Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

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IGF-USA 2010 Workshop- Best Practices Forum: Considerations on Youth Online Safety in an Always-Switched-On World

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Jennifer Hanley from Family Online Safety Institute and Stacie Rumecap from Stop Child Predators discuss the risks that young people face when using the Internet.

Brief description:

Danny Weitzner, associate administrator for the Office of Policy Analysis and Development in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, led this session. In June of 2010 a new report was provided to the U.S. Congress: “Youth Safety on a Living Internet.” Topics addressed in that report were covered in this session. They include: the risks young people face; the status of industry voluntary efforts; practices related to record retention; and the development of approaches and technologies to shield children from inappropriate content or experiences via the Internet.

Details of the session:

Braden Cox, policy counsel for the NetChoice Coalition, shared an anecdote: While driving to the IGF-USA 2010 conference he was listening to a traffic report. The reporter complained about his long commute from Fredericksburg, Md., to Washington, D.C., each morning. A traffic engineer then came on the air and explained that long commutes are often caused by people who choose the wrong routes.

“You know what?” Cox said. “D.C. traffic is a lot like the Internet. There are a lot of different options, people can become overwhelmed and it can be slow. But all it comes down to education.”

Education is something the panel and respondents in the “Best Practices Forum: Considerations on Youth Online Safety in an Always-Switched-On World” IGF-USA 2010 session discussed extensively.

Panelists included Cox; Jennifer Hanley of the Family Online Institute; Michael W. McKeehan, the executive director of Internet and technology policy at Verizon Wireless; and Stacie Rumenap from Stop Child Predators.

There to respond were Jane Coffin of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Morgan Little, a research associate with the Imagining the Internet Center; Bessie Pang, the executive director of the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace; and Adam Prom, an intern for the law firm of Akerman Senterfitt.

The session leader was Danny Weitzner, the associate administrator of the Office of Policy Analysis and Development at NTIA.

The 148-page report, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet” (available as a PDF download here: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/2010/OSTWG_Final_Report_060410.pdf) was provided to the U.S. Congress in early June. Cox and McKeehan were part of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group that prepared the report. Cox said the findings indicate that while issues such as child predators and “sexting” are minor problems, the main worry online today in the United States is cyberbullying by peers.

Cox said the report includes four recommendations to fight this trend:

  • Avoid scare tactics. Instead, promote social norms and good etiquette on the Internet.
  • Promote digital citizenship, e-literacy and computer security in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education.
  • Focus online safety programs on risk prevention, including interventions with high-risk youth.
  • Create a digital literacy core on Internet safety.

“The Internet is living,” Cox said. “And much like in everyday life, we operate without truly understanding the risks.”

Many lawmakers have tried to crack down on cyberbullying, Rumenap said. Forty-four states now have some sort of law about it. But she said most of the laws are ineffective.

“What’s the best way to prevent cyberbullying?” Rumenap asked. “Don’t be a teenage girl,” McKeehan responded. Rumenap said the majority of cyberbullying consists of teenage girls being teenage girls – gossiping and saying mean things to one another. “Criminalizing a 14-year-old for saying something mean probably isn’t the best result,” Rumenap said.

The panelists discussed attitudes online. The best method for cutting down on cyberbullying, the group affirmed, is education. “We have to inform minors about the permanence, about the implications and about what they are posting online,” Little said.

Hanley said that starts with teaching kids accountability. “We’re building a culture of responsibility,” she said. “We’re trying to move rights and responsibilities that we take for granted in the offline world to the online world. We have to make sure we’re teaching them new social norms.”

Participants in the discussion agreed that there is only so much public policy can do. “You can’t legislate cyberbullying away,” Prom said.

The opportunity for Internet education exists on every level, Little agreed. “It’s nothing that can come from the top down, it’s nothing that can come instantaneously, and I don’t think it can come from schools,” he said. “They’re stretched too thin as it is. It has to come from all around.”

The message is simple, McKeehan said. “The No. 1 recommendation: Teach your kid not to be a jerk online,” he said. “Don’t be a jerk in the real world, and don’t be one online either.”

While a lot of this education can start at home, it should be present everywhere in kids’ lives, especially when they are relating with their friends, Rumenap said.

“It’s a conversation,” she said. “It’s a conversation at home. It’s a conversation at school. It’s a conversation in after-school programs. And it needs to be a conversation with their peers. It needs to become a social norm.”

-Sam Calvert, www.imaginingtheinternet.org

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