How The Laws Don’t Effectively Apply to Social Media

This is just one example, but a pretty stark one we think, of why our lawmakers need to quickly rethink and rewrite some of our laws when it comes to how they are applied to social media.

A three-judge appeals panel in Florida ruled last week that a teen was not guilty of juvenile delinquency despite having tweeted threats of a school shooting on more than one occasion.
Twitter logo

“In one post, he wrote: “night f***ing sucked can’t wait to shoot up my school soon,” according to the court. He also tweeted out “it’s time,” accompanied by a picture of a gun being slipped into a backpack.”

He later went on to insist that he was joking (of course), but the fact that he was found not guilty is a serious miscarriage of justice. Even if he was joking, a message should be sent to other students that threats, joking or otherwise, will not be tolerated.

The problem is that the Florida law, originally written in 2013, contemplated written (pen and paper) threats, and principally those made by one person to another. Despite the law being updated in 2010, it still fails to cover broadcast communications of the type made possible by social media. With social media, a user can threaten a person, a school or a whole country.

One of the judges on the panel lamented the poorly written law, and urged legislators to make changes:

“With [social media’s] popularity comes the unfortunate but inevitable problem that social media posts, like any other form of communication, can be used to make threats of violence. But many threats made on social media will fall outside the narrow language of (the law), which was originally written with pen-and-paper letters in mind.”

We should be striving to create schools where threats are exceedingly rare. Punishing offenders appropriately helps move us toward that goal. By cutting down on the number of threats, we would waste less time, cause less stress and have more resources available to investigate credible threats.

It’s time for some changes.

 

 

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Twitter Updates Direct Message Platform

If you’re an active Twitter user, you’re probably familiar with the Direct Message (DM) feature. The Twitter logoidea with DMs is that you can use Twitter as a messaging app instead of posting publicly. Twitter’s announcement today makes clear that Twitter DMs are going to be even more like a messaging app. The changes include:

  • Read receipts (I find these incredibly annoying and an overreach)
  • A live typing indicator (so you can see in real time that someone is replying)
  • Native URL previews (so that you can know what link you are clicking on)

The changes should be live on your Twitter account soon.

Back in the day, only users that you follow could send you a DM, which made/makes sense to us. A couple of years ago (we think), Twitter changed it so that any users could send you a DM if you chose that setting, which can be found under Settings -> Security and privacy. This is a good time to remind parents that young users should not choose that option. It’s an open invitation for creepers. See below (it is turned on for @ThirdParent – send us a DM!).

Twitter DM settings

Twitter makes sense as a messaging app, but only for people who use Twitter and have common interests. That’s not a bad thing, or too narrow a use case for Twitter to make this change, so we have no major complaints with this update. For most teens, however, and especially those whose Twitter accounts are public, the safest choice is to only receive DMs from follows, and be selective about who those follows are.

 

 

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Twitter Is Not Likely To Eliminate Abuse

I’m a big fan of Twitter. Yes, I use it for work and our brand here at ThirdParent, but I also use it personally – a lot. It really is the best way to stay up to date on current events as they happen, and hear real time thoughts from leaders in literally every field.

Twitter logoThe main problem with Twitter is abuse and abusive users.

We’ve written about abuse and Twitter before – here and here and here. Twitter has been talking about abuse for a while, and sound like they have good intentions, but each tweak that they implement on the platform seems to come up short.

Last night, Twitter reported earnings and on the call CEO Jack Dorsey made comments that lead us to believe that they will never be able to make it a safe environment for some users. Dorsey’s comments in full:

“This is Jack. This is really, really important to me and to everyone at the company. So, I want to address both freedom of expression and safety together here, since the two intertwine.

We are not and never will be a platform that shows people only part of what’s happening or part of what’s being said. We are the place for news and social commentary. And at its best, the nature of our platform empowers people to reach across divides, and to build connections, to share ideas and to challenge accepted norms.

As part of that, we hope – and we also recognize it’s a high hope – to elevate civil discourse. And I emphasize civil discourse there. Abuse is not part of civil discourse. It shuts down conversation. It prevents us from understanding each other. Freedom of expression means little if we allow voices to be silenced because of fear of harassment if they speak up. No one deserves to be the target of abuse online, and it has no place on Twitter.

