Instagram Introduces Filters To Clean Up Your Stream

ig-logoFor any social network that allows comments and replies to posts, which is most of them, the comments section can be a real mess. Everything from profanity and crude humor to outright cyberbullying and hate speech can be the result of an innocent post, and Instagram is no exception. Starting this week, they are doing something about it.

Yesterday Instagram announced that it is rolling out new tools to help users filter what kinds of comments they see, in the hope that the user experience for the average, non-hater user will be improved. These settings have been available to high profile accounts since the summer.

In the words of Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom:

“To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment. It’s not only my personal wish to do this, I believe it’s also our responsibility as a company. So, today, we’re taking the next step to ensure Instagram remains a positive place to express yourself.”

To achieve this, Instagram is introducing a new set of filters that will allow users to control what they see in their comments, or more specifically to control which types of public comments can never be directed at them by other users.

ig-filters

In an example that we see too often, a young user will post a selfie and in the worst-case scenario, will receive replies like, “You’re ugly and you should kill yourself.”

One option for users is to have Instagram block all comments containing words and phrases that are often reported as inappropriate. We assume that the word ugly, as well as other terms used in personal attacks, would be on this list. An additional option for users is to filter out a custom list of keywords that the user supplies.

The new filters are available as soon as today (they are for me) by visiting the Settings -> Comments on your mobile device or your computer. FYI, if you’re going to build a large keyword list, it is probably easier to do it on a computer.

We think this is a very positive step.

 

 

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Snapchat Launches Desktop Interface

Snapchat used the Academy Awards ceremony last night to roll out a feature that we’re guessing not many people were clamoring for – Snapchat for desktop.

Snapchat-desktop

The reason that we say not many people were clamoring for it is that Snapchat is a platform that fits perfectly with users who are always – almost literally – their phone. It was launched not mobile-first, but mobile-only, so users knew of no other way to experience it.

snapchat-logoAccording to tech news site TechCrunch:

“The web player puts Snapchat in more direct competition with cross-platform products like Twitter Moments which already have established desktop presences. It also opens up the possibility of web embeds for Snapchat content in the future where users will be able to engage with curated event experiences on third-party sites.”

One caveat for users – as Snapchat make moves (we think this is the first of many) to make its content simultaneously available on the web as well as mobile, the chances go up that your teen’s snaps end up more widely distributed on the web than would have been the case in a mobile only use-case.

If your teen is using Snapchat for sexting, or sharing party pictures and videos, or anything else that she would rather not have in the hands of strangers, the risk with rogue Snapchat pics leaking out goes up a little as Snapchat’s evolution continues.

And, once snaps make it onto the web, it becomes much easier to share those images and video on other social media platforms.

The conversation around Snapchat will get a little louder this week thanks to these changes. Perhaps you can use this news as an opportunity to discuss appropriate Snapchat use with your teen.

 

 

 

 

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How Many Social Media Friends Should You Have?

A new study published by the UK’s Royal Society indicates that there may be lots of issues with having too many social media friends.
The study titled “Do online social media cut through the constraints that limit the size of offline social networks?” challenges the idea that active use of social media can enable children and teens to grow their circle of friends in a constructive way beyond what would be possible using on real world contacts. The study used adult data to draw conclusions about the teen experience.
The answer, it appears, is “no”.

Many teens, and to a lesser extent pre teens (who are less likely to be active on social media), appear to be operating under the assumption that more (online) friends is better. A study by Pew Research found that among teens who use Facebook:Pew-Research-Facebook

  • 71% have more than 150 Facebook friends
  • 44% have more than 300 friends
  • 20% have more than 600 friends

We call the last group “Facebook Friend Collectors”. From what we’ve seen, the data for Instagram are similar, and in many cases the number of followers is bigger.

The Royal Society study concludes that while it is possible to have more friends by using social media effectively, it is probably not possible to have more high quality friends. We’re not talking about the quality of the person, but rather the quality of the relationship. The reasons:

  • The younger the social media user, the worse that person is likely to be at judging other people. Nonexistent, superficial or downright bad friendships can result
  • There is a natural limit, online and offline, to how many people you can actively keep up interactions with

In order to consider the teen implications, the study polled over 3,300 adult Facebook users and found that on average, they had around 170 friends. When asked how many of those were close or genuine friends, respondents offered that around 27% were close friends.

