Decoding Your Digital Footprint
When individuals are online, they are assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address by their Internet service provider (e.g., Earthlink, AOL, Qwest, Comcast, their school) or cell phone service provider (e.g., Sprint, AT&T, Verizon). This IP address is unique and is bound to a person’s current online session—whether it is via a computer, cell phone, or other portable electronic device. It is continually associated with the data transactions (sending [uploading] and receiving [downloading], interacting, communicating) that are made between one’s device and the rest of the World Wide Web and between one’s social networking site, email, instant message, and chat software and the existing population of Internet users. All data transactions are stamped with one’s IP address and the exact date and time (to the millisecond) that it occurred, and they are kept in log files on computers owned by Internet service providers, cell phone service providers, and content providers (Facebook, Google, Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc.).
When attempting to discover the aggressor behind the keyboard, it is vital to know the IP address bound to the malicious message or piece of content. Once that is discovered, the relevant provider can assist school police (or local, state, or federal law enforcement) in identifying the online session in question, which points to the Internet service provider or cell phone service provider through whom the online connection was made, then to the person connected to that specific account (by way of the billing information), and finally to the family member who was logged in at the time the cyberbullying took place.
From School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time
How to Report Cyberbullying on Instagram
Recently, we’ve discussed general safety tips for teens related to Instagram, and also fleshed out in detail how individuals are cyberbullied on Instagram. Today, I thought I’d summarize the ways in which teens (and adults) should use the social media platform to reduce their chances of victimization and to have the most enjoyable and hassle-free experience.
When you’re tagged in a photo that you can see that you dislike or is cruel or embarrassing, you can click on it and Hide it from your profile, Remove yourself from the photo, and/or Report it as Inappropriate to the site. All of these options are available by selecting the photo, clicking your name (the tag), and then choosing from the various options presented. They are also available by clicking on the […] button to the right of the Like and Comment buttons at the bottom of every picture.
Always remember that you can report *any* inappropriate picture posted by someone else in that manner – by selecting the […] button. Please know that when you “report” a photo, the person you are reporting against doesn’t ever find out that it was you who reported against them. You remain anonymous. Instagram then just simply looks into the matter to verify whether the picture is, in fact, inappropriate. If it is, they will delete it.
Let’s say someone is being a jerk to you on Instagram in numerous ways. If you go to that user’s page, at the top right is an icon that looks like a box with an arrow flying out of it (if you use iOS devices, you are very familiar with this icon as it represents “Send…”). Clicking on that button will allow you to Block that user, or Report him/her for Spam. When you block someone, that person can’t search for you or view your photos – and they don’t get any sort of notification that they have been blocked. If you have mutual followers, though, that person can still see the likes and comments you make on other people’s pictures (you don’t become completely invisible to each other, like on Facebook).
Even if you block someone, you can still be mentioned in captions and comments with your username (in my case, @hinduja) and cyberbullied in that way. What you have to do then is to Block that person, and change your username (under Edit Your Profile, accessible via the right-most button in the main navigation bar at the bottom of Instagram). I know this is a chore, and you probably don’t want to do that – but it’s an option if absolutely necessary.
When it comes to comments on pictures, always remember that you can manually delete ones that are harmful or humiliating – or report them. If it is on your picture, click the Comment button, and then swipe on the problematic comment. This will give you access to a trash can icon – allowing you to either Delete it and Report it as abusive, or simply to Delete it. If it is on someone else’s picture, do that person (and cyberspace) a favor by clicking the Comment button, swiping on the problematic content, and Report it (using the icon with an exclamation point on a stop sign). Eliminate hate. All the cool kids are doing it. And it’s definitely worth the two seconds it takes. Again, the person you are reporting against never learns who flagged them, their image, or their comment.
Finally, a point I made in a previous blog bears repeating: to avoid stress and headaches that might come from dealing with unwelcome interactions from people you don’t really want to know or be in touch with, set your Photos to Private. This one step does so much to keep you in control of your content. Try not to simply desire to connect with as many other Instagram users as possible, just to raise the number of your Followers. You’ll never be satisfied. Rather, have quality interactions on Instagram with people that you like and know, and want to be in friendship/relationship with. The bonding experiences over pictures and captions and comments and hashtags become so much more meaningful. It’s like you’re actually sharing your life with people that are in your life. And they’re doing the same! Hope this helps!