We haven’t been good enough at ensuring that’s the case, and we must do better. That means building new technology solutions, making sure our policies and enforcement are consistent, and educating people about both. We’ve made improvements in the first half of the year, and we’re going to make more. We named safety as one of our top five priorities for this year, and recent events have only confirmed that this is truly one of the most important things for us to improve, and has motivated us to improve even faster.”

Why are we skeptical that they can stomp out abuse? There are indications that they don’t want to. Consider this sentence:

“We are not and never will be a platform that shows people only part of what’s happening or part of what’s being said.”

In any discourse, harsh disagreements, criticism and arguments are at times part of what is being said. Twitter wants to preserve that real discourse on its platform. To get rid of abuse entirely, they would be forced to manually review every reported interaction and decide where the fine line is between civil and uncivil disagreement. That’s pretty much impossible if they intend to let users speak their mind and err on the side of assuming users are innocent until totally proven guilty.

Instead, it appears that they want users to self-police, and “elevate civil discourse”. That is a nice goal but it won’t happen. There will always be some users who are genuinely mean, or get a kick out of trolling others. Twitter won’t be able to get this right without taking more extreme steps, unfortunately.

 

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

 

 

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Social Media Could Be Overwhelming Student Athletes

We were reviewing the social media accounts of a student athlete this week – a college Division 1 football player who will likely be drafted into the pros next year. We aren’t going to divulge who it NCAA logois, but let us tell you what we found.

  • One Twitter account (public), open since April 2011, 24,700 tweets
  • Two Instagram accounts (public), 330 pictures and videos posted
  • 3 Facebook accounts (all private), two of which are probably the victim of forgotten passwords
  • One Vine account (public)
  • One YouTube account (public)

We found lots of profanity, and a number of crude sexual references, but overall this looks like a good kid to us, if somewhat immature. Our question is, how does he have the time to balance his sports training, personal life and go to school?

His Twitter account alone is a huge undertaking. 24,700 tweets in 61 months add up to him tweeting on average 13 times per day. Many of the tweets were replies to others, so he is clearly spending time reading what others are posting. Hundreds of his tweets include images, so he is spending time curating those pictures.

If you’re the parent of a high school athlete, this is what might be in store for your kid. In addition, in terms of social media overload, things are about to get worse. The NCAA changed its rules earlier this month for football and a handful of other sports, and starting in August coaches will be able to contact recruits electronically as often as they want, via text messaging or social media (some exceptions apply).

We assume that the player above uses his social media accounts to build his profile as a star athlete, connect with fans and friends, read about what is going on with his sport and team and generally to have fun. Now athletes will be open to being contacted by coaches and scouts 24×7.

The 4 and 5-star recruits are going to be contacted no matter what, but what about the above average high school athlete. Sure, a scholarship would be nice, but is it worth making social media a full time job? We don’t think so. Only 1 in 41 high school football players go on to play Division 1 football, and not all of them get scholarship. The odds of a high school player making it to the NFL are 1 out of 600.

Set some limits for your teen if and when the messages from coaches start rolling in. Make sure that the schoolwork gets done. Help him find balance in his life so he doesn’t get overwhelmed.

 

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NCAA Changes Recruiting Rules for Texting, Social Media

Life is about to get a lot more hectic for top high school athletes who are looking for a great scholarship opportunity and a chance to play at a top college. Colleges now have much more leeway in reaching out via text message or social media in some sports, most notably football. Twitter will play a large role.

ncaaIn 2007, the NCAA banned football coaches from electronically contacting recruits. The focus of the ban at that time was text messages but it extended to social media messaging.

Under a rule change enacted this week, schools still cannot contact recruits before Sept. 1st of their junior year, but after that can contact targeted athletes electronically, as often as they want.

Not all coaches are in favor of the change. Urban Mayer, football coach at Ohio State (who incidentally has no problem recruiting top talent), had the following words to share, implying that the NCAA is making the change because existing rules are too hard to enforce:

“The texting thing is the most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Do you really want text messages from 100 universities on your phone when you come out of school? The ones I know don’t. ‘What? I don’t want to hear from these schools.’ Some intern is going to be punching text messages on your phone, and maybe you can block numbers and all that, but that’s just too hard, right? Maybe it’s easier for the enforcement because people are doing it, but it just doesn’t make sense.”