It seems likely that many teen friend collectors are not really accomplishing anything. In addition, there is a downside to admitting friends to your network who are not real friends:

  • You’ve granted them access to send you private messages, and there’s the possibility that they’re a cyberbully
  • There’s a chance that they share something you’ve posted (possibly from your private account) that casts you in a bad light
  • A casual observer might conclude that since you’re online friends, you somehow support their views and posts

We consistently advise parents to encourage teens to keep a small, well-curated group of online friends. It prevents needless effort and helps steer clear of some unfortunate situations. That extra Like isn’t worth it.

 

 

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Infographic: Pros and Cons of Children’s Media Device Usage

Click to Enlarge Image

The Pros and Cons of Children’s Media Device Usage – Brought To You By California Cryobank

 

 

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Downvotes, Digital Citizenship and Online Safety

An army of virtual downvoting trolls could be coming for your teen.

reddit-downvote-2A downvote is a feature used by some social networks and apps as part of a system to make sure that the “best” content rises to the top of user feeds. The definition of best, or most popular, is solely determined by the whim of users (with the possible exception of Yik Yak, which appears to downvote any mention of another social network), but it works well in some cases. The other elements of this set of “voting” features are positive indications (upvotes, Likes or hearts), a network’s reporting system for abuse and trolls, and in some cases user comments. Reddit, Yik Yak, Quora and Hyper are among the few networks or social apps that have a downvote option for users; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and most others do not.

Why do sites use it? Well, let’s take Twitter for example. Many users and ex-users describe Twitter as being too “noisy”, with all content appearing in reverse chronological order, not sorted by topic or quality at all. Likewise with Instagram. Facebook on the other hand takes on the grave responsibility of deciding what is important to you, deploying their algorithm to determine which posts actually show up in your feed. Both have obvious shortcomings.

The reason that most sites don’t have a negative vote option probably relates to the fact that it cuts down on some engagement, which could lead to fewer users and less time on site. If a post that you were going to make could get downvoted into oblivion, you would be less likely to post it. If your posts consistently get negative feedback, you might leave that network entirely.

What does a downvote mean, exactly? A number of discussions on Reddit and Quora hash out what they mean and how users actually use them. To the question of whether a downvote is ever appropriate, one Quora user offered the most community-friendly answer of all:

quora-downvote

Of course, life is not that simple. Another Quora user feels free being quite a bit heavier handed:

quora-downvote-2

The above user appears to be very comfortable being the judge and jury.

Reddit’s user guide, their reddiquette section, takes a very constructive view. In their “please don’t” section:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.26.41 AM

As a matter of fact, on the r/news subreddit, if you hover over the downvote button, a popup occurs stating “This isn’t a disagree button. Use selectively.”

reddit-news-downvote

It appears that the powers that be want the downvote used exclusively to improve the community.

In practice, if you’re the parent of a teen, the downvote thing (on Reddit and elsewhere) appears to be a kind of kangaroo court where others are quite quick to slam your content or opinion because they don’t like it or disagree. It doesn’t operate with any significant level of decorum (you don’t see when people were nice enough to not downvote), and it is something that could be impacting the self esteem of your kid. What is more, all downvotes on the networks above are anonymous, and unless a user downvotes and comments, your teen will have no idea why the negative feedback is occurring.

We’re not saying that networks that allow downvotes are bad, they actually work in most cases to elevate good content and organize opinions, but some users are just plain mean, and cyberbullying is common. Just beware that if a young user in one of these networks, he either needs to be very thick skinned about what he posts or is sure to post and comment very carefully.

