Open Letter from Ask.fm

The following is re-posted from Ask.fm’s web site. The original content can be found at http://ask.fm/open_letter.html

Thursday, 8 August.

We would firstly like to again express our sincerest sympathies to the family of Hannah Smith, whose death was a true tragedy. As we ask_2636875bexplained to the press earlier this week, as soon as we heard the news we approached the Leicestershire police and have been speaking to them throughout this week. We are committed to supporting the Leicestershire police in their investigation to ensure that they are able to uncover the true circumstances surrounding Hannah’s suicide.

We ask the press and public to respect that for legal and privacy reasons neither we – nor the police – are able to discuss the circumstances surrounding Hannah’s case any further.  We will therefore not be giving any interviews on this subject.

However, in view of the unprecedented press interest in the role of social media platforms such as Ask.fm, Facebook, Twitter and others, we would like to reassure all users and parents of users that we are committed to ensuring that our site is a safe environment.  We do not condone bullying of any kind, or any form of unacceptable use of our site.

We have implemented various measures over the past months to continue to improve our users’ safety, and we have implemented improved reporting policies. We have been working with experts at the UK’s Safer Internet Centre, and thus the wider EU InSafe organisation, and are in constant discussions with them regarding our privacy and safety policies and the ways in which we may be able to enhance them. This is an on-going activity, which Ask.fm is wholly committed to.

In view of this week’s events, we wish to highlight a number of existing “safety” features available for users for Ask.fm:

  1.         The site has an ‘in-question’ reporting function, which has been in place since 2012, and is similar to the in-Tweet function announced by Twitter this week.  This feature enables our users to report with just one click any question that they may find objectionable or offensive.
  2.         It is integral to the site that users should have control over what appears on their Ask.fm feed.  We have never allowed questions to be published on the site before they’ve been answered. Thus – if a user receives a question that they find objectionable or offensive, they don’t need to respond and we encourage them to report the question to us.
  3.         We believe one of our site’s advantages is that everything is open – rather than hidden in private inboxes.  This means that anyone can report anything they see that may be of concern. If parents see something on their teenager’s Ask.fm page that they are concerned about, they too can click the in-question reporting button and alert our moderators.
  4.         Anonymity can be switched off in a user’s privacy settings – our users have always been able to elect not to receive anonymous questions, and equally our users can also elect never to ask an anonymous question.
  5.         Although it is possible to post anonymously to the site, we would like to reassure parents that in almost all cases it is possible for Ask.fm to identify users – through IP technology, everything on the internet is traceable – and in extreme circumstances such as those we’ve experienced this week we work through existing legal frameworks to ensure this information is accessible to the appropriate legal authorities.
  6.         While many sites use automated machines to monitor content, we have a team of human moderators that works around the clock – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days per year.  They manually check every photograph or video that is posted to our site – ensuring that anything of a sexual, pornographic or violent nature is removed.  Our moderators also read and deal appropriately with every concern or report that is raised by a user; we remove content if we feel it infringes our Terms of Service.
  7.         We have a direct working relationship between Ask.fm and the EU’s InSafe organisation. This means that if a concern is ever raised through the EU InSafe channels, they have a designated contact liaison at Ask.fm.
  8.         We comply with the United State’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (1998) and we are working with a renowned expert to ensure that our moderation policies continue to lead the way in this area.

As we stated above, we are constantly working to improve our site, including its safety features. We are currently working on a series of updates with more safety features and information.

In view of some of the recent press reporting, what is important to note is that the vast majority of our users are using the site appropriately and are just having fun.  However, we would like to reiterate that it’s really important that anyone who sees anything they do not like or feel uncomfortable with uses the appropriate reporting mechanisms to bring these issues to our team’s attention as soon as possible.

Our site has grown rapidly over the past year and one of our greatest challenges (like any fast growing business) has been ensuring that our internal resources and capabilities are able to expand at a proportional and appropriate rate.  We strive to ensure we have the best people and this includes our moderators and customer services staff, where we have invested heavily to reflect this growth.  We will continue to do this.

We hope that this corrects some of the recent media reports and offers reassurance to our users and their parents that our site has safety features which are in-line with, if not better than, other social networking sites.

