Safety Expert Uses Media Literacy to Deconstruct McAfee Study

July 2, 2010 When I first saw this  note in my social media stream it raised my media literacy eyebrows to explore further.

It said, “Interesting: McAfee has a very diff take on their own study  than does CNET’s Larry Magid.

First thing that popped into my brain was, “That’s NOT surprising, research is only relevant when one can deconstruct the background of who’s doing the study.” Both McAfee (anti-virus giant) and CNET’s Larry Magid (tech reporter and co-founder of Connect Safely) are extremely credible resources, so how do you make sense of data when it comes to stats and studies skewing points of view with such vast polarity?

Rule number one, read “How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff” an oldie but goodie that my parents used to summon whenever they had a smartypants at the dinner table. Number two. Summon your own critical thinking skills. McAfee’s business is based on fear-driven motivational triggers in the tech realm, CNET’s business is delivering tech news and reviews…it seems only natural that a study on youth online safety would trigger different levels of pragmatic information.

Number three. Evaluate the headline. The minute I saw the study name, “The Secret Online Lives of Teens” my thoughts went to ABC Family teen soaps versus academic white paper; it smacks of sensationalism and sales. I’m not saying the McAfee study is invalid. I AM saying…

…In EVERY conversation we need to look at the motivations, emotional hot buttons and persuasive use of data as it pertains to our own internal landscape.

That goes for quelling ‘parental panics’ as well as being able to process and filter communication written ABOUT youth and teen behaviors.

So, today, to follow up on the COPPA privacy discussions and debunk the myths that ‘kids don’t care about privacy online’ (as I wrote about Disney’s chief gaffe about same, in “Iger the Ignorant”) I’m going to publish with permission this excellent media literacy snapshot of the new McAfee study, by Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews.

Hint: First thing you should ask is, “Who or what is NetFamilyNews” followed by “What are Amy’s ties to Anne Collier?”

I’ll help you out and cut to the chase with full disclosure.

A quick search of Shaping Youth will reveal I’m a diehard fan of this balanced and well-reasoned internet safety queen, much like I have admiration for Izzy Neis, Joi Podgorny and other Kids Online community pros dedicated to balancing safety and fun.

You should also know that Anne Collier is co-director/founder (with Larry Magid!) of  Connect Safely, an extremely useful forum with industry ties to social media giants that often tip me off to ‘what’s REALLY going on’ in youth safety and online use, judging by many of the kids’ posts, pleas, and portrayals of the hows and whys of digital abuse.

Connect Safely often gives me a quick peek into REALTIME DATA concerning hacks, holes, imposter profiles, safe/unsafe chat, youth-driven work-arounds, and some of the inner workings of kids’ socio-emotional pathways in the bullying sphere as seen from all ends.

Connect Safely stats and tips also help me contextualize “parental panic” and “moral outrage” on a variety of issues from “sexting” to texting, as I can no longer count on “mainstream media” to move beyond the profit motive to report wisely sans sensationalism.

Regular readers know that I tend to dissect things from all angles and take Windex to just about every lens until the blur goes away. So I’ll leave it to you to see why I think this media literacy post made a lot of sense to me…

Besides, it’s July 4 weekend and I want to ditch the digital dogma and get the heck outside…Gotta ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to finding balance with online and offline time management and youth! 😉

Here’s Anne Collier with more:

Coverage of New Study on Net Safety: Critical Thinking Needed!

By Anne Collier of  NetFamilyNews

It’s as if some reporters feel compelled to write to parents’ worst fears.

The headline of a USATODAY blog post about a new McAfee study about the state of youth online safety says, “Privacy doesn’t matter to kids engaging in risky online behaviors.”

Well, maybe not to kids who want to engage in risky online behavior, but this is not true of young Net users in general (we do need to keep working with at-risk youth, because are the children most at risk online too, but they are a minority population online as well as offline).

“People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline,” said social media researcher danah boyd in a recent talk.

