Tues Feb 10th: Safer Internet Day with Calif AG Kamala Harris and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

In 2004, a project of the European Commission launched “Safer Internet Day,” which became an annual event held on the second Tuesday of February. This year represents the 11th Safer Internet Day, which is now being celebrated in more than 100 countries, including the United States.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris to keynote Safer Internet Day

Last year, ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet safety organization that I help run, was asked to be the U.S. host, and we launched our own inaugural event in Washington, D.C., that featured panels of youth and industry leaders plus an address by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

This year, Safer Internet Day USA (which is free and open to the public) is being held on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park with a keynote address by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris; remarks by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; three panels involving youth, industry and social activists; and a presentation by National PTA President Otha Thornton.

The U.S. theme this year is “Actions & Activism Toward a Better Net & World,” which reflects ConnectSafely’s perspective on the real meaning of Internet safety

As you’d expect at an Internet safety gathering, we have a panel, “Beyond Bullying: Dealing with Trolling & Social Cruelty” focusing on serious issues that plague the Internet and social networks. And, yes, there will be talk about privacy and security challenges that should be on everyone’s mind now that the details of our personal, social and financial lives, along with our health care and school records, are increasingly being stored on cloud servers. Even our bodies are being connected to the Internet as we strap on smartwatches that transmit data about our pulse and perspiration rates along with other bodily functions to cloud servers that could be vulnerable to all sorts of compromises.
COO Sheryl Sandberg to welcome Safer Internet Day to Facebook campus
COO Sheryl Sandberg to welcome Safer Internet Day to Facebook campus

But even as we share the best advice from industry, government and nonprofit leaders, we will remember that the title of our event is “Safer” Internet Day, not “Safe” Internet Day. That’s because no amount of precautions can possibly guarantee nothing will go wrong any more than air bags, seat belts and even safe driving can prevent all car accidents.

It’s not about avoiding all risk, but about managing the inherent risks associated with just about anything we do — in this case, using powerful and connected technologies to enhance our lives.

I’m particularly excited by the upcoming Safer Internet Day panel titled “Using Technology to Effect Social Change” because it will cover how today’s connected devices are helping people all over the planet make small and large changes to improve their lives. Whether it’s toppling oppressive regimes, helping to make local law enforcement more sensitive to the needs of their communities, or getting a traffic light installed in a busy intersection, activists around the world have found social media and mobile technology to be a powerful tool to revive that old sixties slogan, “Power to the People.”

Martin Luther King might have approved

I was thinking about this panel a couple of Mondays ago as the nation celebrated Martin Luther King Day. Without doubt, Dr. King would have been an enthusiastic user of social media, had the tools been available in his day. He and his fellow civil rights activists would have used Twitter and Facebook to recruit volunteers, mobilize support and attract people to events just as they did with the technologies of their time — the mimeograph, the megaphone and the telephone.

King’s supporters, and the press covering them, would have used smartphones to document the atrocities they faced daily, and those images would have been just as powerful as the grainy black and white photos they produced at the time. I bet they would have used LinkedIn to drum up support among businesses and professionals. And surely they would have used Tumblr, Instagram and maybe even Snapchat to rally the support of young people, like those brave volunteers who risked, and in cases gave, their lives to help make Dr. King’s “Dream” a real possibility.

But one thing King would almost certainly have not done was to rely on “clictivism,” a term for social change campaigns that rely on people simply liking a cause or checking an online box to express their opinion or outrage. He would have still organized sit-ins, boycotts, nonviolent demonstrations and, of course, that massive March on Washington — because he would have known that technology alone can’t bring about social change. For that you need dedication, hard work, organizers in the streets, the willingness to take real risks, and the energy of the people.

I’ll be thinking about Martin Luther King on Safer Internet Day because — just as he was trying to build a better, kinder and more just nation — we’re united beyond the global theme of creating “a better Internet together.” We won’t achieve that dream on Feb. 10th, but we will take a small step toward spreading online kindness, media literacy and social activism. You’ll find details at www.SaferInternetDay.us. Pre-registration is required.

