BBC’s new community & safe people-less communities?

The BBC is getting ready to launch MyCBBC, an online social network targeted to K6-12, an audience that is not served by competing sites all of which require members to be older, this April 2008. The BBC, a publicly funded broadcast service, is being disparaged for this move, according to This Is London, with critics saying that commercial online outlets are already providing like services and that the public broadcaster should focus on programming. The BBC says MyCBBC will be a safe site for kids, with full protection against predators, and users will not be able to make contact with strangers.

Cynthia Turner’s Cynopsis – Cyn Kids 1/25/08

This should be interesting. Are they using notable consultant help? (Yes, they are! Yay!) Hope so– because users who cannot chat with other users (because technically, they’re all strangers) kinda defeats the whole concept behind COMMUNITY, yeah?

That’s something I’m noticing about this trend of “we’ve got a community too! and it’s safe!”… and that trend is “taking the community out all together.” Strictly IRL friends is great– but to be honest, most of the cyberbullying comes from kids who know each other offline.

There’s this great new artsy community called Kerpoof. (Thanks for the spot, Anastasia!) I like the aesthetics, the concept, the usability, etc… but the community? Not really there. You have to know each other to form some sort of community. Nicey nice, sure, but again– cyberbullying usually comes from a kids’ reality. School chums gone bad, friendship circle power struggles, friends of friends, etc.

So, although I’m ALL ABOUT SAFETY, and think its nice for friends to be able to create & play with STRICTLY their IRL budz, I also think it’s important for SAFE social outreach… letting kids interact from any which direction under the guidance of a rock star staff. Sometimes even kids need escapism from their everyday.

UPDATE: Thanks to Catherine for clarifying what CBBC is doing (see the comments).  As she points out– it’s NOT a social networking service in the sense of an overall online community, but a personalization tool that allows for small groups of IRL friends to interact.   I look forward to seeing how it enhances the overall experience.

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  1. January 25, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Why do you believe that the bullying comes from IRL friend circles? Is there evidence out there which substantiates this? Not arguing, and I would for the most part agree. But most of the bullying I have witnessed comes from the more experienced player trodding on the new kids. Or, as you have written about, those that have exposed a certain area or behavior which puts them in the position to do so.

  2. January 26, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Hey, Robert!

    There’s been articles from the past. I went into my dig and past noted articles to pull them out, but realized it’s a bit more digging than I have time for…

    Is a panel speaking about it, and Danah herself has created several posts giving her opinions on the matter.

    Through previous work experiences, the two items I noticed (and my team reported on) more than anything else:
    1. Kids would make multiple avatars, sign them in at the same time, and then pick on each other. So, like a dual-personality disorder- the kid would self-cyberbully.

    2. Die-hard Kids would invite their friends from school. The friends from school would come in, think it “less” than what their buddy pegged the place to be, and then would tease/make fun of/harass either the environment, the community, or their particular die-hard friend. They saw themselves as stronger because their attachment was less, so they had nothing to lose, except the thrill of getting others to react, and their die-hard friend to remember how “great” his/her REAL friends are. (this happened SOOOO OFTEN).

    3. Friends would invite their friends, and then they’d bicker over the ‘cute boy’ or some other competition. And since kids toddle between uber-sensitive & bored thrill-seekers (occasionally to the point of maliciousness), they really “live” the moments and conversations and get heated quickly. Have you ever been in charge of a sleep over with a gaggle of girls? Seriously– they are like little “Eves” if you catch my drift. Albeit darling lil eves, but still…

    And when kids cyberbully in the younger half of the tween demographic– it’s because they’re bored and looking for some sort of sugar-high stimulation, which is totally what they get from making someone feel insignificant.

    4. Most kids in the tween demographic from what I’VE SEEN in my occupation (and in camp, classroom, etc), are just really sensitive, and with the misunderstandings due to lack of context (is that person joking, teasing, or do they really mean it) & lack of facial-expression-support, kids take things quickly to heart… Quick to judge, quick to react, quick to hurt, quick to attack. It’s the worst when someone is their friend… but then they care more.

    Maybe there is some sort of ground between users & communication & safety. The exciting thing is that this year there are LOADS in the market looking to be innovative and bring out new approaches. Especially for the preschool/kid/twid demo. (Like yourself)


  3. January 26, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Good insight. Thanks for sharing! I have seen the sensitivity you are describing.

    I can also see the scenario where the REAL friend sees the virtual friends of the die-hard as a threat. It is already such a challenge for kids today to maintain friendships as it is.

  4. Catherine
    January 28, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Hi there – I am the person who has managed the development of this application, I’d just like to point out that it is NOT a ‘Facebook for kids’ as was written in the original article in Broadcast magazine ( and subsequent press follow ups. It is not a social networking application at all, as the term is commonly understood. It is a personalisation tool which allows some sharing with a named and limited group of friends, and no private interaction.

    In terms of my own qualifications to develop such a project, I have worked in community for a number of years (since long before the web 2.0 hoopla) and have specialised in children’s communities for over 2 years. ‘My CBBC’ is not a community, as you rightly point out. It does have a ‘social’ aspect, in the sharing, but it is not a platform for peer-to-peer communication.

  5. February 16, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I am just wondering if ‘impoverishing’ the media (fewer chat functionalities…) is the only way to protect kids… I have another idea, that would entail the use of a piece of hardware (my product as it happens 🙂 ; I would love to discuss the matter further with Catherine, Izzy or anyone else .

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