The vast majority of our users are very happy teenagers, who use Ask.fm to converse with their peers around the world about the things that interest them.  Bullying is an age-old problem that we in no way condone – and while its evolution online is disturbing, it certainly is not unique to our site. We will continue to work with the appropriate organisations to safeguard against bullying on Ask.fm – and we would welcome the opportunity to align with the rest of industry and society in fighting it on a higher level.

We are proud of the phenomenal popularity of the social network we have created and strive every day to make it better and safer.

Mark and Ilja Terebin

 

What Parents Should Know About Ask.FM

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s entry was prompted by recent events.  Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

Following the August 2 suicide of Hannah Smith, parents have become very concerned about their kids using the popular social networking site, AskFM. The site is in the vein of others like Formspring (which is currently under new management and closed).ask-fm

Founded in June 2010, the site’s purpose is simple enough in allowing users to ask one another questions anonymously. The key to the site’s popularity and overall appeal to others being the anonymous bit.

Like most site, AskFM has simple beginnings, allowing users to ask each other harmless questions like “what is the last movie you saw?” or “what’s your favorite YouTube video?” Like all well-intentioned things, the site quickly became grounds for anonymous hate messaging and cyberbullying.

AskFM has gained notoriety over this summer as it’s been attributed to a number of European teen suicides. From July to August, the deaths of Daniel Perry, Hannah Smith, Erin Gallagher and Joshua Unsworth were said to have been instigated by bullying on the site.

askfm privacyPrivacy
Privacy for the site is basic at best. You have two options: allow anonymous questions or do not allow then. The site also allows you to Blacklist or block users who you do not wish to interact with. I suggest, that if you are going to the site, do not allow for users to interact with you anonymously. This is only going to lead to problems.

User Interactions
Most users are just using the site for the reason it was intended. I joined up about a week ago to learn more about the site and just today received a question from a fellow user asking me “What is your one major weakness?” I have the option of answering with text or recording a video response. (For those who are wondering the answer is Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bars from Disney world and if I had the ability I’d record me crying tears of joy while eating one in Magic Kingdom!).askfm002

Users can link their Facebook or Twitter accounts to find friends or search through the millions of users to find questions, answers or new friends.

The issue comes from the ability for users to interact anonymously. This allows for mean-spirited users to send messages like “drink bleach,” “go get cancer” and “go die.”

Reporting Inappropriate Use
Despite what the media is currently saying about the site, it is possible to report users for inappropriate use of the site. On a user’s pageaskfm001 in their questions you will see a downward arrow. Clicking on this bring a drop down menu with the option of reporting the content. That said, what the site does to control, remove or moderate this content, I have no good answer for you there. With 65 million users as of July of 2013, I can’t imagine that it’s easy to moderate every complaint that comes through in a timely manner.

That Being Said
At the end of the day, I can honestly say that when it comes to sites like AskFM, Formspring and others, do not allow your kids to use them. Any site that allows users to interact with complete strangers (see: Omegle) or allows for anonymous interactions is no good in my book. Any sane person would look at this site and say “No, thanks!”

I would strongly recommend sitting down and having a very serious conversations with your kids about sites like this. Remember to make it just that, a conversation. If you come in defensive and demanding, your kids will shut down and want nothing to do with the conversation.

I also have to say that I can’t help but point the finger at parents in these situations. Yes, Mark and Ilja Terebin (AskFM’s founders) should be doing more to keep their users safe and should rethink the way they are running things over there. Along the same lines, parents need to be paying more attention to the sites that their kids are joining and taking responsibility in keeping them safe.

If choose to allow your child to join sites like AskFM, I strongly encourage that you go over the site’s policies and privacy options with them. Make it a requirement that they cannot allow anonymous questions and users to interact with them.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

What Parents Should Know About Instagram (Now With Video)

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s entry stems from an update about Instagram which I talked about a couple weeks ago. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

With the purchase of my new phone (I went with a new Droid for those that took interest in my ridiculous struggle to pick a phone) came a bunch of shiny new features to a lot of my apps. I was thrilled to discover that my banking app now allows me to make mobile deposits (more on that later), my camera is amazingly awesome, and Instagram now has video!

With that discovery under my belt, I realized that people more than likely have questions about how this new addition affects the Instagram experience and what parents should know about it.Instagram-video-1

If you read my entry about Instagram last month, then you are pretty caught up in the ins and outs of the program. Take pictures, filter as desired and share with the world.

Following in the footsteps of Twitter with Vine, Instagram (read: Facebook) decided to add in their own video feature. Unlike Vine, Instagram’s videos can be up to 15 seconds in length and can be filtered (much like photos).

