Tag Archives: Facebook

Teaching kids not to trust superficial identification online

CTV News

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CTV News interviewed me for this terrible story about a 24-year-old man who posed as a young girl on Facebook to lure 11 to 13-year-old boys into sending nude pictures of themselves. He would then coerce or blackmail them into sending more by threatening to expose them to their families.

Kids are often quick to take other users’ identities at face value. They don’t yet have the experience and judgement to question such things, or to anticipate this kind of deception. The person on the other end doesn’t have to be a pedophile – it can also be a school bully, or another student attempting a mean-spirited joke.

What can parents tell their kids? If your kids are online, you should bring up the subject of deliberate or mistaken identity switches. Let them know people can do this for all sorts of reasons, out of curiosity, for a joke, to bully someone or to gain someone’s trust to hurt or humiliate them. Tell your children it is unethical – and sometimes illegal – to pass as someone else just to gain their trust. All it takes is a stolen password or using someone else’s picture, and it’s difficult for other users to know what’s going on.

Remind your kids to maintain a healthy dose of suspicion if anyone online asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, or that is illegal. It is important that kids know it is against the law to share pictures of anyone under the age of 18 wearing anything less than a bathing suit. Even if he is your boyfriend (or girlfriend). Even if you send it willingly. Tell a trusted adult. And if they don’t do anything, tell someone else.

Most of the time this kind of deception involves a peer, classmate or acquaintance and not a sexual predator online, but the underlying lesson about the ease of deception online remains the same.


My all-time favourite parenting guideline: freedom is a privilege to be earned

yellow sky“May I have a cellphone?”

“Can I have a Facebook account?”

“My friends are going to the mall alone — can I go too?”

All of these requests have one thing in common: freedom. They are each small increments of freedom from parental control. In each case there are potential risks; they all imply a level of trust.

As parents, we need to make decisions about what our kids can handle, and balance them with the things that can go wrong — and right. And when parents ask my advice on what the right answers are for many of these things at different ages, I suggest one overall guideline:

Freedom is a privilege to be earned through the demonstration of consistent, good judgement and behaviour. 

That means that the child who regularly gets his homework done without a fuss after dinner should probably be allowed to watch TV (or play a video game or whatever is agreed). The child who makes healthy choices should be allowed to pack her own lunch for school. The teenager who checks in regularly when she’s out with her friends, respects her curfew and answers her cellphone when you call may be ready for additional incremental steps of freedom.

Each freedom suggests its own rules: the cellphone must be kept charged and answered when you call. It can’t be used in school in violation of school rules. Usage can’t exceed agreed upon limits for talking and texting. They need to review their text messages with a parent from time to time.

The teen who wants to borrow the family car needs to follow the rules of the road, keep it clean and gassed up. Never drink and drive.

And so on.

What about when kids break the rules? Because that’s going to happen. Testing limits is part of growing up, after all.

When my kids break the rules, we discuss what it means. Usually, there is some backpedaling on their freedom for some time: the iPad that isn’t supposed to be used after lights out gets put back downstairs in the kitchen charging station where it used to go. The weekly Facebook page reviews with mom or dad that have fallen by the wayside become a part of our routines once again.

And as they  demonstrate good judgement over time, we continue to offer back those increments of freedom and independence.

Yes, it does sound like common sense. Most parents practice this in one form or another. But the critical thing is to explain the underlying logic to your kids. They need to see the cause and effect logic in their behaviours and privileges.

They also need to understand that if we choose to let them go downtown alone with their friends (or go on a date, or walk to school by themselves), it’s because they’ve earned our trust over time.

And since you know your own kids, you can help decide when they are ready for the responsibilities that come with each freedom. One child may be able to handle her own Facebook account at 12; another may need to wait until they are older. There is no magic age when kids are ready.

Those freedoms aren’t doled out like random rewards — they are their due for playing by our rules.

What Facebook’s new Graph Search option means for parents and kids

Facebook graph searchFriends who Like Justin Bieber. Photos of my friends before 2000 taken by my mom. Photos taken in New York City.

These are some of the search options currently available in the newly launched Facebook graph search tool. For the moment, it’s only in beta (or test) mode, only available in the U.S. to a few selected invitees. And the search options are still limited.

But make no mistake, this is a very big deal when it comes to privacy, access to information and the convergence of social networks. Simply put, it means that all of the personal information we (and our kids) put online can now be quickly and easily indexed and searched by others.

Facebook is the largest voluntary sociological experiment in the history of humankind. Users everywhere think little of sharing intimate details of our lives, our relationships, our preferences and our consumer behaviours. And while Facebook gives us our accounts for free, make no mistake that they anticipate making vast revenues off this freely shared information through advertising and other forms of data mining.

If you or your kids are Facebook users, consider whether you use your Facebook sign-in information to link to any other accounts: TripAdvisor, group coupon buying sites like Groupon or Living Social, Twitter, Netflix, Pinterest, Goodreads or Instagram. Have you linked your Facebook to your LinkedIn account? A blogging website? Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang has predicted that this interactive convergence between websites is the future of website design, so we are bound to see more and more of it.

What do these linkages mean for you and your kids? It means that when you log in to TripAdvisor, your home page is customized to reflect the data your Facebook friends entered. Bob loved this hotel in Ireland. Emily rated this restaurant in Washington, D.C. When you log in to Netflix, you can see which TV shows they watched; on Goodreads you can see what books they’ve read.  These sites are all connected, and they personalize what you see based on your contacts.

When it comes to helping ourselves and our kids make wise decisions about what they share online, it means we need to be even more aware about what we’ve chosen to out there. And it doesn’t just start now: the photos you uploaded back in 2006 when you first joined are still there.

Although it’s still not yet clear exactly how this will impact users, here are a few things you will want to consider:

  • Search categories on Graph Search are still somewhat limited, but others (including Instagram) are due to be added over time. Keep an eye out for what becomes searchable, so you can discuss those things with your kids.
  • It’s more important than ever to make sure your kids’ privacy settings are set to the highest level, so that “Only friends” or “Only me” are chosen for distribution of information. It’s still not clear how this new Graph Search tool will be impacted by user settings, but it makes good sense to err on the side of caution.
  • Be aware of the App permissions in your privacy settings. You should help your teen choose what apps have permission to share information with others – perhaps they don’t want others to know what they are watching on Netflix, playing on different games or reading.
  • Discuss with your kids why they might not always want to use the “Sign in with Facebook” or “Sign in with Twitter” options when opening a new account. Do they really want all that information connected?
  • Some of your information may show up in searches from people you don’t know. In this Mashable post, the user searched for photos of Paris, France and found images from those they didn’t know. 
  • Be aware of information within your information, sometimes called metadata. Pictures you and your kids take with smartphone cameras tends to record the geographical location where the image was snapped (the GPS data). Some new digital cameras come with this option as well. Although you might not even see it or know it’s there, others can use a simple tool to figure out where your kids go to school, live and hang out with friends. See this post here for more information and explanations on how to easily change the GPS settings on your phones.  
  • The more information your kids’ friends share on Facebook, the more there is to be included in search criteria about them as well. It’s more important than ever to make sure they set up accounts so that they can approve all picture tags or mentions that might appear on their timeline (click here to see how). For example, if someone posts a picture with me in it, but doesn’t tag me, I won’t be part of the search criteria for that image. But if I am tagged, I want the right to approve or disallow what’s out there with my name in it.
  • If you want a clear picture of what you or your kids have shared on Facebook already, you can download a version of all this data. Check out this post for instructions on how to do so.