Internet Safety: Media Literacy Tips From Industry Insiders Pt 1

media wordleNov. 24, 2009 As fall weather kicks in and families hunker indoors to ‘more screen time’ than summer time norms, I hear tales of media management missteps that would spin heads faster than a Linda Blair Exorcist antic. (yes I know it’s almost Thanksgiving, but I’m still seguing from Halloween here…)

I hear parents say things like “Oh, my kids play games sometimes, but we don’t allow them to chat at all.” (news flash, folks, many games already HAVE chat/texting/multiplayer challenge boards, etc. so if you’re unaware of this, it would behoove you to get a media literacy lesson from your kids!)

Then there’s the classic “banish, block and bury” parental gaffe, when parents crow, “My child doesn’t go on Facebook or MySpace, they’re not allowed.” (uh-huh, again, maybe not in your house, but social media is social currency in youth land, so wouldn’t it be smarter to give them the tools to prevent missteps BEFORE they’re at an age to engage?)

No-Social-MediaThese are whiplash generating ‘huh?’ moments for me when parents, educators and even youth programs tune out and shut down entire sectors of innovation out of fear-based knee-jerk reaction or liability concerns by dismissing any virtual worlds or sites with a ‘profile page.’ (solid article here from Spiral Solutions on how this applies to public schools)

Really, adults? Is this an effective way to engage with kids in the 21st century, leaving kids fumbling with a heightened fear factor sifting peer knowledge for guidance?

Ignorance really irks me on either side of a conversation; we owe it to ourselves as a communicative society to cross the lines of comfort zones on a regular basis and create digital citizenship for youth AND parents.

It’s imperative that media tools and digital literacy keep pace, and as ‘inconvenient’ as it may be, adults need to RElearn some digital lessons as well as the value of some of the meaningful, innovative, participatory sites that vault light years ahead of the ‘twitch games’ of yesteryear and horror stories of cybersafety quicksand and online bullying gaffes.

Yes, it’s ‘exhausting’ to keep up…I get that…

dinosaur cnet…But if you want to keep from being relegated to the land of digital dinosaurs roaring irrelevant banter on obsolete tech tools (fun article here from ComputerWorld on ’40 deceased or outgoing tech things, like the annoying high pitched trill of a modem connecting) and stay conversant with youth, you’ll want to quit stressing about some of the problems that have been solved long ago, and focus on safety gurus like Anne Collier of NetFamily News and cofounder of ConnectSafely who will warn you about what you SHOULD be concerned about.

Anne recently wrote a downright BRILLIANT article for School Library Journal called “A Better Safety Net: Time to Get Smart About Online Safety” about the need for “Online Safety 3.0” where she details all the stats and studies you’ll need as a primer, as she deep dives into the perceptions and realities to make sense of what constitutes ‘youth risk’ and where media literacy can plug some of those holes with prevention tactics from the get go.


I’ve been a fan of Anne Collier’s logical, down to earth approach for ages, and am thrilled to now call her a colleague in the KidsOnline community where we’re all struggling to ‘Balance Safety & Fun.’

Anne is a well-versed advocate for youth, tossing red flags when necessary, and leading the way with perspective and the positive power of new media’s digital potential to scale, innovate and translate media literacy.

For starters, she helps parents define what ‘online safety’ even means, in terms of the ‘freedoms’ required for healthy online participation:

  • Physical—freedom from physical harm
  • Psychological—freedom from cruelty, harassment, and exposure to potentially disturbing material
  • Reputational and legal—freedom from unwanted social, academic, professional, and legal consequences that could affect you for a lifetime
  • Identity, property, and community—freedom from theft of identity and property and attacks against networks and online communities at local, national, and international levels.

In this particular piece, she talks about ways to teach and model LIFE literacy instead of perpetuating the media churn and absurd myths that scare both kids and parents from effectively using their online skills in a meaningful manner.

Fresh from the recent internet safety forum in Luxembourg, she’d written a post on her own site about Europe’s amazing Internet-safety work, and the need for digital citizenship.

I hear so many parents making sweeping statements like, “I’d rather they just stay off the internet altogether; No social media. Period. If they can’t chat they won’t get in trouble.”

