Social Networking and Online Safety–A Lot to Talk About

July 15, 2006 at 7:56 am 1 comment


It’s been a very busy week, with new freshmen student orientations, library instructions, and all-day interviews for our new librarian position, but as I begin to relax and hit the blogs for some interesting reading, I notice a quick blurb on the July 14th Search Engine Forums Spotlight mentioning that MySpace has become (or least it was on Tuesday this week) the “No. 1 U.S. Web site last week, displacing Yahoo Inc.’s top-rated e-mail gateway and Google Inc.’s search site, Internet tracking firm Hitwise said on Tuesday.” This, of course, is not a huge surprise to me, as I have been following up on social networking sites a lot lately and will be presenting on them and personal information search engines at the Internet Librarian/Internet@Schools West Conference in Monterey later in October.

Whenever I do bring up MySpace, Facebook, and other social websites with my librarian, professor, and teacher colleagues, the conversations tend to lean toward online safety, lately. In case you have not read about the crackdown on social networking sites, especially regarding MySpace, you might be interested in browsing the MySpace may face legislative crackdown article by Declan McCullagh at CNET News.com from July 11th. It discusses how politicians this week have attacked MySpace and other social networking sites for their inability to protect minors, and that legislators need to become involved.

“MySpace and other social-networking sites like LiveJournal.com and Facebook have come under increasing pressure from members of Congress hoping to appeal to voters before the November elections. The school and library filtering bill–called the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA–is a centerpiece of a poll-driven Republican effort called the ‘Suburban Agenda’.”

I continually talk about the brighter, creative aspects and rewards of participating in and using social networking sites in my seminars and courses, and you have heard many others mentioning these as well, I am sure. In fact, I just read a column yesterday from the informative and entertaining Stephen Abram about this topic entitled, “What Can MySpace Teach us in School Libraries” that just came out in the July/August issue of http://www.mmischools.com/magazine (note: I subscribe to their free site for multimedia tools and resources for K-12+, and you can, too, or wait for the issue to become available fulltext in EBSCO’s Academic Search Premier or WilsonWeb’s Wilson Omnifile any day now). Abram asks quite a few questions about these special sites and believes, and I agree, that we can learn a lot from them–including what they are doing right “with respect to institutionalizing social networks” and in “their efforts to create ‘safe’ spaces.”

Well, let’s talk about online safety. If you have heard about the safety aspects surrounding MySpace and other related sites, and especially if you have read anything in the traditional news lately about this, you know that one serious suggestion or answer to the problem is to block access in the schools via filtering systems. Believe me, this will not work, as many savvy students will find ways around this even at school, not to mention at home. I don’t recommend that you rely on these if you do choose or must use them. I am not saying to do nothing, however, as I do believe in Internet safety education, especially since our youth (and university students) are extremely attracted to these online environments, inside and outside of school (Abram in his article states that one estimate of MySpace alone suggests that it could “account for 40% of Web traffic by the end of 2006″).

So, if you are like me and are looking for some additional help in that “safety and education” area, especially because you are a school library media specialist, librarian, or parent who does not want to wait for politicians, legislators, the library & education community, and the general public to finally agree on solutions that might actually work, I would suggest reading Nancy Willard’s second “Social Networking” article, also in the July/August MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine, for her update on the concerns and issues surrounding safe and responsible Internet use (Nancy is actually the Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use and also has a detailed, free “Briefing for Educators” article available online at her cyberbully.org site as well.

You will notice, too, that MySpace itself is doing a lot more to help with safety issues, especially with all of the publicity it is getting. McCullagh’s CNET News.com article mentioned earlier states that…

“For its part, MySpace–now owned by Rupert Murdock’s News Corp.–has taken steps this year to assuage concerns among parents and politicians. It has assigned some 100 employees, about one-third of its workforce, to deal with security and customer care, and hired Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam, a former Justice Department prosecutor, as chief security officer.”

I think that is a step in the right direction for them, and MySpace does have a Safety Tips link at the bottom of their main page that has recently added more material for youth and parents, including links to several suggested useful online safety resource and education sites. I think you will find the following to be useful:

Netsmartz.org
WiredSafety.org
GetNetWise.org
SafeTeens.com

Anyway, this blog is getting long, and I did not even get to talk about ALA’s stand on DOPA (they and many others believe that it needs serious refining), but I think I have given you a lot to read and talk about concerning social networking and online safety, right? Besides, it’s my wife’s birthday and I need to go celebrate it with her at the New Jersey Shore this weekend; in fact, we are leaving right now if you want to join us, Library Gardeners and visitors–yeah, I know, giving too much personal info on the Web can be dangerous, but I do live life in the fast lane. I am an infomaniac/librarian after all! ;)

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1 Comment

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