247Sports national scouting director Barton Simmons was quoted in USA Today saying that the change makes social media a much more important recruiting tool:
Twitter logo

“In a lot of ways Twitter is better than texting because if you don’t have a kid’s phone number, you have to find it somewhere. With Twitter, you can find him, follow him and he follows you back and you’re on the way.”

As indicated above, when it comes to Twitter, some observers note that recruits will have to follow coaches back in order to be able to receive direct messages (DMs) from them. That’s not entirely true, as Twitter users can set their accounts to enable DMs from anyone. A quick look at the 247Sports top football recruits for the class of 2017, at least one player in the top 10 has a Twitter account that is open to receiving DMs from anyone.

A couple of thoughts for parents of high school football players:

Your teen might need more help managing his time. School and other activities are an important part of life, and you don’t want him on his phone 24/7 fielding incoming messages from coaches.

His social media profiles are likely to get more scrutiny. Some schools are already doing a good job of vetting recruits by checking out their digital footprints; others are not. If schools are eager to find your kid via social media, they will likely spend more time looking at what he posts online.

If you need help ensuring that your child’s social media profiles are not a deterrent to being recruited, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

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

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Should You Tweet About Your Employer

Lots of stories have been written about employees being fired or disciplined for things they posted on social media. A Pennsylvania case is potentially breaking new ground in social media law circles this month, and it’s sending a message that may not be a good one.

A Chipotle employee was fired last year after a battle with management, where he was attempting to organize workers and agitate for better working conditions. On his list of demands were wages and official work breaks. During his battle with management, he tweeted the following to a happy customer who had gotten a free burrito:

Chipotle worker fired over tweet

Before he was fired, management forced him to delete the tweet, which he did.

The judge in the case ruled that he was incorrectly fired, and ordered Chipotle to pay him back wages and benefits. The judge also ruled that the company acted incorrectly in forcing him to delete the tweet, and that its corporate communications policy unfairly restricted workers’ free speech. The judge stated:

“If you want to tweet something about your personal experience at your job, do it. Tweet at your bosses and your bosses’ bosses. A lot of times your bosses will sugarcoat what’s going on… doing it publicly really puts the spotlight on them.”

So, if you stop short of libel or slander, it is okay to badmouth your employer according to this ruling. Is it a good idea? We don’t think so, unless there is something very dangerous going on.

If you choose to make public, negative comments about your current employer online rather than speaking to someone directly, you aren’t going to make any friends. You might find yourself disciplined or fired for some other offense, or be passed over for promotion.

And, if you do it publicly, you run the risk that any future employer who might consider hiring you will have second thoughts about your loyalty or judgment.

You might be unhappy at the moment, but posting publicly about something as important as your job is adding that comment to your permanent public record. Do you really want that?

 

 

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Wisconsin HS Athlete Suspended for Tweet

#FreeApril is big news in student athlete land this week. It didn’t have to be this way; it could all have gone away quite easily. Here’s the story, in case you don’t follow high school sports all that closely:

In December, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), the governing body for Wisconsin high school sports, sent out an email reminding athletes and fans that chanting and taunting opposing fans and players is not permitted. As you can see below, the WIAA’s stance seems far too rigid. Included in the email were the following directions:

“Any action directed at opposing teams or spectators with the intent to taunt, disrespect, distract or entice and unsporting behavior in response is not acceptable sportsmanship…[unacceptable chants include] “You can’t do that,” “Fundamentals,” “Airball,” “There’s a net there”…”

Unsportsmanlike conduct should have no place in high school sports, but an engaged crowd that is boisterously cheering and occasionally poking fun at the opposing team is no big deal, in our opinion.

One player on the Hilbert High School basketball team took issue with the email and directive, and tweeted the following screenshot along with the message shown:

freeapril-tweet

As much as we disagree with how strict the rules are, that was a mistake. The player was suspended for five games (by her schools admins, not by the WIAA) and local and national fans took up the cause. ESPN Analyst Jay Bilas tweeted the following, among other things:

jay-bilas-freeapril-twitter

As of today, that tweet has been retweeted over 1,000 times and liked over 3,000 times. Fans are using the #freeapril hashtag to show support.

