Category Archives: youth culture

reflections on Lori Drew, bullying, and solutions to helping kids

The involvement of Lori Drew (an adult) in the suicide of Megan Meier has been an unavoidable topic. Last week, Drew was tried on three counts of accessing computers without authorization, a legal statute meant to stop hackers. She was acquitted of all felonies but convicted of three misdemeanors. The lawsuit itself was hugely problematic and clearly the result of prosecutors wanting to get her on anything. But in focusing on the technology, prosecutors reinforced the problematic view that technology has anything to do with this atrocity.

Let’s be clear. Megan Meier’s suicide is a tragedy. The fact that it was precipitated by bullying is horrific. And the fact that an adult was involved is downright heinous. But by centering the conversation around MySpace, people lose track of the core problems here.

Lori Drew is a quintessential “helicopter parent.” She believed that Meier was bullying her daughter. She also believed that her daughter was innocent of any wrong-doing. (While there is no way to prove or disprove that latter belief, it is uber important for parents to understand that most bullying is reciprocal. Teens bully back and the severity typically escalates over time.) Rather than teaching her daughter to take the high ground, Drew got involved. She worked with her daughter to bully back.

Flickr Photo by Steven FernandezBullying is a horrific practice, but it’s also a common response when people struggle to attain status. Backstabbing, rumor-mongering, and enticement aren’t unique to teenagers. Look in any corporate office or political campaign and you’ll see some pretty nasty bullying going on. The difference is that adults have upped the ante, learned how to manipulate and hide their tracks. In other words, adults are much better equipped to do dreadful damage in their bullying that children and teens. They have practice. And it’s not a good thing.

Lori Drew abused her power as a knowledgeable adult by leveraging her adult knowledge of psychology to humiliate and torment a teen girl. Put another way, Lori Drew engaged in psychological and emotional child abuse. Child abuse includes the psychological or emotional mistreatment of a child. Unfortunately, most legal statutes focus on sexual and physical abuse and neglect because emotional abuse is very hard to substantiate and prosecute. But realistically, she should’ve been tried with child abuse, not a computer crime.

The fact that technology was involved is of little matter. Sure, she couldn’t have said those things to Megan’s face, but she could’ve hired a boy to do so. (How many movies have been made of boys being roped into teen girls’ humiliation schemes?) The crime she should be convicted of should have nothing to do with technology. She should be tried (and convicted) of psychologically abusing a child.

Why do we focus on the technology? Is it because it is the thing that we don’t understand? Or is it because if we were actually forced to contend with the fact that Drew was abusing a minor to protect her own that we’d have to face our own bad habits in this regard? How many of you have done something problematic to protect your child? I suspect that, at the end of the day, many parents could step in Lori Drew’s shoes and imagine themselves getting carried away in an effort to protect their daughter from perceived injustices. Is that why we’re so centered on the technology?

Let’s also make one thing very clear. This case is NOT TYPICAL. Many are clamoring to make laws based on this case and one thing we know is that bad cases make bad case law. Most of the cases focus on the technology rather than the damage of psychological abuse and the misuse of adult power. Furthermore, most focus on adult to minor abuse and the abuse of minors by strangers even those the majority of bullying is between peers who know each other. And for those who think that bullying is mostly online, think again. The majority of teens believe that bullying is far worse in-person at school than online.

This is where technology comes into play. Bullying probably has not increased because of the Internet, but it’s visibility to adults definitely has. Kids have long been bullied by peers at school without adults ever knowing. Now adults can see it. Most adults think that this means that the Internet is the culprit, but this logic is flawed and dangerous. Stifling bullying online won’t make bullying go away; it’ll just send it back underground. The visibility gives us an advantage. If we see it, we can work with it to stop it.

Approaches Parents and Society Should Take to Help Children

Parents need to be looking out for signs of bullying by their kids and by their kids’ peers. Parents should be educating kids about bullying, about the damage that it does. Most bullying starts out small. If parents catch it early on, they can help give their kids tactics to minimize the escalation. The Internet makes small acts of bullying much more visible, making it easier for parents to help provide guidance. This is a digital advantage because, for the most part, parents only learned of bullying once it had escalated to unbearable levels.