Cyberbullying on Instagram
Last time, I shared my viewpoints on Instagram safety in a general way. Today, I’m going to talk about cyberbullying that occurs on Instagram. As I mentioned, Instagram is minimalistic and intentionally doesn’t provide a lot of features that you might find on Facebook. This also means that various forms of victimization – identity theft, impersonation, intellectual property theft, grooming by sexual predators, private threats, and hate speech going completely viral – are rarely going to happen. In what ways, though, can you bully, mistreat, or humiliate someone on the site?
1. You can post a malicious or embarrassing photo of a target for all of your followers to see.
2. You can caption a gross or disgusting or otherwise insulting or demeaning photo with a target’s username and perhaps a negative sentiment (for example, uploading a picture of a sumo wrestler and then captioning with something like “this reminds me of @hinduja”…I’ll let your mind come up with much more offensive and hurtful examples)
3. You can post cruel comments under a photo that someone posts.
4. Different than adding a username in a caption or a comment, you can tag a user through the new “Add People” feature on the Share screen – where the tag is added to the image itself. If your Instagram profile is public, anyone can see it – and it could go viral. If your profile is private, and the target is not following you, they will not be notified or be able to see the photo, tag(s), caption, comments. Which could be completely awful, where they are humiliated or harassed until a sympathetic friend finally clues them in.
4. You can add hateful hashtags under a photo that you post (in the caption or comments) or that someone else posts (in the comments). For example, #dork or #loser or #fuglyslut or #tryweightwatchers or #crackwhore or #cantbelievesheworethat or #peoplewhoshouldoffthemselves. Once again, I’ll let your mind come up with a million more that are so much worse.
5. You can create a fake account to impersonate someone else, and be cruel through pictures, captions, comments, and hashtags.
Here are a few stories from some teens who have talked with us about their experiences on Instagram:
“Last year I got an Instagram account made about me. The got pictures off my Instagram and posted it on theirs. I was being called a w****, s***, and a b****. I was so upset, that I self-harmed. But then I realized that I had to stay strong so I stopped. Then on may 2 I got 4 more made about me and doing the same thing except calling me a lesbian. This time I got help, and it got taken down. From this day police are still trying to find out who made the account. Stay. Strong.” 13 year-old girl from Tennessee
“I am 18 years old. This year on the 2nd week of school, I parked my car crooked. A girl in my class took a picture of it and put it on Instagram stating that I couldn’t park because I was deaf. That picture circulated. A boy in my class posted on twitter the next day “Tomorrow is national Park like a Retard day. AKA park like “MB day”. The next day 30 cars parked crooked in the school parking lot. I went to the office and told my principal and he put parking tickets on their windows. My name was all over twitter and Facebook and everyone tried to make an a** out of me.” ~ 18 year-old female from Pennsylvania
“I posted a picture of myself on Instagram and people started commeting these awful things like “Eww ur so ugly” “Why don’t you go kill urslef everyone would be happier that way” And I KNOW these people…they go to my school. I cried for a good 2 hours. But this wasn’t the first time this has happened on all my pictures at least 3 people say something like that. I’m never going on Instagram again. I wish I could disapear so I don’t I have to go to school.” ~ 12 year-old girl from Colorado
To be sure, these unfortunate, sad, and frustrating experiences could have occurred to youth in any online environment. Instagram is not the problem. Social media is not the problem. Technology is not the problem. It is the underlying issues of peer conflict, immaturity, insecurity, ethics, socioemotional dysfunctions, and behavioral issues that foster instances of online bullying among individuals. And that is something we must all continue to target, so that we can make further headway in safeguarding, equipping, and empowering our youth as they navigate the difficult waters of adolescence. Next time we’ll discuss how cyberbullying can be prevented and combated on Instagram.
My Advice to Teens about Instagram
Instagram is great. I use it and like it very much, for a number of reasons. Even though I have to view it through the lens of “online safety” given my work and professional passion, I still completely support (and am excited about) its widespread and growing adoption by teens (and adults). Similar to other blogs I’ve written, I want to provide some thoughts to those teens who use it, and those who don’t – just a variety of important things to know and consider. Overall, we obviously care greatly that youth embrace technology and have a ton of fun with it, but are also safe and responsible so they can do it for the rest of their lives…without also messing up their lives (or the lives of others) in the process.
