Home > Izzy Neis Links > Dear Parents: Help me help you. Help ME. Help YOU.

Dear Parents: Help me help you. Help ME. Help YOU.

So, there’s a LOT of interesting conversation happening lately… or at least I think it’s interesting (lol).

  1. About COPPA, future plans to COPPA, adherence to COPPA, and the FTC’s role in supporting COPPA.
  2. Cyberbullying & Cybersex (from the small to medium to high level interactions)
  3. Site responsibility vs Parent responsibility.

#3 is more or less a conversation that @JoiPod (Joi Podgorny) and I continually have as we develop methods to service our sensitive, bright, clever audience, and their parents (adjectives pending context of situation).

There are TWO ways of approaching the above topics: A) As theory & Industry conversation, B) In practice & actuality.

It’s great to come together and talk about how WE – as adults, participants in youth culture online, responsible citizens, and concerned governing bodies- can build opportunities to help kids succeed.  I will ALWAYS be up for that movement / discussion. :-)

And yet, during my tenure within this industry and all the varieties of platforms I’ve worked with – I have started to recognize a growing movement of response and expectations for responsibility.

And so, I’m going to point my bloggin’ ranty finger at this growing movement.  Fair warning, I weave in and out of all sorts of open issues regarding kids online, beyond just COPPA, and often bleed many ideals together (because when you are in the market of “practice”, it’s either you can or can’t…, and that transcends what is defined in the ‘law’, and often leads to the variety of expectations and public assumptions).

Picture this:

Instead of Superman dressing himself as Clark Kent everyday (in his ongoing efforts to protect his identity), now dozens of

Clark, close your shirt... your Superman is showing!

invisible moderators frantically attend to Superman with a mission to keep his secret safe, and a dozen invisible moderation floating through the air, shielding & blocking the public’s vision of Superman (ya know… just in case he’s forgetful or makes a mistake).

COPPA is the only legislation available to protect kids – and it’s centered around identity – NOT appropriate content.

I have always believed that if you HOUSE a site, you have responsibility for maintaining the integrity and safety for that site too. That being said:

  • Is individual identity/safety becoming a community responsibility more so than personal responsibility?
  • Is it the community’s ultimate responsibility to stop your child from inappropriately engaging another child?

Identity is huge, and kids need to protect themselves as much as sites are expected to.  With COPPA – we know that personally identifiable information CANNOT be shared without parental approval.  Ok… so that’s step one, but you and I both know, that is NOT the only expectation out there, and nor sure it be.

Extreme cyberbullying often happens when real identities are exposed online (whether usernames are shared offline or real names/contact information shared online).  It also exists with inappropriate language, or just simple rudeness (you’d be surprised how simple it is to bully someone with non-aggressive, non-obvious words).  So, now we have to be prepared for: privacy issues, cyberbullying, and explicit attempts at communication.  (I’m not complaining, mind you!)

If I (as a site operator) set up rules and tools and back-up policies… and a child STILL tests the system with work-arounds – how far down the line will sites be held responsible for rule-breakers?  Best policy suggests actions to the account (suspension or ban, access loss to features, etc), and best policy suggests that sites notify, learn, and improve systems.

Cyber-education is available ACROSS the net (there’s maybe a couple hundred organizations dedicated to cyberbullying awareness on Twitter alone).  Here’s my question: when does the public’s engagement with cyber-education happen?  When should it happen?  And why does it feel like cyber-education only receives attention when negative things happen?

Ultimately – there is a growing need for responsibility to be taken within the home – and responsibility to be explained to the child.  How do we help educate and involve all the parties (like families, schools, extended families, friends, individuals) WITHOUT having to change a website’s business-model?

This has been an open conversation for a LONG time now, and it’s a rather sensitive topic as NO ADULT who loves his/her child wants to be called out for a possible issue or failure (failure being a rather strong word, my apologies).

Our industry’s endless enigma: How to involve parents who don’t have time to be involved.

Not all garbage comes in a can... It's your business to secure your CRAP ;-) ("Check yourself before you wreck yourself" - Ice Cube)

Look – please don’t shoot the messenger here, Parents.  Momma Bear has claws and Poppa Bear bites… I know that (I was a ref for toddler soccer for 2 years in college… if you have EVER been a ref or a coach – you know what I’m referring to here).  I respect the amount parents have on their plate!  That being said, I ask you to talk to ANYONE who deals with kids online, and you’ll get the same response… the majority of parents only involved if something negative happens (and then it’s typically an aggressive conversation of blame with the site).

My fear: Does this mean that the government has to step in and point a greater finger of responsibility to sites?  Is that what will happen with the expectations of a new COPPA?  States are adding new Cyberbullying rules – are those rules going to bleed into COPPA, and therefore introduce new enforcement responsibilities or expectations on sites?

I know parents need help, they can’t possibly have eyes EVERYWHERE.  Most of us in the industry want parents to expect nothing but happiness and rainbows and fun and friends, etc, within our kids websites/games.  Safety reassurance is almost always a part of the business model.  And industry people like me?  WE ARE TRYING EVERY SINGLE DAY TO PROTECT YOUR KIDS, and often succeeding.  However, new slang happens by the moment, and a minxy tween exploring language/sexuality/peer competition, etc, will do what they need to in order to surpass the mandated boundaries blocking them from their goal.

The more blocks, the higher the frustration, the more determination to get a result.  Such actions = more pressure on a business, and more money spent on scaling/tools, and a greater difficulty for success which affects the audience, business, and general site entertainment.  Let me reiterate another way:

  1. The more obstacles put on a business directed to children now will result in…
  2. A decrease in businesses directed to children later while will result in…
  3. More young kids involved in 13+/adult sites that do not have “Best practices” or “Good policy” or even “COPPA”.

We know there are a GREAT amount of kids who lied about their age to join sites like Facebook, Formspring, Foursquare (with their fancy smartphones), and Twitter.

So, as COPPA gets its make-over, and as this nation of helicopter parents grows, and kids make privacy/identity mistakes or keep attempting boneheaded social interactions… how do we aim for online success for youth without building landmines & sinking traps?

Help me, help you?  Help me, help you…. Seriously.  Let’s tackle this together.

How about instead of "Show me the money!" we go with "Show me the united front for taking responsibility in protecting and educating kids across the net!" ...What, not catchy? Oh, Beans.

Add your thoughts at the beep… be they charged, devil’s advocate, sympathetic, or requesting more context.  I’m really interested in this as an exploration conversation.  

Categories: Izzy Neis Links
  1. December 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm | #1

    Hi, I think Coppa is a great start in that it makes vendors get serious about protecting kids identities. But there are a lot of other issues that I struggle with day-to-day. Here’s one where I’d like to point the finger.

    There are many kids sites that rely on Google ads for monetization. Yet the site owner remains responsible for deleting inappropriate ads. It is a never ending battle. There should be a way that we can get Google to only serve up ads that do NOT ask kids to click on contracts to install malware! This is one my pet peeves, ads on sites aimed at young kids which ask the question: “Want to play this game free and agree to our terms” and then the company feels that its OK that they installed malware even though the game was designed and placed so that kids would click.

    The use of the words “free” and “educational.” Widely abused and misused. Sigh.

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