CHECK OUT: What Parents Should Know About Vine

Privacy
If your Instagram is private, your videos will be as well. Profiles on Instagram are still public even though your content is not so it is important to be sure that your kid’s full name or other revealing information isn’t posted on the site. Remember, a lot of people are posting their Kik Usernames as part of their profiles which allows strangers to message them on their phones.

Content
As Instagram is owned by Facebook, the restrictions on mature content are securely in place. It’s even mentioned in their Terms of Service: “While we respect the artistic integrity of photos and videos, we have to keep our product and the content within it in line with our App Store’s rating for nudity and mature content. In other words, please do not post nudity or mature content of any kind.”

In addition to this warning about mature content, users can report anything they deem inappropriate to Instagram and the offending user will be investigated.

Josh, You’re On Instagram?
Oh yeah! I joined Instagram about a year ago and have had a great time with it. My username is TheJoshGunderson if you care to follow. I will warn you, there are a lot of cat pictures. And Disney pictures. You’ve been warned.

If you’re struggling with the idea of letting you child use Instagram (now with video), I don’t blame you. Even though it’s a photo sharing app, issues like bullying and sexting can come up. I suggest having a conversation with your child about appropriate use of the app and let them know you’ll be keeping an eye on their activity (make being a friend a requirement). Let them know what is and isn’t acceptable to be posting on the app- cat sleeping in the bathroom sink, okay. Your front yard, including your home address, maybe not so okay.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

What Parents Should Know About Vine

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s question comes from a parent in Melbourne, Australia. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

I have really had no interest in the Vine app, though I am often asked if I have a Vine Account. Until I sat down to write this post, I didn’t.  I’m a hands-on learner so I have downloaded and began using the app to get a better idea of what it’s all about.vine

Vine was created in June of 2012 and acquired by Twitter in October of the same year. Vine is a mobile app which allows users to create and share short video clips with other users. Since its inception, the app has been used in many ways including coverage of important news events and advertising.

Many of the “vines” I have seen come from friends in the comedy world and are a lot of fun to watch. Friend and TV personality Justin Willman often posts behinds the scenes vines from Cupcake Wars which can be a lot of fun to watch.

That being said, to the question, is Vine safe for children? Should parents be concerned about Vine?

Maybe.

Privacy
Privacy does exist on Vine (at least in the Android version that I have). Under settings, select “Your Content.” This will being you to a screen which gives you the option of setting your Vines to private. Which this setting in place, your Vines can only be viewed by users that you have approved (much like privacy on twitter, those you approve are able to follow your content feed).

While there is this option, it doesn’t stop content from leaking out into the online world. There are web sites out there dedicated to showing recent vines from users, bringing videos from the app to the web. These sites even allow for viewers to record the content onto their computer. Don’t believe me? Check this site out.

User Interactions
If you know Instagram at all, you already have an idea of how to interact with others on Vine. You are able to follow users to create a feed of content for you to view.

When users post or comment they can use hash tags which allow others to search for similar content.

Users have the ability to “like” and comment on content.

Vine also gives me the opportunity to throw back to an earlier post about Kik Messenger. A lot of the mature content I found on Vine had the posters also revealing their Kik Username and encouraging users to get in touch with them if they like that they see.

 

Speaking Of Content
It really didn’t take long for me to find inappropriate posts on the app. Pornography isn’t against Twitters guidelines so those posting graphic content do so without fear of punishment. Because pornographic content violates Apple’s terms of service, on February 5, 2013 Twitter raised the minimum age limit to download the Vine app from 12 to 17 following a request by Apple. Unless you have set restrictions for content on your child’s phone, they are going to still be able to download the app.

Who is on Vine?
The site allows you to follow just about anyone from friends to celebrities. Though there is no set age restriction, the site does comply with COPPA in that users under 13 are not allowed (though it doesn’t nothing to check the age of its users despite the plethora of inappropriate content).

Josh, You’re On Vine?
For now. I created an account to learn more about the app. I plan on playing around with it to get a good feel for it. I may end up keeping it! Who knows!

I suggest parents use their better judgment which it comes to their kids using the app. It’s important to keep in mind that while kids over 13 may join up, the app is rated for users 17 and over. The site does offer a creative outlet for those interested in video and animation, though the availability of pornographic content is cause for concern. If users under the age of 18 are creating this content it can lead to some pretty serious charges against the creators and those looking on.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Where Did the Summer Go?