Here’s an excerpt from Anne’s global worldview to answer that:

Anne CollierLast week I had the great good fortune of participating in Safer Internet Forum 2009 in Luxembourg. What a fantastic experience, connecting with online-safety experts representing the 27 EU member countries plus Malaysia, Brazil, and New Zealand.

I spoke on “Online Safety 3.0” and felt right at home (imagine how confirming it is to have colleagues from Bulgaria and Slovenia come up afterwards and say how much they could relate!). The Forum included teen panelists (aged 14-18) from 26 of the 27 countries.

This year’s focus was “Promoting Online Safety in Schools.” Here are highlights – things I heard from presenters over the four days of Forum and INSAFE meetings (INSAFE coordinates the European Commission’s network of Safer Internet Centres, one in each member country):

POV is key: “What adults see as risks, young people see as opportunities – there’s no easy line between risk and opportunity”— “what we want young people to grow up to be is resilient; the only way for that to happen is for them to encounter risk,” suggesting that the need is for adults to support their development process; Internet safety is part of media literacy, part of the wider media picture – “we need to enable them to make constructive, critical judgments in context.” – from Prof. Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics & Political Science and lead author of the huge, ongoing pan-European EUKidsOnline comparative research project

“We must not be afraid to learn along with our kids.” – from Prof. Gianna Cappello at U. of Palermo, Italy

Sound familiar?  “Both parents and students look to school for Internet safety advice, while schools struggle to take on this agenda,” Livingstone of the UK said. Teen participants echoed this throughout the day they were with us (schools’ struggle with the Net-safety-ed needs)”…more here on Anne’s comprehensive, must-read blog…

I was planning to do an interview with Anne Collier about the FOSI conference in Washington D.C., and the Ofcom media study and digital doings in the U.K. too, but frankly, she has such excellent recaps of the events on her own blog and thoughts on social norming and risk prevention at NetFamily News that I’m going to just link so you can think about all of this first, before we move on to the more specific moderation issues of ‘chat’ in games and consoles and with kids online.

I realize all the sophisticated privacy/data-mining/parental control concerns can make some overwhelmed adults just throw out the baby with the bathwater and unplug the whole shebang.

info overload “Death by information overload” is not a pretty thought…(visual from Paul Kirwin of Channel Signal) who reminds in a different but still applicable context that when the info funnel becomes a bucket, there’s some major leakage, drainage and spillage, to the point that it’s hard to know what info is being retained.

Personally, I think that’s all the more reason we need to be very clear on internet safety tips and advice …As much as I find the notion of ‘tmi’ (too much information) relatable, I also grow impatient with the ‘make it go away’ media mentality of many adults…

For starters, it creates mistrust and an ‘us vs. them’ moral combat zone which can make media literacy tasks a lot harder to breakthrough perceived barriers and pre-judgment calls that may not even be warranted…

tug o warI see no need to create chasms in generational divides…It reminds me of those ‘never trust anyone over 30’ signs of yesteryear, complete with ‘totally wired’ eyerolling, harumpfs and heavy-sigh exhales of frustration…on all sides.

There needn’t be all this hand-wringing angst and ‘I’m gonna take it away altogether’ power plays (which, btw, usually forces kids underground, to devise an elaborate ‘work around’ and external façade that mimics the ‘Poker Face’ prowess of a LadyGaGa tune)

Nor is it necessary to throw down the gauntlet with snarky “it’s all screen time, it’s all rotting your brain” mentality when e-learning and participatory play has proven time and again to enhance some important social skills… And it’s certainly not about ‘which internet filter to install’ (great article here) or which parental tracking tool and spygear to play undercover cop in your own dining room…sheesh!

In an effort to create outreach, understanding and turn a ‘rose in the fisted glove’ media management approach into a useful, productive shared energy that benefits all in terms of online behavior management, I’m going to launch into a multi-part series ‘behind the scenes’ with industry safety pros and online moderators.

emod screen

Hopefully, it will give parents a feel for ‘who’s watching the kids,’ how the digital world works from the inside out, and why it matters to be savvy as a digizen regardless of how little or how often either kids or adults are hanging out online.