 

 

 

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New Statistics On Cyberbullying, Online Safety

Canadian web security firm Lavasoft released the results of its latest survey this week titled “2015 Cyberbullying and Online Safety Study” and the results are consistent with what we’ve seen in the U.S. and Canada over the last couple of years. Maybe we have reached the new normal. The research surveyed 200 students aged 10 – 18. The findings:

no-cyberbullyingIn person bullying is still more common than cyberbullying:

  • 3 in 5 students have been bullied or harassed in person
  • 1 in 4 teens have been victim of cyberbullying

The cyberbullying highlights:

  • Almost half know someone else who has been cyberbullied
  • Cyberbullies are 4x more likely to be a friend than a stranger
  • 73% of students claim they would tell an adult after witnessing cyberbullying
  • Fewer than 25% of teens surveyed actually reported incidents of cyberbullying to an adult

Our thoughts: Yes, in person bullying is still more prevalent, but there are reasons why cyberbullying can have a more profound impact. It can be viewed by a larger audience, it can happen 24×7 and the evidence – harsh words or pictures – can last forever.

It continues to be troubling that, even though awareness of cyberbullying is growing, most teens do not speak up to an adult when they see it happening – even when they are the victim.

The study also asked questions regarding what teens are doing to keep themselves safe online. The results are not that comforting:

  • 28 percent have shared their phone number online
  • 28 percent have shared their email address
  • 25 percent have shared their full name
  • 14 percent have shared their home address
  • 3 percent have shared passwords

According to the Lavasoft CEO commenting on the results:

“Many students are unaware of best practices for online security, with many engaging in activities that could result in their personal information being compromised, their devices being hacked and even make them more susceptible to bullies online. The best form of prevention in both cybercrime and cyberbullying is education, and many students seem to be unaware of the impact that their online behavior can have on their well-being.”

Parents can get ahead on that education by talking frequently about best practices and reviewing them hands on with all kids who are active online.

 

 

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What Teens Shouldn’t Put in Their Social Media Profiles

While reading an article published by Jezebel last week titled Dear Teens, Stop Putting Your Sexy Selfies on Twitter, You Idiots, it occurred to me that it’s been a while since we’ve discussed what other information teens and tweens shouldn’t be posting online, either in their profile or in a post. We see these things all the time and they’re not safe.

Of course we agree with the article and it’s not just about sexy selfies or underage nudes. Minors who use social media should never post drug or alcohol references, even as a joke, or references to anything that is illegal. Cyberbullying and any type of harassment are also a no-no.

instagram-cash-moneyThe above things about “good” online behavior may be obvious to most young users, but many safety-related aspects aren’t, especially if the user believes that his or her account is semi or fully anonymous. Under a lot of circumstances, it isn’t.

Why worry? Well, there are two reasons you want to limit the amount of personal information you put online – predator risk and doxing.

Predator RiskPredator risk is obvious, especially for younger kids. The more personal information that is available online, the easier it is for a predator to find you in real life. And let’s not forget the creepers – would be love interests, trolls who are seeking to attack others’ opinions and unwanted “friends”. Don’t make it easy for anyone to find you in real life, or your other online identities, without your permission.

DoxingDoxing is the process of revealing someone’s personal information online, most of the time maliciously, with the intent of harming the person in some way. In most cases, the person who is doxed was intending to use the web anonymously. If someone tries to dox you, they will use any and all information they can find about you to figure out account names, email addresses, phone numbers and real world personal information. The result can be devastating.

Here are the other things you shouldn’t post on social media

Phone number, email address, home address – If a friend needs this info, send it in a private message. Don’t post it online for everyone to see.

School details – If you’re in high school, this might be okay, but younger kids shouldn’t be giving out school details.

Check ins and exact location info – Especially for younger users, be aware that any time you check in online (Facebook, Foursquare etc.) or have the GPS on your phone turned on, your could be telling the world exactly where you are.

User names and messaging handles – We see this too often, especially on Instagram, where users put their Ask.fm handle or their Kik messaging address in their profile.

Driver’s license – Proud of finally getting your drivers license? Great. Don’t post a picture of it online.

Passport – Same goes for your passport.

Paycheck – “Yay – my first paycheck”. Do not post a picture of it.

Stacks of cash – Yes, people do this, and it’s a bad idea. That picture, combined with location details could make you a target for a robbery.

Gamer tags – Most of the time, video gamers’ screen names are not associated with a real name. That’s a good thing, since hateful trolls abound in online gaming. Keep your private details away from the haters.

In many cases, keeping personal details private is the first step toward staying safe online, and it doesn’t cost anything.

What did we miss? Please feel free to leave a comment.