It was just two months ago that I was joining so many in welcoming the warm weather to Boston and making such wonderful plans for the summer. It was also at this time that I was looking forward to the fall. I began my weekly visit to a local Starbucks to begin writing my first book and working on my all new blog.

Now I find myself reaching for a light jacket in the morning and enjoying the lack of humidity that can only mean one thing, fall is coming.

I have to admit that 95% of the things I wanted to get done in the last two months still remain on my to-do list. I never made it to Six Flags this summer which is kind of disappointing. On the plus side, next week I head down south for some pretty fun events like my sister getting married and a mini-vacation at Disney World. I guess I can’t complain.

Today, I put the summer behind me and continue to looking forward at what the fall has to offer! My calendar is starting to fill with amazing new opportunities. I will be returning to Hawaii to meet with students and parents, visiting states I have never been to before, and so much more. To see where I’m going, check out my Tour Page. More dates are being added every day and I can’t wait to see where this year takes me.Josh Gunderson20130225_013

I am also welcoming some new programs into my repertoire. Early this year I introduced “Your Digital Life” a much needed update to my “Hooked on Facebook” program. In addition, I have developed all new workshops and programs for Parents and Educators.

For Parents I have “Breaking Down Digital Walls“, a look at what parents should know about the world of social networking and how to raise the best digital citizens possible. For educators I have “Social Networking in the Classroom” based on my blog series of the same name. The workshop helps educators learn to work with social networking in schools to better educate students on creating a positive digital footprint and creating more engaged learners.

I will also be continuing my blogging along with the help of occasional contributors. Blogging over the past two months has been nothing short of amazing. Since my first post in June, my blog has been viewed in 49 countries by thousands of readers! Knowing that I have been able to impact so many with what I write is rewarding in ways I can’t even begin to describe!

I look forward to sharing my insights and adventures in the near future.

Would you like to follow my posts but don’t have an account? Not to worry! You can subscribe using the widget on the right hand side of the screen to sign up for an e-mail subscription. New posts will be sent to your inbox as they are published!

Thank you so much for reading!

-Josh

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning speaker specializing in Internet Safety and Cyberbullying. For more information on Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

What Parents Should Know About Tumblr

This week’s question comes from a parent in Florida. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

It’s become impossible to go a day without hearing or seeing something about Tumblr. The guy sitting next to me in Starbucks is surfing the site as I type this. Chances are you have heard your kids talk about the site at one point or another.

tumblr

 

Tumblr is a microblogging/social networking site that allows users to post various forms of multimedia to their page. The site operates on a “dashboard interface” where bloggers have the option to create content, follow other blogs or re-blog entries by others. In May of this year, Tumblr was purchased by Yahoo! for $1.1 Billion. (This isn’t important to the entry, I’m just bitter).

Bonus! This week’s entry includes a vocabulary lesson!

Dashboard – The dashboard is the primary tool for the typical Tumblr user. It is a live feed of recent posts from blogs that they follow. Through the dashboard, users are able to comment, reblog, and like posts from other blogs that appear on their dashboard. The dashboard allows the user to upload text posts, images, video, quotes, or links to their blog with a click of a button displayed at the top of the dashboard. Users are also able to connect their blogs to their Twitter and Facebook accounts, so whenever they make a post, it will also be sent as a tweet and a status update. (This is something a lot of sites are allowing users to do- WordPress, for example, allows me to cross-post entries to Twitter, LinkedIn and even my own Tumblr Blog!)

Queue – Users are able to set up a schedule to delay posts that they make. They can spread their posts over several hours or even days. (This is a feature I LOVE! I am able to write a bunch of entries and schedule them- if you’ve ever wondered how I do it…this is my secret. I queue.)

Tags – For each post a user creates, they are able to help their audience find posts about certain topics by adding tags. If someone were to upload a picture to their blog and wanted their viewers to find pictures, they would add the tag #picture, and their viewers could use that word to search up posts with the tag #picture.