There are several moderation firms for hire that reveal the underbelly of the gaming industry and virtual world communities…from Metaverse ModSquad (great media literacy peek for parents here on their WeboSaurs “meet the people behind the magic” event to educate parents about what goes on in their community) to online tween community specialists like Izzy Neis currently working for Gazillion EntertainmentWe’d like to hear from many and all…


For now, I’m starting with Tamara Littleton’s crew at eModeration as they’re massively experienced in this realm as one of the world’s most respected outsourced moderation and community management agencies, with offices in London, New York and Los Angeles.

Their tagline? “Protecting your users and brand 24/7″…They graciously agreed to wade through my lengthy, verbose Q & A to tackle some of our ‘crowd-sourced’ questions from the parent posse who are very eager for answers on ‘what to know’ BEFORE kids are ‘of age’ to engage.

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface, so feel free to add your voice to this discussion to help parents and kids become savvy ‘digizens.’

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Tell us what parents should know BEFORE allowing kids to enter multiplayer chats either in-game or on-console. (etiquette, data privacy, role-playing etc.)

eModeration: For younger children, turn off chat channels completely – particularly zone-wide public channels. Kids of six, say, can still have a great time in low-level games without chat. As they grow in confidence, skills, and as you get a feel for the lie of the land, you can consider removing safety features gradually. It’s always a good idea to keep a very close eye on the amount kids can interact with others….

You could think about letting your ‘tween’ whisper and trade with other players, depending on their maturity. You could also gradually remove blocks on guild and group membership invitations – but it’s a good plan to disable voice chat features, like Ventrilo and TeamSpeak, perhaps even for teens.

Some argue that it’s these kinds of interactions which ‘make’ the MMO experience, and that children who aren’t yet ready to use them might be best playing with a parent to guide them.

Alternatively, you could encourage your kid towards a single-player RPG (role playing game) and save the massive multiplayer online gaming experience (MMORPG) till they are older. Whether they know it or not, kids who are gamers are constructing a virtual reputation that might well come back to haunt them.

Other players take screen shots and post them on social networks; gaming companies keep chat-logs and records of your child’s game actions – but kids have real difficulty understanding that what they do in-game will stick around forever, let alone why that might cause them problems down the line.

If you can get this message across, you’ll be doing a great job.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Along those lines of things ‘sticking’… Studies show most kids are chatting among their known peers, not strangers, and are media literate about protecting their profiles, but LESS sophisticated about ‘real time’ gaffes…

How can we best instill media literacy to prevent items that can’t be ‘taken back’ either inside a ‘chat’ context online or a real time ‘status update’?  (For teens using social media parents are VERY concerned about mobile-social GPS safety, profile posting that’s regretted later; whereabouts, photos with too much information, etc. )

eModeration: This HAS to be all about education, and it’s not just down to moderators to teach young people. It should be a shared responsibility: teachers, publishers, children’s channels, moderators, government/private bodies, peers, family and careproviders… anyone working with children and anyone trying to make their money out of children’s access to the web or communication devices.

We all have role to play in teaching young people about the consequences of their actions. Izzy Neis has a great phrase to describe this… What you do on the web/across mobile devices is ‘invisible cement’… To quote from her blog:

“Whatever you do – it’s there… crusty and solid, just not necessarily obvious or visible to you or those around you.  But TRUST… it’s there … everyone should start these conversation about “You and Your Rep in the Online World.”  Sounds so dry and so suckish… but VERY necessary.

…If YOU don’t start talking about it, who will?  Go home.  Teach your family how to protect themselves like Clark Kent & Superman.  Explain the web’s notorious invisible cement, […] the lack of giant invisible erasers.  Speak about Megan Meier (google her if you don’t know who that is), or about this kid labeled a PERV.  Talk about the girls from Florida in that HORRIBLE Youtube fight.  Speak about Vanessa Hutchinson and her forwarded pictures and the horrible fall out, and the embarrassment it caused her and her family.

