary of predator risk should turn the GPS setting off on their kids’ phones.

One novel and critical feature of the app is that all users are anonymous, and this anonymity has users feeling free to confess some pretty outlandish things. The anonymity is also creating somewhat of cyberbullying culture. According to an article at the Good Men Project titled 4 Apps Teens Love That Parents Need to Monitor:

“Teens have started using the app for cyberbullying. Due to the anonymous feature of the app, teens are posting pics of other teens with derogatory text superimposed on the image. Users do not have to register to use Whisper thus no user profile.”

As a parent, you may be worried that your teen is using Whisper and is either doing some bullying, or the victim of it. First of all, the app is rated 17+, so if your teen is under 17, he shouldn’t be using it.

whisper-report-bullyingThe above referenced article encourages parents to monitor what is going on with your teen, but the problem is that unlike with other social networks, it is not possible to “friend” or “follow” your teen and monitor what he or she is up to, since it is a fully anonymous platform.

To see what your teen has been up to on Whisper, you’ll need to access his phone (do you know the home screen password?), open the Whisper app, click on the Activity tab and enter the PIN number (yes, you need that too). We understand that it’s a lot of work and you’ll need your teen’s cooperation, but that’s what it takes to check what’s happening on Whisper.

A valid option for parents is to not let teens use Whisper in the first place, since it’s so difficult to monitor. If you do allow it, as we mentioned above, turning off location data is a good idea, and posting selfies or pictures of friends should be avoided. Keeping your teens safe in cyberspace isn’t getting any easier.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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A Closer Look at Youth Bullying Statistics

I’m not sure whether the timing is significant, but this week the New York City Department of Health came out with a report and a raft of new statistics around youth bullying. While being a bit dated (the study uses data from 2011), the results, which examine both real world bullying and cyberbullying, offer some insight as to what is going on both in the school yard and online. The headline number is that nearly one in five NYC students are victims of some form of bullying.

A couple of highlights that were a surprise to us:

  1. NYC students are less likely to be bullied (18%) vs. students nationwide (27%)
  2. Girls were more likely to be cyberbullied (13%) vs. boys (9%)

Regarding #1 above, the results were extracted from two different studies, and the gap may be explained by the difference between the two studies. Regarding #2, we don’t want to state across the board that girls’ interactions are more mean-spirited than boys’, but the data tell us that there is something about the online medium that has girls acting more adversarial than boys, or at least reporting it differently.

A couple of highlights that are not so surprising:

  • LGBT students are more likely to be bullied (29%) than heterosexual students (17%)
  • Bullying victims are more than twice as likely (13%) to use prescription pain medication than non-bullied students (5%)
  • Bullying victims are more likely to engage in tobacco, marijuana and alcohol use
  • Bullying victims are more than twice and likely to attempt suicide (15% vs. 6%) and self harm (32% vs. 13%) than non-victims

The last one is a doozy. Parents need to be on guard whether their kids are a victim of bullying or doing the bullying themselves. Even “good” kids can be sucked into the bullying culture in an effort to be cool or popular.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Is Cyberbullying on the Decline?

We are skeptical, but perhaps cyberbullying is on the decline. What do the numbers say?

A survey conducted by MTV and the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research earlier this year asked teens and young adults about digital abuse and compared the 2013 data versus a similar study conducted in 2011. The study revealed the following highlights:

  • 49% of respondents reported being the victim of cyberbullying in 2013, vs. 56% in 2011
  • 72% of respondents assert that cyberbullying is a serious problem for society

If cyberbullying is on the decline, does it mean that current efforts, including stepped up cyberbullying laws, in-school educational programs and the increased presence of anti-bullying groups is making significant headway?  Let’s take a look at what Google has to say. According to the chart from Google Trends below, the frequency of the term “cyberbullying” appearing in a Google searches has been steadily increasing since the beginning of 2009.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 9.22.45 AM

It could be that despite the (possible) decline of cyberbullying, adults have chosen to be more focused on it. It could be that teens are less likely to admit it, or are less likely to call abuse cyberbullying, being more resigned to the fact that some level of abuse needs to be accepted online, especially in social media, in order to be part of the crowd.

We don’t mean to make a bigger deal of cyberbullying than it actually is, and hope that given the resources that we as a society have devoted to anti-bullying efforts, it actually is in decline. The level of interest in cyberbullying doesn’t appear to be, which could also be a good thing.

 

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The Basics Part 3 – What Are You Worried About?

Focus is an important attribute of effective parents.

If you’ve spent time on parenting websites, in forums or reading magazines or newspapers, no doubt you’ve seen headlines like “The Real Risk Online for Teens”, or something similar. Whether the author’s intent is to alarm, inform or sell something, there is a certain element of shock and awe employed to get your attention. Once you start thinking about it, it can be overwhelming.

There are certainly risks associated with teens and pre teens being online and on smartphones, especially unsupervised, and we’ll be the first to tell you that parents need to be engaged in active discussions with kids about safety and acting appropriately. It is very important, but a the quote goes, “When everything is important nothing is.”

On the internet, “everything” is a very large space. The number of websites, social media platforms and apps is growing every day and will continue to do so.

You can’t monitor everything that your child is doing online, and you can’t give appropriate guidance as to every situation, bully or piece of offensive content that they might encounter. In the interest of staying sane and being a good parent, we recommend you ask yourself a simple question:

rz111What are you worried about?

Predator Risk – This one is a doozy, especially for younger kids, since the potential downside is the greatest if your child becomes a victim.

Cyberbullying – It goes without saying that no parent wants his or her child involved in cyberbullying, either as the perpetrator or the victim.

Adult Content – How strongly do you feel about pornography, coarse language, gore, drugs and alcohol references, racism or other offensive content?

Reputation Risk – People of influence will probably look at your child’s internet profile and past activity at some point – a college admissions officer, prospective employer or even the police. How concerned are you about what they might find?

Identity Theft – This is internet 101 – protecting your personal information.

Antisocial Behavior – There is a lot of grey area here. You need to balance the idea that kids and teens at least in part grow and mature by learning and being exposed to new things with keeping them safe. What happens when those new things are racist, sexist,  a cult, or even illegal?

We understand that we aren’t offering any solutions here, but there are plenty of resources on our website and online that can give you great ideas about how to evaluate and deal with specific risks. An important part of the overwhelming concept of keeping your child or teen safe online is figuring out which risk you’re going to educate about and defend against first. Get started, and take it from there.

 

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