HTML editing – Tumblr allows users to edit their blog’s theme HTML coding to control the appearance of their blog. Users are also able to use a custom domain name for their blog

So, to the question, should parents be concerned about Tumblr? Like a lot of social networking sites out there, it’s totally up to you whether or not you want your child using this media. I, personally, enjoy my Tumblr and often find myself getting incredibly distracted while scrolling through my Dashboard (this is a good and bad thing). Here are some things to keep in mind:

Privacy
Tumblr is not private. That being said, it is. Here’s what I mean. When you create your Tumblr blog, it is completely public and you have no option to change this. The only way to have a private Tumblr blog is to create a secondary blog. This second blog can be set to be password protected so that only people with the password may view it.

From there, privacy is up to the user. Educating your kids about what is and is not appropriate information to post can help keep them safe. Even pictures can reveal too much information. Monitor your child’s blog as you would what they are watching on TV and what videos games they are playing. Let them know what content is appropriate for them to follow as well.

User Interactions
Tumblr allows users to set up an option to have fellow blogger contact them through an “ask” button. There are a few options to how people can contact you. On the settings page for your blog you can select the “ASK” option which allows users to send you short messages. With this option selected only registered users can send a question. There is an additional option which allows for “anonymous” asks. This options allows people to contact you anonymously whether they are a registered users or not. I don’t suggest this option to be suggested for kids because this lends itself to bullying and harassment issues.

The blocking feature is rather limited in that you are able to block a user from contacting you but given the open-sharing environment of the site, you can’t block a user from seeing your content.

Speaking Of Content
Content on Tumblr is completely and 100% unrestricted and unmoderated. Unless something is reported as inappropriate, administrators aren’t combing through what others are posting. This gives users, including kids, unrestricted access to a wide variety of pornographic materials and other explicit content that you may not want them seeing. It is up to you to moderate and let your kids know what is and isn’t inappropriate content to be sharing and viewing.

Who is on Tumblr?
The site allows you to follow just about anyone from friends to celebrities. Though there is no set age restriction, the site does comply with COPPA in that users under 12 are not allowed (though it doesn’t nothing to check the age of its users despite the plethora of inappropriate content).

Josh, You’re On Tumblr?
Yep! When I first decided to start blogging I polled students about what platform they use. Tumblr was number 1 so I started both a personal and professional blog. When I found that my professional blog was being view more by parents and teachers, I decided to move to a more interactive-friendly site. My WordPress posts are still cross-posted to Tumblr for my followers there, but I blog more on this platform.

That doesn’t stop me from following my favorite Tumblr blogs! For a good Boston-related laugh I check out “The MBTA Ruined My Life.” As I’m a massive trivia-buff I’m a big fan of the “Did You Know” blog. And I, of course, follow my friend, fellow Disney buff and fashionista extraordinaire “Leslie Kay’s Disneybound“.

If your kids are on Tumblr, rather than going nuts and telling them they can’t use it. Take the time to check out what they are viewing on the site. Getting involved and being interested in what they are doing is going to go a lot further than lecturing. Maybe create your own blog and share and follow your kids blogs. This will give you piece of mind and keep you on top of what your kids are up to in the online world!

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Social Networking in the Classroom: Blogging, Part 3

This marks the 3rd and final entry in the Blogging in the Classroom Series! To catch up on the previous entries you can see Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here! As always please feel free to share comments below or by shooting me an e-mail at info@joshgunderson.com. Want to catch up? Check out the archives link! Next week I will continue with Part 3 which includes some great ideas to get your classroom blog rolling!

What it comes to blogging in the classroom I feel like the ideas are endless! I have to be honest that I’m a bit jealous that this platform wasn’t available when I was in high school! Across the curriculum there are a number of ways blogs can be introduced to the classroom. A student can use one blog over the course of the year, or even over the course of their career at an education institution. This creates an amazing portfolio of their work!

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Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So what are some ideas to get your kids writing!

Use Regular Writing Prompts
Put up a weekly or biweekly writing prompt for your students to respond to, setting a due date for the responses. Have them comment on one another’s responses to get a conversation going. Depending on your blogging platform, you can moderate comments before they are visible to ensure that nothing inappropriate comes through.

Respond To Class or Homework Readings/Discussions
Run out of class time? Post the topic of discussion onto your blog, letting the students know, and have the discussion continue. Ask students to discuss how a current reading applies to a student’s own life. This would be great for history classes and discussing how past events may mirror current happenings.

Current Events
Post a link to a current news article and ask students to respond with their thoughts and ideas. This is especially great if there is something that is going on that may affect their world!