It’s important to note that bullying is best curbed in childhood when children learn that saying something mean gives them power. As a parent, you should be vigilant about never saying mean things about others in front of your child. Even about politicians whom you despise. You should also make it very clear that mean words are intolerable. Set that frame early on and reinforce. If you see mean comments online, call them out, even if they’re nothing more than “your dress is ugly.”

Unfortunately, not all parents are very involved in their kids’ lives and bullying is heavily correlated with problems at home. Bullying is also sometimes prompted by kids’ desire to get attention which creates a vicious cycle. This is why we need solutions that go beyond parents and kids.

The most important thing that we need are digital street workers. When I was in college, college students volunteered as street workers to help teens who were on the street find resources and help. They directed them to psychologists, doctors, and social workers. We need a program like this for the digital streets. We need college-aged young adults to troll the digital world looking out for teens who are in trouble and helping them seek help. We need online counselors who can work with minors to address their behavioral issues without forcing the minor to contend with parents or bureaucracy. We need online social workers that can connect with kids and help them understand their options.

The Internet brings the public into our homes. This terrifies most adults and it means that adults aren’t thinking about how to use this to their advantage. Rather than solely focusing on disturbed adults reaching out to children, let’s build systems to get trained adults to reach out to disturbed children. We need social and governmental infrastructure to build this, but it’s important. The teens who are hurting online are also hurting offline. We can silence their online cries by locking down the Internet, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to help address the core problem. We have the tools to do something about this. We just need the will and the want.

I wish we could turn back the clock and protect Megan Meier from the torment of Drew and her daughter. We can’t. And I’m not sure that any legal or technical measures would do one drop of good in preventing a similar case. (But I would be very happy to see more laws around psychological abuse of minors by adults put on the books… not to prevent but to prosecute.) What we can do is put structures in play to help children who are at-risk. Many of them are invisible. Their plight doesn’t get the broad media coverage that Megan Meier got. But there are far too many of them and their stories have none of the glitz.

They are the kids who are being beaten at home and blog about it. They are the kids who publicly humiliate other kids to get attention. They are the kids who seek sex with strangers as a form of validation. They are the kids who are lonely, suicidal, and self-destructive. They are online. They are calling out for help. Why aren’t we listening? And why are we blaming the technology instead?

Living and Learning with New Media: Findings from a 3-year Ethnographic Study of Digital Youth

For the last three years, I’ve been a part of a team of researchers at Berkeley and USC focused on digital youth practices. This project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, brought together 28 different researchers (led by Mimi Ito and my now deceased advisor Peter Lyman) to examine different aspects of American youth life. As many of you know, I focused on normative teen practices and the ways in which teens engaged in networked publics. We are now prepared to share our findings:

Already, write-ups of our research have hit the press:

Needless to say, we’re excited by our research and uber excited by the coverage that we’re getting. For years, we’ve been finding that youth do amazingly positive things with the technology that they use. Yet, during that time, we’ve watched as parents and news media continue to focus solely on what is negative. We’re hoping that this report will help adults get a decent sense of what’s going on.

For those who are only familiar with my research, I strongly encourage you to check out the report to get a better sense of the context in which I’ve been working. I focus primarily on “friendship-driven practices” but the “interest-driven practices” that motivate creative production, gaming, and all sorts of user generated content are tremendously important. I focus primarily on what happens when teens “hang out” but there’s also amazing learning moments when they mess around and geek out with one another.

The book is currently available only in draft form but an updated print version will be available in the future. In the meantime, enjoy, and feel free to ask questions!!

Draft Version of the ISTTF Literature Review concerning Children’s Online Safety

“Online Threats to Youth: Solicitation, Harassment, and Problematic Content” is a draft of the Literature Review that Andrew Schrock and I prepared for the Internet Safety Technical Task Force with the help of members of the Research Advisory Board.

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force was formed to consider the extent to which technologies can play a role in enhancing youth safety in online spaces. The Task Force was collaborative effort among a wide array of Internet service providers, social network sites, academics, educators, and technology vendors. It was created in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Network Sites and MySpace in January 2008. For more information on the ISTTF, see:

The Task Force asked a Research Advisory Board, comprised of scholars and researchers whose research addresses children’s online safety, to conduct a comprehensive Literature Review of relevant work. This is an early draft of that Literature Review. It was primarily written by Andrew Schrock and danah boyd. Members of the RAB provided valuable feedback and insights, critiques and suggestions. Members of the RAB were selected based on their longstanding, ongoing, and original contributions to this field of research. All members of the RAB are U.S.-based and do research with U.S. populations. This Literature Review – and the scope of the Task Force – is intentionally U.S.-centric.

