Social Networking, Youth, Brands, and evil IMs

Parents, don’t just talk with your kids about social networking – chat sites and instant messaging really need to be in the conversation too. Despite the news media’s focus on social-networking sites as the locus of online child exploitation, it turns out chat sites and instant-messaging are where most sexual solicitation and cyberbullying is happening. But even in those “places” online, “only 15% of children [aged 10-15] experience unwanted sexual solicitation and only a third report being harassed online,” reports HealthDay News, citing a new study in Pediatrics.


Monday I stumbled upon Sara Grimes latest post about Virtual Worlds. It’s brills. I finally was able to locate and eloquently acknowledge my worry about virtual worlds, ads, marketing, and branding. Overall, the combination of branding & virtual worlds = fantabulous (from a play perspective): users getting to not ONLY continue their appreciation for a branded world, but also become a part of it– a citizen of the imaginary world they want to escape to… It’s another step of furthering the impossible. Making magic attainable, or at least allowing for the opportunity to interact with “magic”.

However. There is a dark side too– taking advantage of innocence, curiosity, and exploiting imaginations. That scares the living CRAP out of me. When we build these worlds and then get so ‘hopped up’ on how to wring the worlds of every avenue– every unique epiphany. Mmmm. It’s such a thin line between great intentions and intended spoils.

Anyway, I digress. Basically– I was reading Sara’s fab post, ruminating on my own professional fears, when I started the good-ole click-a-link, ending up in Sexual Safety for the Price of a Teddybear. Having spent a good amount of time in Buildabearville for competitive market research (and genuinely thinking it’s a solid step into VW’s– btw, their artwork from the world into the flash games = fantasmical), I was kinda disturbed by the title of the article. But, overall, it was a nice review of the site, bringing out some of the more social aspects about what kids say to each other.

It’s the comments section that got my attention. Loads of people worried about U12 kids participating in MMO’s and VW’s– saying that they’re not ready for that level of socialization. Wha…what? Cos, ya know, kids don’t have conversations, opinions, attitudes, desires, friends, language…. Okay, I’ll stop being snarky. Naturally– being the “soap box harpie” I am as of late (many apologies for the abundance of my rambling rants), I rang in with the following:

Forgive me from hopping in from the peanut gallery, but I think it might be good to remind everyone of the behaviors displayed (flirting, interacting… TALKING) on playgrounds and junior high hallways, at camps and malls, in notes passed and school dances. Not that this behavior is “great”, but it’s everywhere, and it’s part of the learning experience. Social exploration.As a community professional for preteens, it’s up to US to create the right kind of environment that promotes better engagement, as well as continuous staffing that keeps the “less” than acceptable behaviors off our social world atmosphere, or at least under control.I’m glad many of these virtual world experiences exist. Why? Because they garner some of the precious computer-time they spend on Perez Hilton & surfing Youtube– both locations not appropriate for U13, period. Plus… everyone forgets about chat programs like aim and msn messenger– those are free-ranging chat programs with NO supervision, filters, etc. Adults can “Find” kids, kids can “find” kids, harassment, engagement, chatting– all of it. Most of the youth I speak to about online media get their first “aim name” around 8 or 9– and it’s like a right of passage.

Standard Izzy-fair, and typical anti-band-wagon rant seen around these parts of the blog-o-sphere. So, having made my point, I was PSYCHED to see Anne’s post in the NetFamilyNews RSS feed this morning. I can’t wait until people remember what kids are seeing elsewhere– on youtube, chat programs, etc.

We don’t have to ID check all the time– that’s not what I’m saying. It would BEHOOVE Youtube and chat programs to find a way to BETTER ADDRESS u-13 tater tots from feeling “at home” in their programs… it would behoove ME, anyway. But the word needs to be spread to parents. At least in these VW’s there are filters/programs/ADULTS constantly trying to safeguard the audience. There ain’t no coppers hangin’ ’bouts them youtubes and instantoneous messanger programys.

Like this poor kid… who is now a favorite item of fodder over at WHERE ARE HIS PARENTS??? I’m sure he’s like 14 years old (god help us if he’s younger), and well in COPPA/Youtube’s good age graces… but still. That kid is getting blasted on the net and laughed at. Star Wars Kid, anyone? That community pressure really, really gets to you. Or how Australia’s very own Party Boy, who rose to instafame thanks to throwing a party while ma & pa were gone and posting it on the web, who now has to “defend his title” in real world fisticuffs which also was posted on the web.

These are things we’re SEEING. What about the things we aren’t? When I was in college, I would talk to strangers ALL THE TIME who randomly popped up on my aim to “chat” while I was procrastinating some paper or another– and I was a (naive) adult! Who know what folks are popping up on tweens? Granted, they understand safety 10 folds better now than I did at 20, and good on ’em– let’s keep that good work up. But do parents? I soon hope so.

UPDATE: Le Sigh… As I was kinda alluding: Online Predators Prefer IMs over Social Networks. Thanks Anastasia, Ypulse, for that link.

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