Book Reviews
Ask students to write a review (positive or negative) of a book they read for pleasure, summer reading or a book your reading in class. If it’s a book they read for pleasure, perhaps offer extra credit for a review?

Free Write
Rather than investing money into notebooks (think of the trees!) have student do their free writing on a blog. This allows you and their fellow students to respond to their thoughts. Again, depending on the blog platform you choose, students can set entries to be viewed only by you.

Photo Blogging
Great for art and photography classes! Encourage students to share their projects only by uploading their photography or scanning in their artwork. Like with writing, this allows students to build an online portfolio for themselves and to share their work with the world!

Review Fieldtrips and Assemblies
As homework following a fieldtrip or assembly, ask students to react and review what they learned or saw. Did they take pictures? Ask them to include those moments in their entry as well. This allows students to work on their writing skills as well as getting feedback on these activities.

These are just a few ideas! A simple web search can find you loads more! Talk with your fellow teachers about how they would use blogging in the classroom and work together to create a blogging community!

Are your students already blogging in the classroom? Share your ideas for blogging in the classroom in the comments section below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

What Parents Should Know About Kik Messenger

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s question comes from a parent in New Jersey. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

I’ve been asked about Kik Messenger before during programs (mostly by parents) over the last couple years. It’s one of those apps I’ve never paid much attention to because I have no use for it. With Kik being this week’s topic, I went about my normal methods of learning about the app.

kik-blackberry1

 

Unlike last week’s post about Omegle, I’m less inclined to issue a straight up warning against the app. Instead, I think parents just need to understand the ins and outs of the app and come to their own conclusion about whether or not their kids should be using it.

So what is it? Kik Messenger is an instant messaging application for mobile devices. The app utilizes a phone’s data plan or available wi-fi to allow the user to send messages without having to use their phone company’s messaging plan. It can be used on smartphone platforms as well as app-enabled devices like tablets and iTouch. The app allows users to send text messages as well as pictures and videos.

I decided to take the hands-on approach to this week’s app and downloaded it to my phone. The first thing that struck me as odd were the number of reviews for the app. To give you an idea of what I mean- I compared Kik Messenger’s number of reviews to that of equivalent messaging services. Others averaged around 200,000 reviews, Kik had just under a million.

The reason for this made itself very clear right away. Users were posting their Kik names in the reviews and asking people to get in touch with them (see the pictures below…these are the tame examples. Click to enlarge the image).

2013-07-16_12-46-18 2013-07-16_12-46-57

Kik is another sad story about social apps gone wrong. Meant to be used as an inexpensive way to chat with friends has turned into a breeding ground for sexting and other problems. That’s not to say that everyone using it has ill intentions, it just means that parents should be very aware of what their kids are using the app for.

Privacy
In terms of privacy on Kik, it’s up to the user to determine how safe they want to be. Like old-school AOL Instant Messenger, in order to contact a Kik member, you need to have their screen name. If your kids are using the messenger, establish a rule that, much like their phone number, they should keep their screen name private and limit who is allowed to have it (friends, family, etc). The messenger does access your current contacts to tell you who has the app as well (a blessing, a curse, and the reason I removed the app when I was done with it.)

Personal Information
The most personal thing the app asked for was my name and e-mail address and, as far as I can tell, there is no way to search for a user with this information. With that in mind, it’s important to note that the only way anyone would obtain this information is if another user gave it to them.

Is Kik Messenger safe? Yes- it’s a safe as long as users are smart. In terms of whether or not your child should be using the messenger, that’s entirely up to you as the parent. Setting guidelines for the appropriate use of technology is important and making sure you are upholding the rules that you have set.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Social Networking in the Classroom: Blogging, Part 2

Last week I introduced part 1 of Blogging in the Classroom. The response has been amazing. I thank you all so much for the e-mails! This week I continue to Part 2 where I will discuss the pros of blogging in the classroom! As always please feel free to share comments below or by shooting me an e-mail at info@joshgunderson.com. Want to catch up? Check out the archives link! Next week I will continue with Part 3 which includes some great ideas to get your classroom blog rolling!

Have you picked out your blogging platform? Now it’s time to move on to the pros of blogging in the classroom blog!

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Image courtesy of sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thing a teacher friend pointed out to me is how blogging can help with the federal mandate that literacy is to be a cross curricular activity. Try thinking outside the box for how students can use writing in each subject matter. A social studies class can blog about current events, science students can report regular findings on experiments, language arts classes have an entire world of possibilities! Now is a great time to start thinking outside the box!