Facebook to issue Amber Alerts

Facebook to include Amber alert details in News Feed
Amber Alert on Facebook mobile and on the web provides timely details on missing kids

Facebook and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) are teaming up to put Amber Alerts about missing children on Facebook News Feeds, but only for Facebook members in the targeted search area for an abducted child.

A game changer

John Walsh
John Walsh

John Walsh, the founder of NCMEC, former host of America’s Most Wanted and host of The Hunt on CNN called this partnership “a game changer” (scroll down to hear an exclusive podcast interview). He said the alerts will have pictures of the child, his or her height and weight, a description of the clothing he or she was last seen wearing, a description of any vehicle that may be involved and links to NCMEC missing child posters with more details. Users have the option to share the alert with friends.

Walsh said that the chance of finding a missing child are much higher if people are looking, and that the first 24 hours (really the first few hours, he said) are critical.

He also pointed out that people can see their Facebook News Feeds during times when they might not be watching TV,  listening to the radio or driving by a lighted freeway sign with an Amber Alert. Besides, the amount of detail available on Facebook will be much greater, further increasing the chance that someone might spot the child.

Reaching the right demographic

Another important aspect of this service is that it reaches younger audiences who might not even be tuned into traditional TV and radio. “This is a game changer for a younger generation,” he said. “I’m sure my 20-year-old son and every 14-, 15-, 13-year-old kid that’s on Facebook … When they get that regional Amber Alert, if they’ve seen that kid, I think they’re going to get online and do something about it.”

A personal tragedy led to Walsh’s life’s work

Walsh became involved in the search for missing children after his own child, Adam Walsh, was abducted and murdered in 1981. He helped found the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and has remained active with NCMEC ever since. His wife Reve is on the board of NCMEC (as am I) and his son Callahan works at NCMEC.

In the interview, Walsh said that “I can only fantasize what would have happened in Adam’s case back in 1981 if we had the tools we have now.” He said that, in 1981, the FBI refused to get involved in Adam’s case because looking for children was not something the FBI did. Now they’re an important partner of the National Center.

Walsh personally lobbied Congress to make the Amber Alert system a federal program, and said that putting Amber Alerts on Facebook will only increase its reach. “With the huge population of social media on smartphones, this will make it easier to find missing children a lot faster.”

The recovery rate for missing children has grown from 62%  in 1990 to 97% today, according to NCMEC and, said Walsh, online media and TV play a big part in helping to find those children. The Justice Department reports that 723 children have been recovered as a result of Amber Alerts.

Click below to listen to the full 11-minute podcast with John Walsh and ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid.

 Disclosure: Larry Magid serves on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children board of directors and is also co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support form Facebook.

Timely for Safer Internet Day: Game-changing insight into Internet risk

by Anne Collier

One of the milestones of Internet safety was the distinction between risk and harm made by the pan-European researchers of EU Kids Online back in 2011. “Risk must be distinguished from harm,” they wrote in a report based on surveys of more than 25,000 9-to-16-year-olds in 25 countries. “As with riding a bike or crossing the road, everyday activities online carry a risk of harm, but this harm is far from inevitable – indeed, it is fairly rare.”

‘Online risk’ a different calculation

Now psychologist and lead EU Kids Online researcher Sonia Livingstone takes us a step further, adding another important distinction – the one between the way we determine offline risk and the way we have come to calculate online risk. In a just-published essay about risk, harm and vulnerability online, she shows where the often-used crossing-the-street analogy breaks down. It fails to factor in this other distinction, which we all (from parents to policymakers) need to understand before reacting to scary headlines about cyberbullies or predators. Online risk, where experts calculate “the probability of an encounter that might (or might not) result in harm,” as Livingstone puts it, is different from “real world” risk like crossing a street, where experts can calculate the probability of actual harm (e.g., getting hit by a car). So what is reported about online or phone-based risk “is not the actual risk … but the risk of the risk” (emphasis hers).