In January, the Task Force will publish a report documenting its findings. This Literature Review will be an Appendix of that report. We are making a draft of this Literature Review available to the public early because we are seeking public feedback, especially from other scholars whose work is connected to this field. We are currently looking for feedback concerning the breadth, depth, and accuracy of this Literature Review. If you know of original research that we are missing concerning U.S. populations, please let us know immediately. A finalized version of this document will be available in January.

If you have comments or feedback, please email me directly, although you are also welcome to leave comments here.

teens, dating, friendship, and school dances

When I read the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of why teens have eschewed dates for school dances, I wanted to scream. This shift has nothing to do with “the way young people view personal relationships in the age of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter” (and not just because teens don’t use Twitter in significant numbers yet). And this is certainly not because teens are being “shaped” by these technologies such that they “consider friendship the highest form of compliment, making dating, and sometimes even high school love, irrelevant.” Even in the context of the article, the supposed experts and teens are voicing very different explanations for what’s going on.

School dances have traditionally been structured around mating rituals, dating back to a point in time when parents encouraged teens to go on such structured dates in order to find the ideal partner. This is no longer the era in which we live. Parents are no longer encouraging serious relationships in high school; quite the opposite. Even teens are no longer treating high school as the place to find their future husband/wife. Decades ago, teen dating turned into a different kind of ritual, one driven by status and validation and decoupled from pair bonding. While not having a date had long been stigmatized, the cost became purely social rather than marriage.

For decades after school dances were about pair bonding, teens scrambled to get dates to school dances purely as a form of plumage – a prom date was simply proof that one wasn’t a social pariah. Many teens went to school dances with people with whom they had no sexual relations whatsoever. Yet, by the 1990s, LGBT pressures started mounting actions against heteronormative dynamics at school dances. Some schools started allowing same-sex partners to go to school dances together. In some places, teen girls started repurposing this “freedom” to opt to go to the school dance with their best friend even though there was no romantic interest involved. The date-based school dance ritual began crumbling decades ago in different ways across the country. Thankfully, schools caught up and many stopped requiring dates to attend. This, in turn, motivated many teens to eschew dates altogether.

If you’re an adult, think back to your own teenage years. How many of you hated your homecoming or prom date? How many of you went with a friend of the opposite sex with no romantic feelings? How many of you stressed about finding a date, keeping a relationship going long enough to make it to the dance, or otherwise dealing with the potential dramas of being single for the dance? Now, imagine if the school said that you no longer needed to have a date. And imagine if the social norms caught up so that not having a date was not a stigmatized reality. Would you have gone with friends and simply had a good time? Hell yeah you would’ve.

What’s happening is not a radical shift in teen friendship practices. It’s about the collapse of an outmoded, outdated mating ritual. It has nothing to do with technology. It has everything to do with social norms relieving unnecessary pressures that no one liked anyhow. Teens aren’t going date-less because friendship is suddenly more important. Teens are going date-less because it’s socially acceptable and teens haven’t wanted the pressure to have a date for decades. Dating is much simpler when you don’t have to secure a date for an important night months ahead of time and then fret about the possibility that that tenuous relationship might fall apart. Even teens who are dating would prefer to buy a single ticket, go with their friends, and meet up with their significant other at the event.

Why this is so shocking to people is beyond me. Teen dances are finally looking more like 20-something dances than images of dances from the 1950s. How do 20-somethings to to bars, clubs, and other events that involve dancing? They gather with their friends, and go out en masse. Those who are dating include their significant other in the group and there are often networks of connections to other groups going out. The fact that teens are modeling 20-somethings should not be surprising to anyone. Teens have long modeled up. Why shouldn’t they be modeling contemporary practices instead of those that only exist in the movies?

Please… can we get real about teens? Can we please realize that what they’re doing is totally logical given broader societal norms and not some radical cognitive change?

