Technology & Internet

cyber bullying My heart breaks every time I read about a teen killing herself after suffering cyber bullying. And I get scared with every news report about sexual predators using social media to target kids.

My own daughters, 11 and 13, do not yet use social media, but I know that the time will come when they will, very soon probably, especially for the older one, and I can’t help but worry. Social media is a wonderful tool for adults, but in the hands of kids, it can be ruthless and dangerous.

UPDATE: A mere two weeks after writing this post, my younger daughter had announced that “all her friends are on Instagram” and begged for her own account. We agreed, after going once again over Internet safety rules, and on the condition that we use SafeSocial.

SafeSocial is a service that helps provide Internet safety for kids by proactively allowing us parents better insight into what our children are doing on social networks such as Instagram or Facebook.

SafeSocial sends you an email alert every time your child is active on social networks – whenever they write something on Facebook (as a post or a comment), whenever they upload a photo to Instagram or comment on a friend’s photo, and every time something is written about them on their Facebook or Instagram page. The email alert contains the content of what has been written, and a link to it.

In addition, photo uploads and posts that contain photos are scanned for inappropriate content and flagged if they seem worthy of additional scrutiny.

These alerts can be sent in real-time, as they happen, or on a regular schedule.

There is no need to actively go to the social network and look for your child’s activity – everything is proactively sent to you via email. You don’t need to be the child’s “Friend” or “Follower,” and you don’t even need a Facebook/Instagram account of your own.

SafeSocial is respectful of the child’s privacy. Neither SafeSocial nor you need to know your child’s password or other social network account info, and SafeSocial does not store any information in the application. It just notifies you of the activities.

In fact, one of the best things about this tool is that it works with complete knowledge and cooperation of the child. They must opt-in, so there’s no ‘big brother’ type spying going on without their knowledge. Interestingly, most kids welcome this additional layer of protection. I suspect that secretly, our kids want us to supervise and protect them.

“But I’m my child’s friend on Facebook. I have her password. I visit her profile regularly. I would become aware of any issues without SafeSocial.” Well, check this out – a Facebook post by a teenager that I happen to know. She’s a good kid. Her parents are wonderful, attentive and caring – and they are her Facebook friends – yet they had no idea that she posted this on her timeline.

status-update

Obviously, SafeSocial should not come instead of talking with your child about safe online behavior. But even the savviest, smartest, most dependable kids make mistakes online, and SafeSocial provides an added layer of protection and can help parents catch those mistakes before they escalate.

Joining SafeSocial is easy. There’s no software to download and install. You just provide your name and email, as well as the child’s email, and you are set.

A typical SafeSocial Alert looks like this:

safesocial_alert

To get started, simply go to Safe Social, provide your email where you would like to get alerts, your child’s email, and choose a password. Your child will get an email asking him/her to install the app. The app installation is a simple two- click process. Once completed, the service will start sending you notifications about your child’s social network activities.

And you’ll regain some peace of mind.

*Disclosure: I believe that SafeSocial is an amazing tool, and use it for my own daughter’s Instagram account. I do have a personal interest in promoting SafeSocial: my husband is one of its co-founders.

internet addiction The first U.S. rehab center for Internet addiction has opened its doors last month near Seattle, Washington. The 45-day treatment, which includes a forced break from Internet use in addition to re-enforcing social skills and other interventions, costs 14,000 dollars.

The question is, do we really need such a center? Does Internet addiction exist?

While Internet Addiction Disorder is not currently included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), many argue that addictions to the Web do exist.

Addicts describe symptoms that are very similar to other addictions, such as an overwhelming impulse to use the Internet, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using it, continually increasing the amount of Internet use while withdrawing from other activities, denying the harmful effects of the behavior and continuing it despite those harmful effects.

In severe cases, Internet addiction can lead to the loss of a job or marriage, to car accidents for those who can’t stop texting while driving, or even to death – some people have died after playing video games for days without a break because of a blood clot associated with being sedentary.

Researchers have been warning us for a long time now that obsessive internet use poses risk of isolation and depression, so even if excessive Internet use does not become an addiction, it could still be harmful.

It’s interesting to note that the Chinese government recognizes Internet addiction and treats it harshly. I’m sure the posh American rehab center is heaven compared with China’s treatment centers for Internet addiction, although the harsh Chinese methods might prove to be far more effective long-term than the gentle American methods.

What do you think? Do you think Internet Addiction exists? Do you know anyone in real life who might be suffering from it? Do you think milder forms of excessive Internet use (which most us professional bloggers are probably guilty of!) can be harmful as well?

Update: A new study says that Internet addiction does exist and is linked to ADHD and depression in teens.

Vered DeLeeuw

That’s me, last week, in Park Guell, Barcelona.

I just spent three weeks visiting family in Israel, and taking advantage of Israel’s proximity to Europe for a short trip to Barcelona.

I never told you about my vacation. Instead, I said I was going to be busy for a while, and blog less.

I decided to keep my vacation a secret because of this post, that teaches internet safety and says that one should never disclose on the Internet that their house is going to be empty.

It was difficult not to share my adventures with you. I do plan to publish a couple of short posts about my vacation – there were a few things that I saw and experienced that sparked some thoughts that I would like to share with you – but I really wanted to tell you about it while it was happening.

I especially wanted to tweet stuff, and held myself back with great difficulty.

What do you think? Was I being too careful?

Friendship
Photo credit: pensiero

Are your online friends as important as your real-life friends?

I used to consider my real-life friends as “real friends,” while my online friends seemed more, well, virtual, and since they were less “real” to me, I didn’t consider them as important.