 

 

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Digital Parenting – Your Child’s First Email Address

Okay parents, if your child’s age is still in the single digits, she might not yet have her first email address. If she does, you’re probably either waiting to give her unsupervised access, or she doesn’t even know about it yet.

first-email-addressIf she doesn’t have one yet, you can get started any time. After all, if your child’s name is Charlotte Smithfield, we’re sure you’ll agree that csmithfield@gmail.com is a much better email address than c.smithfield1249@gmail.com. The sooner you claim it, the better.

Note: Before your daughter graduates to her big girl email, you might want to start with an interim step. There are family friendly email providers such as KidsEmail that offer free starter email programs with built in parental monitoring capability. Feel free to check one out.

Once you have selected a permanent email address for your child, there are some things you need to think about before handing it over, especially if you don’t have older kids and this is your first rodeo. There is also some prep work you’re going to want to do with your child. To wit:

When – There is no one answer to the question of what age is correct for having one’s own email address. It depends on the child’s maturity level, and the child’s level of digital awareness, or digital IQ. In general, you want your child to understand that not everything online is as it seems.

The risks – Well, they are numerous, including potential predator risk, cyberbullying, identity theft and exposure to inappropriate conduct and content. There are plenty of resources on this website and elsewhere online that can help you get your child up to speed.

Signing up – You child will no doubt have internet access before having an email address. The main difference is that when she has her own email address, she can sign up for websites and social media, changing the game entirely. Telling your 10 year old, “No, you can’t have an Instagram account” just got a lot trickier. She can sign up without your permission unless you’re monitoring.

Understanding spam and hackers – Children have a tendency to believe that everyone’s motives are positive. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Your child needs to understand that incoming emails must be viewed critically. Have an action plan for what to do when your child receives an email from an unknown sender, or one containing a link or attachment that looks suspect. Phishing attacks are a real risk. The younger the child is, the more likely that you want your child to do nothing, and tell you about it.

The password – Establish a strong, unique password. At least for the first few months or years, log in yourself to make sure she hasn’t changed it. You’ll want to be able to access her messages quickly if anything goes wrong or she is in danger.

Guidelines – Clearly establish guidelines for what types of activities and behavior are permissible are what aren’t. Guidelines should include protecting personal information, including who she gives her email address to (close friends only) and whether she posts it online (no!).

Once your child has her own email address, the options available online increase greatly, as do the risks. And once your child has an email address, it’s tough to take it away. Act accordingly.

 

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Grooming – Is Your Child At Risk Online?

Internet grooming can be a misleading term in the realm of digital parenting and predator risk, and perhaps one that some parents aren’t aware of. The term “grooming” refers to online manipulation, usually by an adult, of a minor with the goal of establishing trust and eventually meeting offline. The motives vary but are often sexual. Less often the goal is financial gain.

Methods used by groomers are varied, but often involve impersonating a person in the victim’s age group, establishing a rapport through a common set of interests, flattery or humor, and developing a relationship over the course of weeks or months.

When successful, the end result can be sexploitation (“send me nude photos or else”), sexual assault or kidnapping, in the event that an in-person meeting does occur.

How to recognize it – Groomers are usually careful to keep their activities out of the purview of parents, so if your child is being targeted, that communication is probably happening in private. If you do see online questions like, “Where are your parents right now?” or “Do your parents monitor your online activity?”, that might be a red flag. Also, offers of modeling opportunities, or free stuff in general, should be looked at with a high level of skepticism.

How to prevent it – Rather than lamenting the fact that tweens and teens are spending what seems like endless hours online, parents need to accept that this generation will spend more time online than previous generations did, and that the nature of “relationships” online is different. Before a child ever joins a website or social network, enters an online forum or posts a selfie (eek! – keep those to a minimum and turn off Geo Tags), make sure he or she is aware of the fact that every person online may be less than genuine. We hate to say this, but any time your child makes a new “friend” online, there is a risk that this person is not who they claim to be, and they may have ulterior motives.

Like hackers, groomers tend to be very computer-savvy, and use a variety of methods to get close to kids. Ask yourself if your child, when approached by a stranger online, would come to you for assistance. The answer should be “yes”.

 

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