My favorite aspect of Instagram is that it is minimalistic. Keeping the design, interface, functionality, and interaction options naturally reduces points of vulnerability in social media participation. As compared to Facebook, you can’t see, share, or do much – and I like that. You can take a picture through the app (or just access your Camera Roll to select a picture), add a filter if you want, correct colors and levels, and add a location if you want (which we advise against – if you want someone to know where you are, just text them using your phone – don’t post it in relatively public social media environments!).
After you tweak your photo, you then can share it with others through your account (40 million are uploaded every single day!). Also, like in other social media environments, you can add a caption, tag other users in the caption or in comments, and add hashtags in the caption or comments to help others find similarly tagged/categoried photos. For those of you who don’t know, a hashtag is what you’re seeing more often in captions and comments – a word or phrase preceded by a “#”. For example, I could tag a picture of myself at my local beach with hashtags such as #surfsup and #soflo (south florida) and #sunshine and #atlanticocean (or whatever I want). That way, others can select that hashtag (which becomes a hyperlink that you can click through) and see all of the other images that have been similarly tagged or categorized.
Instagram’s latest update added the ability to tag others users in your pictures, and I understand why they did this (to facilitate further connections and interactions) but I was like, “nooooooooooo.” I don’t want it to be feature-rich. I want it to be stripped down. I want it to do what it was originally intended to do, and do it well. That said, we are seeing a shift from the way it was originally used as its user base grows.
Initially, I would say that it was primarily used as an avenue of artistic expression where unique, creative photos enhanced by fun hipster filters were uploaded – and where others would critique and praise those creations of “instant art.” Now, it’s most-often used by teens and young adults to just take and share pictures of themselves, and themselves with others. In fact, I see a TON of selfies on Instagram, which shows me that it’s just another (currently cool and relevant) way for teens to express themselves to get likes and comments. No big deal. I like selfies. My friends give me crap because I probably post a selfie a week. But it makes me happy to do so, so I am going to keep doing it! And clearly, it provides that same benefit to many others.
There are much fewer ways to open yourself up to victimization (or victimize others) on Instagram (than on Facebook or sites which encourage more information sharing). For example, you are not sharing as much of yourself as you typically do on Facebook. You have a nickname, you have a short biographical sketch, you upload photos, and you follow others who do the same. I could say that I don’t want teens to use their first and last name as their nickname, but I don’t think it’s a fatal mistake to do so.
I do see some teens post contact information in their Instagram bio sketch (like their Kik nickname, or their Skype nickname, their Facebook username, etc.), and I would strongly advise against that. If you choose to put other contact information in your Instagram profile, know that you’re opening yourself to being contacted by people you don’t know. And maybe you want that, because you’re bored, or lonely, or just really want to connect with others who are into the same things as you (no problem). Just check yourself to make sure it’s not because you’re desperate for random strangers to notice you, like you, and chat with you. Based on the stories we hear from teens, that sort of thing tends to lead to more problems and drama and headaches than it’s worth.
Some of the teens that I know would love for there to be some sort of one-on-one behind-the-scenes messaging functionality within Instagram. I hope that never happens. Instagram is a comparatively safe space for users in large part because you can’t privately message another person. Let’s say you are exploring users, or hashtags, or your friend’s followers – and you see a really good-looking girl, and really want to message her to get to know her better. Unfortunately for you, you can’t.
All you can do is post a comment to one of her photos (if her account is not set to private). And she may reply in a comment under your comment – once again, publicly viewable to everyone – but she may not because she might think you are creepy for commenting on a photo of someone you’re not actually following. I love this. I don’t want weird, creepy people with malicious or perverse motives having the ability to message others to try and connect and bond with them just because they liked a photo of theirs. Not that you are like that. But you know what I mean. Please, Instagram, don’t add a messaging functionality. Allow other social media environments to do that. Don’t try to be all things to all people. It will completely ruin what you’ve created.