Even math students can use their writing skills. I took a class in college called “Math for the Liberal Arts” (which translates into Theatre Kids that are Bad at Math but the Subject is Required). Rather than spending day after day doing math worksheets, we focused on one math formula or theorem and wrote a paper about it. It allowed for us to be creative and learn something at the same time (my paper of dimensions involves aliens from a 4th dimension- totally aced it)!

Blogging can also be a great way to give voice to students who may not feel they have one. This is one of the ideas that I presented in my pros and cons list of social networking in the classroom. Kids that are less inclined to speak up in class may end up being the best commentators on a discussion post made by a teacher or fellow student.

With technology being another cross curriculum requirement, blogging in the classroom helps students build skills they will be needing in college and beyond. In addition to building writing skills, blogging also builds typing skills, enhances their knowledge of working with media like photos, videos and, in some cases, HTML.

I also look at blogging as a fun way to enhance the creative process. Students will begin to look at the world in a new light- anything could be fodder for their next entry. It is a fun way to allow students to engage with one another and the world around them. Depending on whether your blog is private or public- it allows outsiders to stumble upon and share their thoughts on a topic. I’ve stumbled upon kids blogging about seeing one of my programs- not only do I read them, I’ll comment!

At the end of the day, blogging can also be a lot of fun! I do most of my writing on Tuesdays and set up a queue to get me through the week. I look forward to my weekly trip (read: hostile takeover of a corner) to Starbucks to take in the world around me (ie. eavesdropping on blind dates) and get my writing done! I think students would feel the same way once their start working to find their voice!

Are your students already blogging in the classroom? Share some of the pros that you have found in the comments below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

What Parents Should Know About Omegle

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s question comes from a concerned parent in Hawaii. Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

If you were to stop me on the street and ask “Josh, should my teenager be on Omegle?”  I would more-than-likely start laughing while trying to get the word “no” out.  The site’s slogan is “Talk To Strangers!” At 28-years old, if I were to tell my mom that I was using a web site with that slogan, I’m pretty sure she’d ground me. I don’t even live with her!

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Image courtesy of sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launched in 2008 by a 18-year-old, Vermonter, Leif K-Brooks, Omegle is a a free online chat website that allows users to communicate with strangers without registering. The service randomly pairs users in one-on-one chat sessions where they chat anonymously using the handles “You” and “Stranger”. In early 2009 the site added video conferencing feature in addition to chat.

In compliance with COPPA, the site requires users to be at least 13 year old to use the service but as it collect no personal data, it’s not that hard to get around that requirement. It also asked that users under the age of 18 get their parents’ permission before using the site.  Cause that’ll happen.

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This warning features prominently on Omegle’s home page. It’s also enough to tell me I don’t want to be on this site. You should feel the same way.

 

Stick with me here, it gets worse.

The site, according to its privacy policy, participants’ IP addresses are recorded and stored for up to 120 days. They record the following: “the time your chat began, your IP address, a randomly-generated ID tag assigned to your computer, your chat partner’s IP address, and your chat partner’s randomly-generated ID tag.” Why? For “purposes of law enforcement.” Is anyone else seeing the red flag’s here?

Because of complaints, the site now had moderators keeping an eye on chats to make sure that only appropriate things are happening. However, one can easily click on the option to join an unmoderated chat if you pinky-swear that you’re over 18. How do they check this? Well, this nifty window pops up, and then you just click OK.

Trying to escape the moderators? Just click on the link for unmoderated chat. They ask you to confirm that you're old enough to be there without asking for any information to verify.

Trying to escape the moderators? Just click on the link for unmoderated chat. They ask you to confirm that you’re old enough to be there without asking for any information to verify.

 

Once a chat is ended, each user has the option of saving the transcript (when it’s saved, it lives on Omegle’s servers forever). Free software has also allowed people to trap and record video conferences- many of which can be found on tame sites, like YouTube.  An image search on Google gave me enough reasons to never go near the site.

I strongly encourage parents to have a conversation with their kids about sites like Omegle. Remind them that talking to strangers, even with a computer screen and, potentially, hundreds of miles between you, is never a smart idea. It is so easy to give out loads of personal information without even realizing it. Also remind them that the internet is forever and any videos that may be perceived as inappropriate can have a lasting effect on their future.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.