Thursday, January 10, 2008

Web 2.0 Safety

This morning's WAPO article about Megan Meier's suicide after a "web of deceit" developed around a cruel Myspace prank is very tough to read. The story ruefully ushers in the next phase of Internet Safety risks that parents and their children must be aware of and prepared for, Web 2.0 Safety.

While Megan's parents seemed to have done most of the right things, like monitoring her online activity, proctoring her Myspace account, doing their best to manage her school and friends environment - an intruder slipped through and wreaked first virtual, then mental and physical havoc. Being safe while using the Internet, i.e. Internet Safety, meant making sure strangers couldn't and wouldn't take advantage of, harm or otherwise intrude on one's physical and personal life. This was about protecting the identity of you and your children from strangers seeking to harm you, on or offline.

Now the danger is in the rapid growth of collective intent to harm, accelerated by easy Web 2.0 multimedia postings, generated from among one's own and extend online social media group. Basically, your child's in danger from the collective and perhaps unintentional explosion of social anger and resentment, generated from within their own peer group. This isn't unlike "ganging-up" happening on the playground, but it's much more quick to develop, much more intense in the faceless vitriole, and can extend quickly to other networks of "trusted individuals" leading to a very widespread and influential "online gang".

How do you stop it? Practiced Internet Safety techniques are just one tool; much more important now are (1) direct Parental involvement in knowing and understanding exactly whom you child is corresponding with, by name, and (2) rapid reaction from an Internet-saavy parent in the physical world, i.e. as soon as signs of online "gang-up" activity develop, moving into full disaster management and protection mode.

Megan's parent's only clear mistake was not shutting off access to her new online friend "Jason", whom they (or Megan) had never actually physically met.

Know each of your child's friends by name and sight, and those are the only ones with whom correspondence should be enabled online - if social media participation is allowed at all for middle schoolers.