This also brings up another point – teens, please set your Photos to Private, so that people you don’t intentionally accept to be your follower can’t view your photos. Stay in control of your online experience, and what you share (and don’t share) with others. I know you want to gain more and more followers, and perhaps the best way to do this is to let anyone see all of your photos through your own account and by following hashtags to get to your photos. But amassing more and more followers is a never-ending pursuit, and it’s shallow. First, you were so happy when you got a few likes to a picture you uploaded. Then you weren’t happy until you got double-digit likes. Now you want triple-digit likes. And multiple comments. And it kind of bums you out when it doesn’t happen. This is madness, and there is no end to this. It’s never going to be enough, and you are going to waste so much of your life this way.
And honestly, you need to remind yourself that people just quickly scroll through hundreds of pictures when they check their phone in moments of boredom (because they are, like you, often following hundreds of people), and just touch each one to like them. Liking a photo on Instagram is a quick, relatively thoughtless piece of interaction that often doesn’t mean much at all. It’s barely a token demonstration of interest. So please do not get caught up in it. It seriously makes me sad when I see so many teens that do. As I’ve mentioned before, your identity cannot be wrapped up in the number of times you are noticed, liked, or validated on Instagram.
Oh, and we also see more and more memes being posted and shared on Instagram. We initially saw that occurring most frequently on Tumblr, with memes being blogged and reblogged there. The bottom line is that teens love Instagram and are on it doing things they used to do exclusively on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. While many adults use and love Instagram, I would say that teens have largely taken it over, and repurposed it within their own circles. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it shows that the fundamental structure and functionality of the site is simply brilliant.
Finally, it should be mentioned that emojis are fun. It’s just really a blast to be able to use them (appropriately)! That said, though, don’t post too many in your captions or comments. It makes you seem like you’re five years old. And it will, in time, open you up to haters. I think one, or a couple, are perfect. In my opinion, they just lose their meaning otherwise!
Next time, I’m going to talk in detail about cyberbullying among teens on Instagram – what we are seeing, and how it’s affecting who are targeted. And then we’ll talk about what can be done. I welcome your comments and input!
Submit: The Documentary
I just previewed the producer’s cut of a new film on the topic of cyberbullying. Admittedly, I was skeptical at first, because I have seen these kinds of productions before and have either been underwhelmed or downright angry at the way the problem was portrayed. But this effort was different and I think has the potential to do some good.
“Submit: The Documentary” presents the perspectives of many who have experienced the problem of cyberbullying from a variety of viewpoints, including victims and parents, but also educators, researchers, legislators, and policymakers. I was glad to see many familiar cyberbullying prevention and education colleagues prominently featured throughout the film, including my friend and Cyberbullying Research Center co-director Sameer Hinduja. Together, they present a clear view of the nature of the cyberbullying problem, and offer their insights about why we need to focus more attention on it.
“Submit” includes the requisite stories of those who have been affected most deeply by cyberbullying. Tina Meier, Donna Witsell, John Lowe, and others who lost their children as a result of, at least in part, experience with cyberbullying remind viewers that these behaviors cannot simply be ignored. Their experiences, while thankfully not representative, are instructive. We can learn a lot from what happened to Megan, Hope, and Johanna, and shame on us if we don’t do things better the next time.
As much as it was important to revisit these tragic stories, and even though it was a nice change to see and hear from some of “the experts” who have devoted their careers to this problem, the indisputable stars of this film were the students. They illuminate a reality of cyberbullying that has largely escaped mainstream media. They talk about why they do what they do, and perhaps even more enlightening, why they don’t do what they don’t do. The teens pointedly acknowledge the challenges of dealing with cyberbullying and related behaviors–most of which stem from a general distrust of adults to do anything meaningful to curb the bullying. Indeed, most young people we speak with say the number one reason they don’t confide in adults when confronted with cyberbullying is because they fear it will only make matters worse. Mike Donlin re-affirms this perspective in his remarks that were featured in the film.
As a film intended to capture broad public interest, “Submit” walks a fine-line between presenting a narrative of cyberbullying that is accurate and one that is shocking, fear-mongering, or otherwise “entertaining.” To be a commercial success, especially in the documentary genre, it seems that a film needs to be portentous, provocative, or overly alarmist. Compared to other films that tackle this subject, “Submit” does a better job balancing the hype with the lived-reality of teens in the 21st Century. For example, “Bully,” the 2011 documentary that followed the experiences of five youth and their families, focused so much on the extremity of the problem that while I was left physically hurting for the families featured I was no better prepared to do anything about it. “Bully” left me with the impression that adults are impotent when it comes to stopping bullying because most of the adults included in that film failed in their efforts, or worse, didn’t try.