PS: Teens are still dating and many find having a significant other to be important. Some value that sig-other more than they value their friends, but the old sayings of “bros before hos” and “chicks before dicks” still stand in most communities. But to think that teen dating is gone is completely foolish. Just because teens don’t want “dates” doesn’t mean that they don’t want sig-others.

Teens, Video Games, and Civics

Last week, Pew released a report on “Teens, Video Games, and Civics” that made its way around the web (see posts by Mimi Ito, Amanda Lenhart, Cathy Davidson). Briefly, some findings:

  • Almost all (97%) of teens play games. They play many different kinds of games and gender is a salient factor.
  • Gaming is often social and teens often game with people they know.
  • Parental monitoring of game play varies.
  • Teens encounter both pro-social and anti-social behavior while gaming.
  • There are civic dimensions to video game play.

I want to follow-up on that last finding and the connected findings because it’s important. Games are regularly referenced as proof that the world is ending. The stereotypical image of a gamer is an oily-haired, pimply-faced geeky boy with no social skills or interest in human interaction. The prevalence of gaming amongst youth dispels that notion, but there is still a myth that those who game are anti-social. As such, it is often assumed that gaming makes people anti-social, anti-community, anti-civic.

Pew’s findings show that there is no correlation between civic/political activity and gaming. In other words, high participation in gaming does not decrease civic participation. That said, gaming characteristics and in-person social gaming are correlated with civic engagement. Likewise, in-depth participation that involves social interaction related to the game (like participating in forums) is also correlated with civic engagement. Most importantly, “civic gaming experiences are more equally distributed than many other civic learning opportunities” because teens can get access to civic gaming experiences even when they can’t get access to other forms of civic life.

In other words, participation in gaming does not cause a decrease in civic participation and, if anything, certain forms of gaming activity are correlated with civic engagement (although causality cannot be determined).

All too often, we blame technology for the downfall of society. Gaming has long been the super demon, the crux of media effects panics. It’s fantastic to have a study to point to that conclusively shows that our fears make no sense. Yet, this also raises important questions:

  • If there are correlations between civic engagement and gaming practices, can we engender certain forms of civic participation through gaming? In other words, is the link connected to other factors or is there an element of causality at play?
  • If we understand that teens with certain practices are more likely to be civically minded, can we tap them there for other forms of civic engagement?
  • Are there ways to design games that encourage civically minded participation?
  • What will it take for people to stop fearing games and realize that learning takes place beyond the classroom?

MacArthur’s Digital Media & Learning Competition

MacArthur has announced its second Digital Media & Learning Competition. The focus this year is on participatory learning and they are giving awards in two categories:

  • Innovation in Participatory Learning Awards will support projects that demonstrate new modes of participatory learning, in which people take part in virtual communities, share ideas, comment on one another’s projects, and advance goals together. Successful projects will promote participatory learning in a variety of environments: through the creation of new digital tools, modification of existing ones, or use of digital media in some other novel way. Submissions will be accepted from applicants in Canada, People’s Republic of China, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, countries in which HASTAC or MacArthur have significant experience. Winners will receive between $30,000 and $250,000.
  • Young Innovator Awards are designed to encourage young people aged 18-25 to think boldly about “what comes next” in participatory learning and to contribute to making it happen. Winners will receive funding to do an internship with a sponsor organization to help bring their most visionary ideas from the “garage” stage to implementation. For this competition cycle, submissions will only be accepted from applicants in the United States. Winners will receive between $5,000 and $30,000.

For more information and to participate, check out the competition’s website.

“Born Digital” by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

I am pleased to announce that John Palfrey and Urs Gasser’s Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives is out in the wild! This book grows out of the digital natives project at the Berkman Center (with which I am loosely affiliated). “Born Digital” investigates what it means to grow up in a mediated culture and the ways in which technology inflects issues like privacy, safety, intellectual property, media creation, and learning.

Intended for broad audiences, “Born Digital” creates a conversation between adult concerns, policy approaches, technological capabilities, and youth practice. This is not an ethnography, but JP and Urs build on and connect to ongoing ethnographic research concerning digital youth culture. This is not a parent’s guide, but JP and Urs’s framework will benefit any parent who wishes to actually understand what’s taking place and what the implications are. This is not a policy white paper, but policy makers would be foolish to ignore the book because JP and Urs provide a valuable map for understanding how the policy debates connect to practice and technology. The contribution “Born Digital” makes is in the connections that it makes between youth practices, adult fears, technology, and policy. If you care at all about these issues, this book is a MUST-READ.