“Teens know the risks very well: They aren’t stupid. Their brain chemistry at that age doesn’t allow them to choose ’safe.’ They consistently choose interesting, exciting, and arousing. This isn’t a crisis; this is being human,” said the first commenter under the USATODAY blog post.


This is the reality parents and educators must deal with, but it not a new one.

We hear adults – even some online-safety advocates – referring to a “cyberbullying epidemic,” yet the McAfee-sponsored survey by Harris Interactive shows that cyberbullying has actually gone down a little bit between 2008 and 2010 (1%), and my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid has a chart at the top of his CNET post on the McAfee report showing that, while 15% of teens said they’d been bullied or harassed online in 2008, only 8% said the same this year.

Bullying has gone down recently too – see Crimes Against Children Research Center study

“McAfee’s study is actually a reassuring portrait of how most young people are exercising reasonable caution in their use of technology,” Larry writes.

For example, it “reported that ‘almost half of youth (46%) admit to having given out their personal information to someone they didn’t know over the Internet,’ but when they break it down, the survey reveals that ‘when they do reveal personal information online, youth are most likely to share their first name (36%), age (28%), and/or e-mail address (19%).

Only around 1 in 10 have given out slightly more personal information like a photo of themselves, their school name, last name, cell phone number, or a description of what they look like.”

In other words, don’t rely on news reports to work with kids on all this; read the study and TALK with your kids. If you can’t do the former, take online-safety news with a huge grain of salt and really LISTEN to your kids!

See also “The new media monsters we’ve created for our kids.”

Anne Collier is a whip-smart goddess of reason, balance, and middle of the road logic and critical thinking. I’m proud to share similar spaces in the overlapping Venn Diagram of life with her as we navigate new media literacy, the youth space, and the impact of digital data on our lives.

Anne is also Editor of, co-director of and currently serves as co-chair (with Hemanshu Nigam of News Corp.) of the Obama administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group and on the advisory boards of the London- and Washington-based Family Online Safety Institute, the National Crime Prevention Council’s Circle of Respect Initiative, and, a project of the Washington-based Internet Education Foundation.

Media Literacy: Critical Thinking for Deconstructing  Sources

Sourcewatch: Your guide to the names behind the news National Assoc. of Media Literacy Education

2011 NAMLE Conf: Global Visions, Local Connections, Voices in Media Literacy Education (save the date!)

Media Awareness Network: Handy chart by Chris Worsnop following each question with the core, “How do I know?” Excellent Conceptual Framework for Media Education

Questions to Ask About Media Messages: Includes partial curricula from KNOW TV compiled on media literacy pal Frank Baker’s Media Literacy Clearinghouse always on our sidebar

Researching researchers: Lessons for research ethics (abstract)

Mark Twain quote/Google Answers: Great ‘train of thought’ research thread on determining accuracy of information and how to source the real deal

MERJ: Media Education Research Journal

NAMLE Recap/Detroit Conference: Critical Connections in a Digital World

Visual Credits: Magnifying glass cartoon from student resources/UK multimedia literacy



  1. And I have a huge question…I know bullying is not to be dismissed by any means, but why are schools being brought into the fray from weekend exploits? (NYT:

  2. Hi Amy,
    Really interesting blog and concept, but I just wanted to ask where you got your cartoon photo of the detective and magnifying glass? I really like it and would love to use it in an article I’m publishing on vets reaching out to their communities. If you own it, can I have your permission to use it please? Or perhaps you can direct me to the correct source?
    Many thanks,

  3. Oddly, I linked to the UK Students media literacy resource where it came from as fair use/edu nonprofit doc, but link is gone. Did a Google search and also found it on World of the Written Word: and Test and Try: but neither have attribution/tracer…And checked royalty free clip art w/a gazillion too:

    It’s a great visual, so would love to attribute properly so let me know what you find out? I’ve also scanned Google images repeatedly to no avail, but found a bounty of them (Also tried istockphoto and shutterstock where I’ve bought thumbnail illus, but don’t see in library) A mystery! (we need a magnifying glass on it!)

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