To some extent, “Submit” begins to lead viewers down a path toward a similar conclusion: that schools, parents, the police, and other adult institutions are incapable at preventing or stopping cyberbullying. But “Submit” doesn’t stop there and carries the discussion forward, presenting some of the emerging evidence about what does work to stop bullying. Among the promising approaches highlighted is to cultivate empathy among students. Not only will empathetic students refrain from bullying others online and off, but they will also stand up for those who are being targeted. By encouraging young people and empowering bystanders to take action, we have a better chance at making strides to reduce this problem. As Sameer states in the film: “Bystanders can be heroes.” We genuinely believe that. Teens see a lot more of what is going on than most adults and they are, as a result, often in the best position to do something about it.
But they shouldn’t have to do it alone, any more than schools should have to respond to bullying by themselves. Bullying, no matter the form, is a community problem which demands a community response. Educators, parents, police officers, faith leaders, community partners, researchers, technology companies, and yes, teens, have the power *together* to adequately prevent and respond to this problem. “Submit” is a solid reminder and all who care about the online lives of adolescents are encouraged to check it out. Trailer here.
National Conference on Youth Cybersafety, Dallas, TX, March 3rd
On March 3rd, I will be presenting at the National Conference on Youth Cybersafety in Dallas. I’ll be speaking about Cyberbullying Prevention and Response, and there are a number of really bright and seasoned experts covering a variety of other topics at this event. Adolescent brain development, legal issues, sexting prevention, social media use among youth-serving professionals, online reputations, school-based walled-garden social networking approaches, and student-led initiatives will all be addressed and discussed in detail. If you are in the area, I encourage you to come out and meet me there! You can learn more about the conference here www.youthcybersafety.com.
Pause Before You Post
Technology is great and we know from our research that the vast majority of teens are using it safely and responsibly. But a few are creating problems for themselves or others by what they post online. That’s why we’ve partnered with Jostens to produce a number of useful resources for you to educate yourself or the teens in your life about the pitfalls associated with unwise postings. “Pause Before You Post” is a movement to remind students to carefully consider the consequences of posting something online. Whether they are posting something private about themselves or something hurtful about someone else, the costs can be steep. Here is a short video that introduces the campaign. You can also find a number of other short videos that feature Sameer and I talking about various issues related to teen technology use here.
One of the most popular documents we wrote for this program was “A Student’s Guide to Personal Publishing” which is available here. Jostens has put together a Pause Before You Post Kit that includes posters, pins, flyers, a DVD and CD with videos and curriculum based on our research. For more information about the kit, talk to your local Jostens representative or visit the Jostens web site. Since October is bullying awareness month, it is a good time to remind students to pause before they post!
Resources to Teach Your Students about Cyberbullying and Online Responsibility
Now is the time to start thinking about what *you* are going to do to educate your students about cyberbullying, digital citizenship, online responsibility, and overall safety. A key to any educational effort is consistent reinforcement of the messages you want students to incorporate into their daily lives. Convening an all-school assembly on these topics once each schoolyear is not sufficient. But bringing up online issues even for just a few minutes regularly (daily!) can be very effective. No matter what your area of teaching expertise is, you can talk about digital citizenship. When it comes to educating your students about online issues, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are tons of great resources freely available on the web. You already know about our site, but in case you haven’t explored it fully, below are just a couple of examples of activities you can incorporate into your classes.
Cyberbullying Word Find. You can start a discussion about cyberbullying with a fun activity that introduces important terms and concepts to your students. After all of the words are found you can talk about what they mean and how to avoid problems. Or you could separate the word list from the sheet and announce them one at a time and briefly discuss them as they are found! One school we talked to laminated our Word Find (and our Crossword Puzzle and Word Scramble) and used them over and over in different upper elementary classes and the class that solved them the quickest one a pizza party!