“On the internet, we do not know how many children are hurt or how severe are the consequences; there are no accident figures,” Livingstone writes. So what should be in the back of our minds whenever we see reports about “online risk” is that, if data’s being presenting, it’s showing “the probability of something [just something, not necessarily something harmful] happening, but whether it does [actually result in harm] and for how many it does, remains unknown.”

Take ‘sexting,’ for example

As soon as there was research on it at the end of the last decade, Livingstone writes, “‘sexting’ quickly became the latest risk, with policy makers, law enforcement and educators springing into action. But some pressing questions arise. How can we measure the prevalence of ‘sexting’ (how is it defined, can we ask young people ethically, will they report it truthfully?)? Does it matter, and is it harmful? If it is …who is vulnerable?… Is this harm new?… If we don’t ask these questions, public perceptions may conclude that all children are ‘at risk,’ thereby fuelling the media-amplified moral panics that result in anxious calls to restrict children’s internet access, increase surveillance or legislate against online freedoms.”

Other highlights from this important essay:

  • Our chronic anxiety. “Shaped by the media’s tendency to amplify risks, framing them as threatening the innocence of children and undermining the hope of an idealised, risk-free childhood, for many parents risk anxiety has become ‘a constant and pervasive feature of everyday consciousness’ (Jackson and Scott, 1999: 88).”
  • The harmful impact of fear: The internet is not, in any simple terms, making matters worse. But the public’s fear of the internet does seem to be restricting children’s online opportunities and, therefore, their life chances in the long term.”
  • The need for risk-taking: “A risk-averse society will, paradoxically, exacerbate rather than reduce the very vulnerabilities it seeks to protect by undermining the development of resilience. And for teenagers, risk-taking is also important both developmentally and culturally.”
  • “Soul-searching about childhood.” “The debates over internet-related harm … do not so much concern the internet as societal conceptions of childhood – particularly in relation to the place of sexuality and violence in childhood. The recognition that we as a society have only recently created – and are further re-designing – the internet, is stimulating some soul-searching about the childhood we have – and still could – create for our children.”
  • Harm not a given. “The identification of online risk does not imply that harm will follow, nor that all users will be equally affected” – very much like a key finding of the US’s Internet Safety Technical Task Force at Harvard’s Berkman Center, based on a review of this country’s youth-online-risk research through 2008 – that not all youth are equally at risk.
  • Maybe ask the kids? “For the most part, over a decade of surveys have asked children whether they saw something inappropriate but have generally not asked exactly what they saw, and few have asked (if it can be asked) whether this exposure harmed them…. But this is still to get a closer picture of what was happening on the road rather than what happened to the child.” EU Kids Online did actually ask kids if they felt they’d been harmed upon experiencing disturbing content or behavior – see this.
  • How much is the Net the problem, anyway? “Rather than building in an assumption that the internet is to blame (by asking what the internet is doing to childhood) or even grounding our inquiry in research on the internet, since this is relatively new, I suggest that we begin by learning from the long-established tradition of research and policy on the nature of risk, harm and vulnerability offline, including the psychological and sociological analysis of risk in children’s everyday lives.”
  • What’s important, here: “The importance of keeping the main purpose in mind – namely, to facilitate children’s online opportunities – is crucial.”

Awareness of these distinctions – the difference between risk and harm online and the fact that online risk is a very different calculation, if it can even be called that – will help us ask productive questions that lead to real solutions, such as how we can help our children develop the resilience that lowers the risk of harm online as well as offline (see this about internal Internet safety “tools”).