To buy the book, click here. Also, check out the Born Digital website for more information. And if you live in Seattle, SF, Boston, or DC, stay tuned for book-related events in your area.

To the academics in the room….

I want to take a moment to address the academics and academic-minded that read this blog because I know that many of you are very wary of pop books in this area. I also know how much y’all hate the term “digital natives” and I too feel my skin crawl when that term emerges. When I first learned about this book, I was very wary. I didn’t know JP or Urs at the time and I didn’t want to offend, but I reached out with a few of my concerns. To my astonishment, JP invited me to sit down with him and hash out my thoughts. Thus began a discussion that has truly shaped my thinking about these issues and has made me deeply appreciate this book and what it’s doing. Said conversation is also how I got involved in efforts to leverage my scholarship to make change.

From the beginning, JP acknowledged that the term “digital natives” is hugely problematic, but also pointed out that it’s the kind of term that makes interventions possible. Society and mass media has already done the othering and rather than pretend as though this wasn’t happening, they wanted to tackle it head-on. Throughout the book, they bring up adult fears, myths, and techno-phobic frameworks in order to dismantle, ground, and/or situate them. This is not an academic intervention, but a socio-political one. They purposefully and intentionally take an approach that speaks to those who are doing the othering, those who are thinking “kids these days…” At first, I was very resistant to their approach, but the more time I spent with parents, teachers, and policy makers, the more that I realized how effective such a tactic is.

Academics tend to err on the side of nuance and precision, eschewing generalizations and coarse labels. This is great for documenting cultural dynamics, but not so great for making interventions. Creating an impression, an image in the minds of those who are fearful requires more than accurate data. It requires a compelling story and a framework that can replace the boogie monster. This is why polemics tend to speak in extremes. They key to using generalizations responsibly is to work hard to make certain that the impressions rendered are as representative of cultural frames as bloody possible. It’s easy to convince people to generalize from extremes; it’s much harder to get them to build images from what’s normative.

Combatting pre-existing images requires more than accuracy, more than nuance. It requires either a new more-sticky image or a reworking of the original image. By working inside the frame of “digital natives,” JP and Urs seek to ground that concept through a realistic image of practice. Reclaiming a term does not relieve it of all of its baggage, but it is a service to discourse if you can accept that the term won’t just disappear by ignoring it. Once it’s grounded, nuance becomes possible in entirely new ways.

I had the great honor of being able to read an early draft and provide feedback. I’ve read lots of parenting guides and white papers and other pop culture coverage of these issues. What struck me about “Born Digital” is how well it is connected to what is actually going on, how well it speaks to the research that we do. It’s not sensationalist or extreme, but very even-handed. They move between different perspectives to try to paint a full picture. Sometimes, they are too patient with idiotic perspectives, but that’s when I breathe and remind myself that telling people that their ideas are stupid is not a good intervention tactic. Sometimes they are also too techno-centric, but once again, this makes sense if you recognize what they’re trying to do. Of course, the only reason that these things stick out is that they do such a good job of addressing the practices of the population they map out.

As I got to know JP over the last year, I developed a deep appreciation for his approach to life, the universe, and everything. He tries to help people from different sides see the others’ perspective, using whatever tactics are necessary. He’s calm, even-handed, and works hard to stay true to cultural complexities. He’s the compromiser and he’s willing to take the heat in order to help bridge gaps and ease tensions. This shines through in “Born Digital.” As I read the book in the context of its mission, my wariness slipped away. They’ve done a tremendous job of building on what we know and connecting it to systems of power.

If you’re an academic and you choose to pick up this book – and I strongly encourage you to do so – try to read it in context. Because it is deeply grounded in research, it might be tempting to see it as an academic book with too few citations. I’d encourage you to resist the critical reflex that comes with being piled higher and deeper and appreciate the ways in which scholarly work is being leveraged as a tool for cultural intervention. I think that JP and Urs have done an astonishing job and believe that they deserve our deepest gratitude. I for one am VERY thankful of their efforts to make change based on what we know instead of what we fear.