Quizzes. We have three short online quizzes that you can use to assess your student’s knowledge about cyberbullying: The Facts about Cyberbullying; Dealing with Cyberbullying; and Addressing Cyberbullying. You can work through these in a computer lab or if personal devices are allowed in your school, you can direct your students to the site to complete the quizzes on their phone, tablet, or laptop. If those aren’t options, you can always print off the quiz and distribute it the old fashioned way! You can have students work in teams and give extra credit for those who get them all correct. After they are done with our quizzes, have each student (or team of students) search reputable sites online to come up with their own questions and answers!
Ideas to Get Teens Involved. In our presentations we talk a lot about how it takes a coordinated and comprehensive community effort to prevent and respond to cyberbullying. Parents, educators, law enforcement officers, faith leaders, and other community partners all have an essential role to play. But so do the teens themselves. There are a lot of great things youth can do to educate their community about cyberbullying – while learning a thing or two themselves. When working with small groups of teens I often ask teams of 4 or 5 students to come up with 2 creative ideas that they could do to educate their school and community about cyberbullying. One idea needs to be something that they *will do* within the next month and the other idea can be something that they would do if resources were unlimited. They always come up with some amazing ideas! One senior once told me that if money were no option he would get the whole school to go skydiving over the community with parachutes that said “Say No to Cyberbullying” on them. Great idea! What ideas do your students have? Get them involved and invested in creating and maintaining a bully-free culture in your school.
Pause Before You Post. Sameer and I partnered with Jostens to create “A Student’s Guide to Personal Publishing” that summarizes the issues that students need to keep in mind when posting information to the World Wide Web. You can use this guide to start a discussion with your students about some of the problems they see when looking at friends’ profiles. You can also take a few minutes to find some examples from the media where teens from your state or celebrities have gotten into some hot water because of what they have posted on the Internet. Taking the time to pause before you post anything online is always wise. If your school orders class rings or yearbooks from Jostens, ask your local representative about a complete “Pause Package” that includes a DVD, buttons, and other instructional materials.
These are just a few examples of how you can use our resources in your efforts to educate your students or children about cyberbullying and related issues. Please do explore the other resources we have for teens, educators, and parents. And let us know how you are using these and what is working! If you have any suggestions for new resources, drop us a note – we’d love to hear from you! We will share some additional suggestions in upcoming blog posts. There are a number of other great sites out there that have resources that we will highlight, so stay tuned! If you know of any, please let us know so we can spread the word. Also, if you are an educator thinking about teaching a whole class on cyberbullying or digital citizenship (at any level), stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post about what we and others we know have done that works.
How young is too young for Facebook?
This is a common question I receive from many parents: “At what age should I give my child a cell phone or allow them to be on Facebook?” Of course this is not an easy question to answer since every child is different and parents themselves are probably in the best position to determine the most appropriate age. That said, I usually advise parents to think about allowing access to certain devices or web environments a little bit earlier than they might think is the right time. The issue really is that parents need to be the ones who introduce the technology to the child, not the youth’s peers. If parents wait too long or try to convince themselves that their child has no interest in Facebook, then odds are good that the child will learn about the site from a friend and set up a profile without the parent’s knowledge.
And some data suggests that they are right: Consumer Reports recently reported that as many as 13% of Facebook’s American users are under the age of 13 (about 7.5 million kids). And half or more of the students I speak to Facebook hasn’t completely ignored their rules, however, as they reportedly remove tens of thousands of under-aged youth every day. Of course if a user lies about his or her age when setting up the profile, it is very difficult for Facebook to know whether someone is underage so they rely on reports of violators.
This leads to another question I get: “If I see a person on Facebook who I know to be under 13, should I report the user?” This too is a complicated question. My response used to automatically be “yes.” If they are violating the rules, they should not be on the site. I have tempered my response a bit in recent months, informed by insights from colleagues, educators, and Internet safety experts. In general, whether or not to report an under-aged user depends on whether you have a concern about them being on the site—based on what you know about the user and/or what you see on his or her profile. If you are worried that their activities on Facebook could lead to significant social, educational, physical, or other problems, then you have an obligation to report (to the site or the youth’s parents, or both). If you see a 12-year-old whom you know well who is on the site and they have their privacy settings adjusted so that all of their information is protected to the maximum extent possible, perhaps it isn’t necessary to report the user. You still might want to take the person aside and talk about some of the concerns you have (posting too much personal or identifiable information, meeting someone in real life who they only know online, including gossiping or harassing content, etc.) to encourage him or her to continue making good decisions about their online activities. As Larry Magid, tech journalist and internet safety advocate points out, changing the rules to allow younger users on Facebook would create opportunities for the site to incorporate protections that just aren’t in place when kids lie about their age. This is certainly a perspective that should be considered.