But this blog, and the relationships I am gradually forming through it, is making me rethink my initial attitude towards online friendships.

What other bloggers are saying about online friends

Anyone who ever doubted that an online community can be a real community and provide people with real support, should read Jenn’s BlogHer post about going through a stillbirth and a miscarriage.

Jenn says: “Today, there are amazing resources to help a Mom go through such a horrible time. Support groups. Online groups. Blogs. Friends you have met through blogging. You can say what you need to and find love and support. I wish I had that 16 years ago.”. Jenn makes an important point: sometimes, especially when you go through a trauma, you find that your real-life support system fails miserably. In a situation like this, finding online friends that have been through the same experience can be a lifesaver.

Zoe makes a similar observation about people who belong to a minority group. Zoe is a lesbian. She started blogging in an attempt to find others that are like her: “I started blogging to find me, and to find a place where I fit in. I started blogging to find other 30 something, long term coupled, RPG playing, video gaming lesbians, with less mainstream taste in movies and music, because in my town they don’t seem to exist.”

Suzie doesn’t feel alone anymore. She writes, “I had discovered that even though I live in a big city I had started to feel really alone… So I started blogging and I met people, all different types of people. I started feeling like I wasn’t so alone anymore.”

Denise values her online friends at least as much as she values local ones. She says: “The internet has helped with that whole friendship thing, for me and my older kids. And, I’ll just be really honest and admit that it’s been a long time since I formed really strong bonds with members of my local community.”

Barbara writes about the power of an online community to transform a life. “Something about that online communication began to “fill her”, not with food, but with a sense of belonging. A sense of value.”

Joel mentions the benefits of participating in an online community. “Becoming a part of the online community isn’t just great because you can ease the feelings of web-worker loneliness and have some laughs, it’s great because it leads to long-lasting relationships and even new opportunities as far as that work-from-home career goes.”

Robin says, “when I began this blogging adventure 3 months ago I didn’t anticipate the feeling of community that has come with it.”

Amy acknowledges the importance of her online community of moms. She says, “through blog posts, comments, emails and tweets, I’ve been fortunate enough to become part of a community of women who truly care about each other.”

Speaking of Twitter

I used to be a BIG skeptic, but Twitter is a great tool for networking and for keeping in touch. In fact, since none of my real-life friends uses Twitter, I sometimes feel more in touch with my Twitter friends than I do with my real-life friends, because my real-life friends and I get together probably once a month or so, and email weekly, but my Twitter friends have a constant presence in my life through their frequent tweets.

Bloggers who meet in real life

In July, I am planning to attend BlogHer Conference ’08 in San Francisco. I am excited to meet face to face with several bloggers whom I have really come to admire over the past few months. The BlogHer Conference illustrates the way in which my “online” life as a blogger for hire blends with “real-life.”

Some bloggers choose to hit the road and meet their readers in person. Bossy chose to do it on a large scale, others quietly find a way to meet online friends, then blog about it in their blogs.

When Robin and I jokingly talked, during a recent discussion, about my readers coming over for a dinner party at my house, I realized that it wasn’t really a joke. I would have been so happy to do that. Just imagine – a group of intelligent people that have strong opinions about anything and everything, yet know each other and share a common respect for each other. Wow. What a dinner party that would be.

The bad news

Since “online” and “real life” are becoming one, the other side of the realness of online support is that online meanness is also very real and has a way of affecting one’s real life. And, since online meanness tends to be unfiltered, it can be even more devastating and cruel than real-life unkindness.

A Final thought: should we ditch the dichotomy?

Maybe we should just stop using the term “real-life friends” as opposed to “online friends.” Isn’t online just as real? Isn’t it part of of our real life? Beth Blecherman points out: “I am a true believer in online social networking for social and career development. I feel that people who don’t have an online presence will miss out the ability to keep in touch with large networks of people online – as well as the “real life” events and invites that are outcomes of those networks.”

I completely agree.

Online social networking is a fairly new game. Its rules aren’t 100% clear yet. But if you are like me, you spend a significant chunk of your day surfing the web, reading blogs and visiting social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Instead of looking at time spent on those websites as wasted, you might want to view it as time well spent networking.

If you own a business, the connections that you are creating and maintaining through online social networking will help you generate traffic, sales if you are selling products, and links back to your website.

If you are in the market for a new job, or could be at some future point, these contacts could help you land your dream job.

The following are five tips for making the most out of time spent on online social networking:

1. Personalize. Post a picture and use your profile page to tell others about you and your interests. When you are a person, and not just a link or a generic thumbnail, it is easier for people to relate to you and make contact.

2. Join groups. Groups are a great way to meet new people. Once you have joined a group, be active on that group: post and answer questions, upload photos where appropriate, and in general make yourself a visible part of the group.

3. Visit daily. It is a good idea to maintain a regular presence at the social networking websites you choose to join. You don’t need to spend more than a few minutes each day on each website in order to maintain visibility.

4. Be an extrovert. Regardless of your real-life personality, online social networks are not the places to be shy. Actively look for friends and contacts; extend contact invitations to as many quality people as possible. The larger your network is, the more opportunities it will generate, especially if you don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

5. Be helpful. If you want others to help you, you should make yourself useful to others. When someone is being helpful, by linking to your site for example, find a way to reciprocate by linking back, by making a comment on their blog or by bookmarking their website in a social bookmarking site such as Stumbleupon.


Image credit: frankdasilva

Post was inspired by Rayven Perkins of Stay a Stay At Home Mom, where you can find a list of social networking sites that you may want to check out.