In the online world, social networking sites have become a predominant forum for kids to present themselves, seek approval, and describe their interests. One of the defining features of most social networking pages is the visual and audio clutter; these sites often look like over-decorated high school yearbooks or scrapbooks. Teens use these pages as a place to feature everything in their heads and hearts that they want people to know about. The central feature of these sites is the ability to connect with people and share information.
What is a social networking site?
“People go on the site; they share photos of themselves and their friends. Maybe they went on a trip somewhere and they put pictures up about it. They blog about it–meaning they talk about it. They have comments on their pictures that people leave and they look for other friends. They can explore content, comedy, movies, bands… so not only is it about users putting information on the site; it’s also getting information on the site.”
— Hemanshu Nigam, Former Chief Security Officer, Fox Interactive Media and MySpace
All of the power Internet resources available are now accessible through devices that fit in the palm of our hand. The “mobile Internet” allows instant communication to an unlimited number of individuals. Children can upload content, videos and photos through the use of their cell phones and other portable devices, challenging the ability of parents to monitor their Internet activities and access.
Remember when games were played outside and Pac Man was considered high-tech? Today, it is difficult to distinguish the visuals in an online game from real life. Kids no longer need to go to the arcade to play video games against other kids. The web allows children to play video games with friends around the block or strangers around the world. Kids and adults from all over the globe can now convene in cyberspace to compete in online martial arts matches or band together for a fantasy quest. But, as games become more realistic and playing partners can be anonymous strangers, several concerns have emerged of which parents should be aware.
Children see the online gaming world as a virtual playground. Gaming consoles operate much in the same way as a computer—children can log online, put on a headset, turn on a webcam, and talk to and play with any of the millions of gamers around the world. Many online games have associated online communities, making online games a form of social activity beyond single-player games.
“Online gaming devices are just like a computer and a lot of parents don’t realize that. There are messaging, chat and IM features. Using an Xbox, you can receive messages from any of the major platforms. Even if you’re in the game, somebody who has your game ID or screen name can send a text message to you and it will pop up on the screen and you can chat just like you do on a computer.”
— Chad Gallagher, Child Exploitation Squad, F
Gone are the days when a child’s home is a refuge from playground or neighborhood bullies. The Internet is the new playground, and there are no off-hours. Tech-savvy students are turning to cyberspace to harass their peers using a new method of bullying—cyberbullying.
The popularity of instant messaging, e-mail, web pages, text messaging, and blogging means that kids are potential targets—all day, every day. Victimization on the Internet through cyberbullying is increasing in frequency and scope. Electronic bullies can remain “virtually” anonymous. Temporary e-mail accounts and pseudonyms in chat rooms, instant messaging programs, and other Internet venues can make it very difficult for adolescents to determine the identity of aggressors. Individuals now have the ability to hide behind some measure of anonymity when using their personal computer or cellular phone to bully another individual.