Overall, parents should provide gradual and guided access to technology. Maybe, for example, you give your son a cell phone at age 10, but to start the only persons he can call are mom and dad. After a couple of months if he demonstrates appropriate behaviors you can add selected others. Then add texting. Show him the cell phone bill every month so he knows his contribution to the family expenses. Stress that the phone is a privilege that can be taken away with misuse. If he makes a mistake, take a step back. If he is texting at the dinner table, explain to him why this is unacceptable. If he is talking to friends all hours of the night, confiscate the phone for a while. I suspect that if more parents were actively involved in encouraging the responsible use of technology, even at a relatively young age, there would be fewer and less serious problems later in their adolescent lives.
Password Safety Among Teens
Passwords are necessary to access personal accounts on a computer network. They serve as “authentication” devices and uniquely identify someone as being who they claim to be. Of course, correct authentication prevents others from accessing or altering your personal data. In our current Information Age, passwords are a part of everyday life. However, some users inadvertently make themselves vulnerable to cyberbullying by exposing or carelessly distributing their password. Many youth simply don’t see the risk in telling others their password. In our school assemblies to students, we ask how many of them know their best friend’s computer password, and (perhaps not surprisingly) a majority of the hands are raised. To be honest, this is very alarming to us. Even if youth are responsible enough not to distribute their passwords deliberately, they might inadvertently expose them to others. Many users leave their passwords on a sticky note next to their computers (in case they forget it!). Someone who visits may see it and remember it for later use.
Why is it important to keep passwords secret? An example will help to illustrate the potential problems. A teenage boy might select a Facebook password that is very difficult to guess, but because it is so difficult, might write it down on a small slip of paper taped underneath his keyboard. When his best friend comes over for a visit, the keyboard might accidentally be dropped—revealing the taped paper and, consequently, the password. If that friendship goes sour, the password could be used by the (ex-) best friend to access the account and then upload humiliating content for everyone to read or see.
Even if adolescents are extremely careful in never writing down their passwords or disclosing them to others, a password might still be discovered through other means. For example, some Internet content providers have “password hint questions,” which allow users to retrieve forgotten passwords to online accounts by responding correctly to the questions presented. If the response is successful, an e-mail is sent to the address associated with the account. Within this e-mail, the current password or a new password is given. One of these password hint questions might be “What is my pet’s name?” If someone knows your pet’s name and you’ve used it as a password hint, an e-mail with password information would be sent to the relevant e-mail account. If a person knows how to access that e-mail account, access to other Internet accounts may be possible. Through this procedure, a person can change the passwords of all of your other online accounts simply by having access to your e-mail and knowing a few facts about you.
Finally, some people use the same password for multiple purposes—school and personal e-mail, Facebook, instant message and chat programs, eBay, PayPal, and many other accounts online. As such, finding out the password to one account can lead to simple access to other accounts. While we are considering cyberbullying in this text, there are obvious risks associated with identity theft when someone commandeers another person’s password. Below is a list of some of our recommendations that everyone —children and adults alike— should follow when creating passwords for Web- and software-based accounts.
Recommendations for Creating a Unique Password
• Use passwords with at least seven characters
• Make a mixture of UPPER and lower case letters, numbers, and non-alphabetic characters
• Use first letters of an uncommon sentence, song, poem, quote, etc.
• Use word fragments not found in the dictionary (mihtaupyn)
• Use short words separated by characters (dog%door; candy$trip)
• Transliteration: like “vanity license plates” (e.g., “Elite One” becomes “E1te0nE”)
• Lines from a childhood verse or popular song (“Baby you’re a firework, Come on let your colors burst” becomes ByafColycb)
• Phrases from movies (“May the Force be with you” becomes MtFbwu)
• Expressions inspired by the name of a city (“Big lights will inspire you, let’s hear it for New York” becomes BLwiylhifNY)
• Interweave characters in two words: (“Play Date” becomes PateDlay)
Are there any other safe password practices that you follow and recommend to others that have worked particularly well? Please let us know.