…But more than anything…. TALK.  I don’t care if you have a family of your own or not.  Talk to your friends over drinks.  Get discussion rolling.  Everyone will benefit.  Trust. ” —Izzy Neis

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: How can we encourage and even incentivize kids to self-police their own online communities in addition to formal moderation methods?

eModeration: With, I think, a combination of education and direct incentives. A lot of social networks reward good behavior by giving the users something extra, a status symbol within the site of some kind (Habbo Hotel use badges).

First – via schools, parents and caregivers, cyber-mentorship and the site itself – we have to get the message out about privacy and what is/isn’t acceptable online behavior.  Then the site should reassure users that they won’t be ‘sneaking’ if they report another’s behavior. It can then reward users who have *correctly* flagged another user, or stepped in to guide someone else in the right way.

Educate, model good behavior and reward it appropriately. There’s a lot of good work being done in the whole area of positive moderation and reputations by the good people at Reputation Share…(editors’ note: Reputation Share is a partner org of eModeration)

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: If you had to name THREE core resources for virtual world/online communities, what/who would they be (assuming you were sending our readers there for ‘what to know before you go’ tips, etc.)

eModeration: Actually there are too many – so best to follow our blog …

There are a lot of really good sites out there, providing a lot of educational resources, but what’s good for parents might not be suitable for teenagers or help professional workers…then there are cultural and regional differences too!

Aside from Shaping Youth of course invaluable resources are CEOP (good for professional working in this sector, great schools resources, and training: they run the ThinkUKnow portal), VirtualWorldsNews – the place to go for industry news on this sector and Kzero a great research resource again for the industry.

For sites with a safety angle I would say Beatbullying (peer-to-peer mentoring program, advice and online help), Get Safe Online, a public/private initiative, giving clear simple advice…In Europe – Insafe and in the US- FOSI, Connect Safely (guidance and help forums),The Safer Internet Alliance (public/private organization aimed at protecting vulnerable users from crime and abuse) And…well…I’m past three already, so again, best to just follow our eModeration blog…

More from the eModeration crew tomorrow, meanwhile, to give you a taste of their blog, here’s this week’s snapshot of up-to-the-moment news in their ‘social media round-up’ of  “all that is intriguing, alarming or odd in the world of social media.”

Overwhelmed yet? ‘Death by information overload’ harshed your mellow for the upcoming holidays?

If not, fire me some of your own burning questions to ask the eModeration experts or follow them on Twitter

eModeration is outbound to the Nov. 25 CEOP one-day conference in London, “Children & the role of technology in sexualization, addiction and bullying”…so I’m anxious to hear what they have to report from there!

Stay tuned for part two with experts from eModeration, safety tips from Crisp Thinking, and more…



  1. Thank you for this amazing, amazingly kind post, Amy! The interview with eModeration is brilliant – I’ll be blogging about that and can’t wait for the next installment… But I want to pick up on the TMI/make-it-go-away theme.

    I sympathize with fellow parents who feel that way and so want to make it go away for their kids. I think we all feel that way, some days more wistfully than others. But we also know that the reality is, we just can’t make it go away for ourselves or our kids, which is why it’s more imperative than ever before in the history of media and mankind to keep developing the filter in our and their heads, the 2-way media literacy that employs critical thinking about what’s uploaded/shared/produced as much as what’s downloaded/read/consumed, now that media are social and behavioral.

    Teaching our children new media literacy is just love. New media literacy does not just spell personal, academic and professional success for our kids, it’s truly protective. Can you tell I’m passionate about this? I think it’s SOOOO important. [Here’s a summary of some great thinking on how social influencing works by author/Net-safety advocate Nancy Willard ( that I think offers serious social navigation help to parents as well as kids.]

    But, also, what’s the “it” in “make it go away”? I don’t think it’s really TMI. All that incoming info is overwhelming, sure, but even more overwhelming, especially for our kids (especially in very social, *newly* social, middle school) is the 24/7 drama.

    “The Drama” (who likes who in the current 5 minutes, how bad/good somebody looks, how stupid that teacher is – I know my language is inaccurately nice) has always been part of middle school but children are increasingly tethered to it through cellphones, Xbox Live, the Web, etc.