We think that the athlete, although she apparently feels strongly about the subject, isn’t doing herself any favors. The problem for us is (a) the profanity in the tweet, (b) that she directed the tweet at the WIAA, the governing body of her sports, and (c) that she hasn’t deleted it.

When we first heard of the story yesterday, we were SURE the original tweet would have been deleted. That it wasn’t is a mistake. The odds are that someone is going to be looking at her Twitter account – tomorrow or down the road who will be trying to evaluate her character. Perhaps it will be a college coach, perhaps a future employer. The passion that she thinks she’s displaying could be interpreted as a flagrant disregard for the rules or as her having a problem with authority.

She took a stand and was punished. Her parents should have advised her to cut her losses and delete the tweet.

 

 

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Twitter 10k Debate Misses the Boat

Twitter has been under fire on a number of fronts of late. Wall Street is unhappy because user growth has been disappointing. Non-users find the platform confusing or too much work. Some (many?) users are unhappy because Twitter seems to be unable or unwilling to tackle abuse (we wrote last week that Twitter may be getting more serious about it).

Yesterday a whole new ruckus broke out when Re/Code broke the story that Twitter is considering raising the maximum tweet size from 140 characters to 10,000. On the face of it, that’s a huge change, and hardcore users appear to be very wary of the potential transformation.

twitter-10000

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded to the early criticism (on Twitter, of course) confirming that they are indeed going to test longer tweets.

Dorsey-Twitter-10000

If the change is implemented the way we think it will be, we think it will provide a better user experience, even for the users who are dreading it. If the new long tweets are permitted along the lines of the picture below, this will be no big deal. That tweet is from a very good analysis by Dave Winer, and depicts a short tweet with a link to the rest of the longer text housed inside the Twitter platform, not externally. In this case, (a) the look and user interface doesn’t change much at all, and (b) if you do want to read more, you’ll be reading the post inside Twitter, and not clicking a link that could be malware or anything else.

long-tweet

We are in favor of this change but really hope that Twitter’s announcement last week that it will focus on abuse and abusive users is the real deal.

Twitter-abuse

Sure, free speech is important, but the folks at Twitter can do a better job of proactively deleting tweets that are clearly abusive, and educating or punishing abusers accordingly. Doing so might actually help Twitter’s user growth problem. Millions of Twitter “users” don’t actually have an account or don’t log into it if they do; they browse Twitter logged out when looking for breaking news and opinion or whatever else they’re interested in.

 

 

 

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Twitter Gets Serious About Abuse

Twitter has always had policies that put some restrictions on abusive behavior. Enforcing those policies has been difficult, or Twitter hasn’t been all that serious about it. That may have changed this week. You can read the new Twitter rules here.

In a blog post yesterday announcing the policy update, Twitter laid out the inherent difficulty – they view the protection of free speech as the cornerstone of their platform, and therefore their censorship and enforcement efforts:

twitter-tags“Over the past year, we’ve taken several steps to fight abuse in order to protect freedom of expression: We’ve empowered users with tools for blocking, muting, and reporting abusive behaviour, and evolved our policy to capture more types of abusive behaviour. We’ve also increased our investment in policy enforcement so that we can handle more reports with greater efficiency, and bolstered educational resources through a new Twitter Safety Centre.”

In our view, it doesn’t need to be that difficult a line to draw. Freedom of expression is a great cornerstone for a policy, but it’s not the only valid reason for cracking down on hateful users. If a user is abusing another user, Twitter could have proactively taken action. Instead, they have largely relied on users reporting the abuse after it happened, or defending themselves by blocking the abuser.

Being proactive may be more difficult than it appears. Undoubtedly, some tweets that appear to be abusive may be considered protected free speech. Now Twitter has unveiled their new rules on harassment, which include the following:

Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behavior include:

  • if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
  • if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
  • if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
  • if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.

The rules look good; how Twitter enforces them, and how proactive they will be, remain to be seen. Time will tell.

A note to parents: If your teen is using Twitter, he is very unlikely to read these rules. It’s a good idea to go over the rules with him, and discuss how they might apply. Many tweets which begin as jokes can devolve into cyberbullying.  We are heavily in favor of Twitter being a kinder, gentler place for young users.

 

 

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