The Internet Safety Technical Task Force

Folks who have been following the online safety debates know that the Attorneys General and MySpace agreed to work together and with other relevant social actors to develop a Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety. Not surprisingly, they wanted a “neutral” party to lead this endeavor. Guess what? John Palfrey (executive director of the Berkman Center), Dena Sacco (former federal prosecutor in child exploitation cases) and I (the lovable author here) have agreed to co-direct the “Internet Safety Technical Task Force.” Our mandate is to develop recommendations for approaching online safety. The Task Force will bring together a variety of different organizations with different stakes to work out the best approach. Some of the tech companies involved include: MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, Bebo, AOL, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, Linden Lab, Loopt, AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. The Task Force also includes the Attorneys General, organizations dedicated to online safety or children’s safety, and various vendors.

For more info, Berkman issued a press release and the NYTimes offers more info on their site.

Those who know me are probably thinking WTF? It’s true – both online safety issues and anything involving politics tend to agitate me. At the same time, I actually think that I can make a difference by trying to help these different groups find common ground and come up with a solution that will work for them while not further disintegrating the rights and freedoms of youth. As a youth advocate, I feel that I need to not shirk away from these types of things, but get involved so as to make certain that youth’s voices are heard by those trying desperately to protect them. This is not to say that I don’t believe in child safety – oh boy do I ever – but that I also believe that safety efforts can and should be executed in a non-opressive manner. This is what prompted me to agree to co-direct this endeavor with two amazing legal scholars who understand youth issues from complementary points of views. It should be fun, or at least an educational roller coaster. No doubt you’ll hear more about it as we proceed.

For a better sense of my research as it relates to issues of online safety, check out the video/audio/transcript of a panel that I was on last spring with Michele Ybarra, David Finkelhor, and Amanda Lenhart: Just the Facts about Online Youth Victimization (sponsored by the Internet Caucus)

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9 thoughts on “The Internet Safety Technical Task Force

  1. Joan Vinall Cox

    I admire your courage, and think you’re the right person; (I’ve been following your writings for a couple of years now). I hope you don’t get too frustrated, and I thank you for taking on such an important task..

  2. piers

    As a parent, I appreciate your putting youth interests first. Somebody needs to. Thank you! It will be fascinating to have an insider view of this process (if you’re not under any sort of disclosure agreement, of course).


  3. Nick Geidner

    In these talks, please remember that anonymity can be a good thing. One of the great attributes of the Internet is it allows people to explore their identity in a safe environment. I understand that terrible people exploit this benefit to do horrible things, like the exploitation of children, but we must remember that there is a positive, pro-social dimension to anonymity also.


  4. zephoria

    Nick – don’t you worry – I’m a huge fan of anonymity and pseudonymity. As a queer kid growing up in a conservative part of the U.S. who spent the bulk of my childhood making sense of my identity by talking with strangers online, I’m very well aware of the positive side of being anonymous and talking to strangers (including adults). From my perspective, the key to this Task Force is to find balance. I’m a strong believer that safety and freedom need to be balanced. Everything that I do in my daily life has risks – getting into a car, climbing on rocks on the beach, getting out of bed, eating raw cookie dough. The key is to provide the structures that minimize danger while maximizing freedom and opportunity. You can never fully eliminate risk, but things like seat belts go a long way in creating an infrastructure for increasing safety without totally destroying freedom. I’m more interested in finding solutions like seat belts than trying to outlaw the car.

  5. John Pederson

    Big thanks from myself and hundreds of other teachers, technologists, librarians, and administrators that are living the transformative nature of networked learning, yet are constantly fighting an uphill battle against fear, resulting in the blocking of many of these services.

  6. Clarence Fisher

    John says it best. As an educator battling to keep many sites and services open to teachers and learners, work like this will be something that will help us to help students to become global learners and thinkers. Thanks so much for fighting this fight.

  7. Josie Fraser

    Delighted that you’ve accepted this role, and I think the key is exactly as you’ve stated: championing the needs and interests of children and young people from a realistic perspective. This was very much my approach to producing the UK’s cyberbullying guidance (, and I’m extreemly proud that the resulting advice covers the positive use of technology and the importance of digital literacy as strategies for understanding and preventing cyberbullying.

    The organization I worked for on this, Childnet International, has also played a key role in the UK equivalent of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force – The UK Home Office Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet. They’ve been meeting for a couple of years now and have produced work that this committee will no doubt find extreemly useful.

    Finding consensus and driving forward meaningful and useful policy across all industry service providers and other key stakeholders isn’t an easy task – but it can be done and the results can be hugely positive and beneficial for young people. Good luck with your new focus!

  8. Kevin Jarrett


    This is terrific news. I’d heard about the task force but not that you’d been named one of the co-directors. As a parent of a teen (17) and tween (12) as well a a K-4 educator (technology ed), I am thrilled by the recent research that is finally shining a bright light on the true facts involving social networking, its emerging role in our society, and, yes, the dangers (for what they really are).

    To me, this groundswell seems best described as “momentum of truth” (hey I just made that up!) and it is empowering me as a parent and educator to take action in my community and my classroom.

    Can’t wait to hear more about the task force. Do great things!

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