Coverage of new study on Net safety: Critical thinking needed!

By Anne Collier

It’s as if some reporters feel compelled to write to parents’ worst fears. The headline of a USATODAY blog post about a new McAfee study about the state of youth online safety says, “Privacy doesn’t matter to kids engaging in risky online behaviors.” Well, maybe not to kids who want to engage in risky online behavior, but this is not true of young Net users in general (we do need to keep working with at-risk youth, because are the children most at risk online too, but they are a minority population online as well as offline). “People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline,” said social media researcher danah boyd in a recent talk. “Teens know the risks very well: They aren’t stupid. Their brain chemistry at that age doesn’t allow them to choose ‘safe.’ They consistently choose interesting, exciting, and arousing. This isn’t a crisis; this is being human,” said the first commenter under the USATODAY blog post. Exactly. This is the reality parents and educators must deal with, but it not a new one.

We hear adults – even some online-safety advocates – referring to a “cyberbullying epidemic,” yet the McAfee-sponsored survey by Harris Interactive shows that cyberbullying has actually gone down a little bit between 2008 and 2010 (1%), and my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid has a chart at the top of his CNET post on the McAfee report showing that, while 15% of teens said they’d been bullied or harassed online in 2008, only 8% said the same this year. [Bullying has gone down recently too – see this). “McAfee’s study is actually a reassuring portrait of how most young people are exercising reasonable caution in their use of technology,” Larry writes. For example, it “reported that ‘almost half of youth (46%) admit to having given out their personal information to someone they didn’t know over the Internet,’ but when they break it down, the survey reveals that ‘when they do reveal personal information online, youth are most likely to share their first name (36%), age (28%), and/or e-mail address (19%). Only around 1 in 10 have given out slightly more personal information like a photo of themselves, their school name, last name, cell phone number, or a description of what they look like.” In other words, don’t rely on news reports to work with kids on all this; read the study and talk with your kids. If you can’t do the former, take online-safety news with a huge grain of salt and really listen to your kids! [See also “The new media monsters we’ve created for our kids.”]

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