Related links: Other major milestones


Sidebar: ‘Hypothesized,’ not ‘demonstrated’ risk

Since the beginning of the public discussion about children’s Internet safety nearly 20 years ago, the kind of risk we’ve been talking about most of the time is “hypothesized risk.” That’s the term used by David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, when he offered up another important distinction in an online discussion about Livingstone’s essay:

“It is the distinction between ‘demonstrated’ risk and ‘hypothesized’ risk,” he wrote. “Smoking is a demonstrated risk; there is evidence that it causes a variety of harms. Going to meet someone who you only know from online – that is, at best, a hypothesized risk” – and he’s not even sure something should be called a hypothesized risk “just because a large group of people have anxieties about it,” he wrote.

So, Dr. Finkelhor continues, “what has to be established before something can be called a ‘demonstrated’ risk? Surely it must be something more than the fact that ‘something bad could possibly happen in conjunction with that behavior.’ If we treat going to meet an online contact as a risk because 1 in 300 kids had a bad experience, then going to meet your mother is certainly a risky behavior, too. I would offer that a demonstrated risk requires a pretty high threshold: 1) harm rates that are 2 or more times higher than those of behaviors ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ (a concept used in toxicity testing), like walking down the street or driving in a car; 2) evidence that the behavior or context is causally related to the harm, not just associated with the harm” and 3) “evidence that the benefits do not outweigh the risks. For example, going to school probably increases your chances of being bullied, but it is known to have compensations, so we do not call it risky behavior.

Tell us ‘one good thing’ about using tech to make the Internet or the world better

This article first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

About 11 years ago, the European Commission established Safer Internet Day, an annual event that focuses on making the Internet a better and safer place. It takes place on the second day of the second week of February, which means it falls on Feb. 11 in 2014. Over the years there have been sporadic events in the United States supporting the same goal, but there hasn’t been a lot of coordination in this country.

That’s about to change.

Safer Internet Day gets a boost in the U.S.
Safer Internet Day gets a boost in the U.S.

ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet safety organization that I co-direct, was asked by the European Commission to coordinate Safer Internet Day activities in the United States. With support from Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and a variety of government agencies, nonprofit groups and companies, we’re planning an event in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11, along with local events throughout the country.

This year’s theme is “Let’s create a better Internet together” because the folks in Europe who coordinate events globally realize that improving the online experience for both kids and adults isn’t just about dealing with dangers. It’s also about recognizing and encouraging all of the great ways people use the Internet and mobile technology to make the world a better place.

Here in the United States, we’re doing this by creating a “one good thing” campaign and asking people to go to SaferInternetDay.us or ConnectSafely’s Facebook page to let us know what they are doing or have done. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be as simple as letting us know that you had a conversation about safety at home or school or that you used the Internet to help mobilize people to clean up a local park. It could be a report about something kind you tweeted or how you used your mobile phone’s camera to document a problem that needed to be addressed.

And it doesn’t have to be your good thing — you can tell us about someone else if you want. You can write us a post, send a video or upload a file. If it’s positive, we want to hear about it and share it.

All of the good things will be reported on the site and many will be tweeted or posted to our Facebook page. Selected ones will be featured in a video to be shown at our Capitol Hill event and our YouTube channel.

The reason we’re doing this is because “goodness” can be infectious. We keep hearing about an epidemic of cyberbullying (actually there isn’t one), but we’d much rather be talking about an epidemic of kindness because that’s exactly what is happening right now. Sure, there are some people using the Internet to do mean things, but there are millions of people in the United States and around the world using the Internet and mobile technology to do amazing things to help their communities, schools, nation and the world.

There are plenty of examples of “good things” people are doing. Kevin Curwick, a high school football player from Osseo, Minn., for example, has started a “nice it forward” campaign on Twitter (@OsseoNiceThings), where students just say positive things about other students. The idea, according to Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, is spreading to other cities. “Showing compassion in a public forum sends a message to those who are being targeted that they are not alone and that at least some students at the school are on their side and appreciate who they are and what they do,” Patchin wrote in his blog.