Little Brother + the Uglies series = le awesome young adult scifi

Although I’ve always been eh about most scifi, I’ve grown increasingly fond of young adult science fiction and scifi focused on teens. There’s something fun in reading about teens running around trying to save the world. I can thank/blame Cory Doctorow for most of this because he’s the one who got me hooked on reading it. So I’m super super super stoked to announce that his first young adult scifi book is on the shelves.

Little Brother is the story of a group of friends who are in the middle of an alternate reality game when a terrorist attack shakes San Francisco. They are whisked off by homeland security as potential terrorists; after a horrible few days, three of the four are released. And thus begins the tale of a group of teens who declare war on DHS. Beneath the fun YA story is a critique of the war on terrorism and a how-to guide that teaches teens how to be culture and tech hackers and jammers. It’s really geekalicious. I was fortunate enough to read the manuscript, but I’ve just ordered the book so that I can reread it. I really recommend checking it out – it’s quite fun and entertaining.

I also have to give Cory kudos for introducing me to my favorite new teen book series – Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras by Scott Westerfeld. Westerfeld’s series does the most awesomest job at breaking down contemporary society’s ideas of beauty, status, and reputation. In Tally Youngblood’s world, everything is about finally turning 16 and being allowed to become “pretty” through plastic surgery that makes you look as cool as everyone else who is 16. Being an ugly teenager sucks; being a pretty means getting access to everything and having all of the fun. Only, perhaps there might be a cost to being pretty?

While the first three focus on pushing against society’s valuation of the beautiful, the fourth introduces a new and “improved” world… where everyone in society is ranked based on how often people talk about them and “kickers” (aka bloggers) are obsessed with getting to the top. Needless to say, attention/reputation-based economies don’t come out the way that we might imagine them to be. (Translation: this series deconstructs both of our most “valuable” economies today – the economy of the beautiful AND the purportedly merit-based attention/reputation-economy. Sooooo good! And such fun world-saving kickass girl characters!)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with young adult sci fi, think of it as energizing brain candy. You can finish most YA books on a cross-country flight and they are far far far better than the movies that they show. And besides, they leave you with a youthful grin on your face.

Palestinian girls, dating, and the mobile phone

Last fall, Hiyam Hijazi-Omari and Rivka Ribak presented a paper called “Playing With Fire: On the domestication of the mobile phone among Palestinian teenage girls in Israel” at AOIR. They studied teen girls who received their mobile phones from their boyfriends and hid them from everyone else. Through this lens, they examine how the mobile phone alters social dynamics, relationships, and the construction of gender in Palestine. In short, they document how culturally specific gendered practices (not technological features) frame the meaning and value of technology.

All too often, we think of technology as empowering or restricting. We focus on the technology and its features rather than the ways in which it gets embedded in the lives of people. The phone has always been a gendered technology. (If you have any doubts, read Claude Fischer’s “America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.”) While the story of the mobile is quite different, even the tensions between its use as a business tool and its use as a tool for family communications have been narrated through the lens of gender.

Palestinian boys give their girlfriends phones for the express purpose of being able to communicate with them in a semi-private manner without the physical proximity that would be frowned on. At the same time, girls know that parents do not approve of them having access to such private encounters with boys – they go to great lengths to hide their mobiles and suffer consequences when they are found out. While the boys offered these phones as a tool of freedom, they often came with a price. Girls were expected to only communicate with the boy and never use the phone for any other purpose. In the article, Hijazi-Omari and Ribak quote one girl as expressing frustration over this and saying “I did not escape prison only to find myself another prison.” These girls develop fascinating practices around using the phone, hiding from people, and acquiring calling cards.

For teens, the mobile phone is a key device for negotiating intimate relations throughout the world. Studies done in the U.S., Jamaica, Japan, the U.K. and elsewhere all point to the ways in which teens negotiate private relationships using their mobiles. Mobiles are a critical tool for being in a relationship. Yet, most of our studies focus on the ways in which offline intimacies are extended across space and time through the mobile. What Hijazi-Omari and Ribak are finding with Palestinian girls is that the mobile is allowing them to have private encounters and relationships when these would be otherwise impossible.

This article helps elucidate the ways in which youth from different cultures are navigating social relations through the mobile. It is well-written and filled to the brim with fascinating data that tickles the brain. A must read for anyone interested in cultural difference involving the mobile!

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)