    Sociologist Sherry Turkle at MIT writes about “the tethered self” brilliantly (, and I keep thinking about the tethered child (she does too – she writes about how the featured activity of her daughter when they’re at the Louvre together in Paris is texting with friends back in the US).

    We need to ask ourselves, Where has “being in the moment” gone?

    How do we help them respect and engage in reflection (that necessary element of growing up), mental space, independent thought?

    How do we teach them a media literacy that includes respect for one’s self and serious skepticism or critical thinking about The Drama?

    Fear doesn’t need to (shouldn’t) figure into any of this thinking and parent-child communication and self- and mutual-respect development, but we can’t delete the thinking along with the fear.

    I think these 2 questions – how to help them handle/take breaks from The Drama and how to help them navigate uber-connected life as mindful, independent thinkers – are the real questions of “online safety” going forward.

    And even as I ask them, I’m thinking about how I completely agree with you, Amy, and Tamara at eModeration that figuring this out “takes a village.”

    Don’t you love the irony that, even as we think about the value of untethering and independent thought, we need to think together?! I think it’s because we’re talking about life and growing up and parenting, not technology. Working through those things takes a lot of skill sets! Always has. I love this interview AZ State Prof. James Paul Gee gave PBS Frontline’s Digital Nation peeps ( about how young people GET collaboration. They’re our teachers in this, I think.

    Whew! Can you tell I’m all reflective at Thanksgiving time?! Thank you for your great work and generosity.

  2. Part of shaping youth includes monitoring internet safety!
    .-= aaron shaw phd´s last blog ..Baby Animals of the Day! Baby Porcupine! =-.

  3. Just look at the recent Mrs Obama Google news, Internet safety is a big issue
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  4. Anne, your comments as always, tap into the deeper ‘drama’ so pervasive in our culture, from media to mindsets in general…Sometimes I think the connectivity is boosting it all like a high voltage battery pack jolt to supercharge kids’ chaos of adolescent angst and vault into distortion sans perspective. (don’t get me started with the whole ‘suicide’ escalation either…Gunn High School alone here in my local environs has had me reeling in ‘wth’ mode.)

    So yes, ‘perspective please?’ is indeed the order of the day, and your words resonate with the clarity that capture the essence of what I’m feeling at a deeper core.

    Just like your great blog posts, I can’t ‘say it any better’ so I’ll go with the Patrick Swayze media reference in Ghost and simply reply…”Ditto.” 😉

    Thanks so much, Anne, for all you do for kids…and for us all.
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Internet Safety: Media Literacy Tips From Industry Insiders Pt 1 =-.

  5. @Aaron…I love your baby animals photos…as a critter enthusiast, I must say it brings me warmth every time I click on your site to see what newbie is up there.

    @Affliction Clothing…Agree that Google SEO is hard to deal with in terms of taking down visuals/offensive items once it’s in the stream, so your point is well taken. (even if it is to hawk tees 😉

  6. Thank you for the information, it is really a good help.


  7. Our web series, Hailey Hacks, is designed to make tween girls more technologically savvy. Our latest video, Hailey Hacks Facebook Privacy Settings, empowers kids to set up their Facebook accounts for maximum safety. It’s so important for our girls to be digital citizens and have access to all the power and fun of the 2.0 web. But at the same time, we want them to be safe. We think this new video gives them great control. We hope you’ll like it and share it with the girls you know.
    .-= Jill´s last blog ..Hailey Hacks Wishlists =-.

  8. Hey, Jill, thanks for this…just watched the video, and I think a few ADULTS could use Hailey’s Hacks too! 😉 I’ll FB & Tweet it…glad to see you taking a “by kids for kids” peer approach as it’s proven pretty effective in our neck of the woods. Rock on! You might like Adina’s Deck too…(on our sidebar) we use it for tween media literacy and ‘what ifs’ from a solve the ‘mystery’ approach…Keep up the great work! Amy

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  10. With such a huge archive of anything available on the internet with little to no censorship children are in danger of being exposed unsafe material
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  11. But just how do you sensor such a vast amount of online media. The scope of the internet is so large how do we protect are children from it

  12. It is a whole new world out there, anythign that gives parents more of a handle on what their kids are up to, is a very good thing.

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