And then there’s Pink Shirt Day in Canada. A ninth-grade boy in Nova Scotia was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. When two seniors heard the news, they went to a discount store and bought 50 inexpensive pink T-shirts that dozens of students wore to school. What started out as a kind gesture turned into a movement and “Pink Shirt Day” is now celebrated throughout Canada and beyond.

The project doesn’t have to solve a big problem. It could be as nice as just bringing a smile to people’s faces like CaliforniaChristmasLights.com, which helps bring holiday cheer to people in Silicon Valley.

It can even be a commercial enterprise. Christopher Gandin Le used to work for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and now heads up Emotion Technology — a company that focuses on public health and suicide prevention. AbleRoad is a company that connects people with disabilities with accessible places to live. StartSomeGood.com helps social entrepreneurs, change-makers and nonprofits rally their community and raise funds.

I could fill pages with great examples, but I would love to hear more. If you or someone you know is using tech to make the world a better place, send me an email or tell us about it at OneGoodThing.us. We’re especially interested in what young people are doing, but also want to hear about adults who are using their skills and technology to benefit the world.



‘Best policy’ to thwart online bullying? EC paper says raise awareness

By Jacqueline Beauchere
Chief Online Safety Officer, Microsoft

Parents, educators, policymakers and young people worry that online bullying may increase in their communities. In speaking with these groups, however, concerns seem to stem mostly from fear that something mighthappen. This is due largely to a lack of awareness about many of the truths surrounding this critical issue. Thankfully, online bullying (also referred to as cyberbullying) is an actual concern for far fewer individuals, families and communities. Still, it is these highly publicized and often tragic cases that help to perpetuate growing fears.

According to a new report from the European Commission (EC), awareness-raising, coupled with involvement from all interested groups, is the “best policy” to help combat online bullying: “The educational effort goes beyond families and educators. The effort needs to involve all relevant actors, providing them with skills and means to act, as well as psychological and expert support when needed.” More


Internet Governance Forum tackles child protection vs. child rights

Bali, Indonesia — I’m at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF #IGF2013) in Bali where I’m participating in a workshop on child protection vs. child rights. As a child safety advocate, I’ve long argued that young people need “digital literacy” to understand how to safely navigate the online world. That can be protecting their emotional well-being by helping them avoid or deal with cyberbullying but it can also be helping young people understand how to protect their privacy online or to make sure they’re not posting images or other content that could harm their reputation. It also involves teaching empathy and social-emotional learning to help youth better understand how to treat their peers, whether they be close friends or people they only encounter online.

My personal approach to child safety is to start by assuming that “the kids are all right” and — as a default — treat children and teens respectfully by providing them with the tools and information they need to protect themselves and respect others. I’ve long said that the best Internet filter is the one that runs between the child’s ears, and have never been a huge fan of widespread use of parental control or monitoring software, except when parents have seen a real need to use it for their kids. It’s not that I’m against using tools that limit or monitor what kids do, it’s just that I think the tools need to be used thoughtfully, only when necessary, and not be a substitute for good parenting or helping kids develop their ability to do what’s right without external controls.

Yet, there are those who feel that most kids need to be controlled or monitored, and there are plenty of companies selling such tools. Schools too often use control software not only to block porn and sites that advocate violence or drug and alcohol use but often also block social networking sites, YouTube and other media that kids commonly access away from school.

To explore this issue, I organized a panel at IGF titled “Child Protection vs. Child Rights.” Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” Yet in the very countries that have ratified this convention, parents and schools are denying young people access to some types of content in the name of protection.

There are no simple answers. There are lots of adults who strongly believe in free speech rights for kids yet at the same time feel it’s necessary to limit their access to certain types of content and media.

Panelists include John Carr, Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety (UK); Janice Richardson, European Schoolnet and Insafe (Belgium); Nevine Tewfit, Ministry of Communications (Egypt); Yannis Li, Dot Kids Foundation (Hong Kong) and Larry Magid, ConnectSafely.org (US). The moderator is Anjan Bose, ECPAT International (Thailand).

Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org and founder of SafeKids.com


Facebook lets teens post publicly: Why that’s a good things

Digital citizenship includes rights as well as responsibilities

ConnectSafely to host Safer Internet Day in US

Safer Internet Day 2014

Safer Internet Day, which has been celebrated throughout the world for the last 10 years, is about to get a big boost in the United States.

The project, which is organized by Brussels-based Insafe and the European Commission, includes annual awareness events on or before the second Tuesday of February – for the coming year, February 11. It’s a well-established campaign in Europe and other regions and gained official recognition in the US in late 2012, when the Department of Homeland Security signed a joint agreement with the European Commission to work together in building a better Internet for youth. This year ConnectSafely, with the support of DHS and a key member of Congress, was designated by Insafe as the US host going forward.

Our plan is to make the US celebration of Safer Internet Day a highly collaborative project, with supporters from the Internet industry and partners representing a broad array of youth-serving organizations.

Safer Internet Day 2014 will be celebrated on 11 February 2014. The tagline for the campaign is “Let’s create a better internet together”

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Cyersecurity is everyone’s business

by Larry Magid

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month

I wish it were possible to simply delegate cybersecurity to the “big guys.”  Why not just let the government and big companies handle it?

If only it were that easy.  While it is essential for the government and big companies  to protect their own infrastructure and do all they can to help consumers, it’s also up to all of us to protect our own networks and devices — and that includes families.

Cybersecurity is patriotic

Not only will basic security precautions and device “hygiene” protect you and your family, it will help protect the rest of us too. It’s like public health. If you don’t get a flu-shot, you’re putting me at risk because — if you get sick — you might pass it on to others. Security flaws, too, can be infectious. You can pass them on to people you interact with directly or — if your computer is turned into a “zombie” as part of a “botnet,” your machine could unwittingly be recruited into a malicious army that attacks millions of other devices.

Only you can prevent social engineering

Even if laws and corporate best-practices could protect us against malware and hacks (which they can’t), there is nothing an officials could possibly do keep people from using poor passwords, failing to use PINs on mobile devices or refrain from clicking on bogus links and compromising their user credentials to phishing attacks.

A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity

Free booklet helps parents secure family tech and explain security to their kids

My colleagues and I at ConnectSafely.org just published A Parents’ Guides to Cybersecurity (PDF), a free booklet that provides information on how to protect devices and home networks and answers parents’ top 5 questions, pointing out, for example, that children and teens can be caught by the same kinds of security problems that affect adults (drive-by downloads, links to malicious sites, viruses and malware, etc.). But  there are some special ways criminals get to kids, such as links to “fan sites” that contain malicious links or “free stuff,” messages that look like they’re from friends, offers of free music or movies or ring tones or anything else that a child might be tempted to download. Also, kids are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because they have clean credit records.

The guide also provides advice on how to talk with your kids about security, how to protect your family’s computers and mobile devices and why it’s so important to use strong, secure and unique passwords.

And, as my ConnectSafely.org co-director pointed out in her blog post about kids and cybersecurity, kids love videos (which are sometimes the source of malicious links),  kids use family computers (so their activities affect all users), kids can be big fans (but not all fan sites are legit) and kids need to protect their social media and smartphone passwords to make sure others don’t break in and impersonate them (a form of bullying).

National Cyber Security Month

October is National Cyber Security Month, a time when companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies  sponsor public awareness campaigns around security. The month-long campaign is part of Stay Safe Online, the coalition of companies, organizations and government agencies behind theStop Think Connect which, according to executive director Michael Kaiser, encourages consumers to “stop and make sure you’ve taken the safety security precautions you should have, think about the consequences of your actions and behaviors to protect you against phishing or posting inappropriate content, and connect and enjoy the Internet.”

For more on this and a 10-minute audio interview with Kaiser, see my postCyber Security Alliance chief: We’re all connected” over at CNET News.