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Is the Internet safe for children?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In the short time we have been living in the 21st century, there are many technological advances that have made people connect in ways they never thought of before. Though Internet chat-rooms and networking places like MySpace and Facebook might be great for meeting new people who share the same interests, they can be dangerous tools in the hands of predators, cyber-bullies and cyberstalkers.

Parents of the new-age, computer savvy generation may find it difficult to protect their children from these cyber-world dangers. These difficulties mainly arise with parents who know very little about the Internet and how to use it. Some parents might also get the sense that their child is safe and that, "Nothing like that can happen around here."

Many families in the Izard, Fulton and Sharp County areas live in secluded rural neighborhoods. This seclusion may make parents believe their child is fairly safe, but if a computer is in the household, there is no such thing as seclusion, especially on the Internet.

Just last year, in Izard County, Stacy Lynn Tucker, a former band teacher at ICC, was arrested in an Internet sting operation where an investigator was posing as a 14-year-old girl. Tucker made sexual advances in a chat-room to a person he believed to be a teenage girl but was actually an under cover investigator. If predators and all-around bad people are so close to home, they can be around every corner on the Internet.

Cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment are also big problems on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and chat-rooms.

The Web site www.stopcyberbullying.org states that there is a difference between cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment. Cyber-bullying involves negative conversations between minors through any electronic means of communication. Cyber-harassment is where an adult is involved in harassing a minor by using negative words over the Internet or other form of electronic communication.

In November 2008, Lori Drew, 49, of the St. Louis, Mo., area, was convicted in Los Angeles, Calif., of three counts of illegally accessing computers for the use of harassing a 13-year-old girl on MySpace, who eventually committed suicide. Since the Drew case came about in 2006, Missouri has created anti-cyber-harassment laws. There have also been suicide cases around the nation where cyber-bullying was involved.

Parents, teens and children can go online and Google, or search, for Internet safety tips, and they will come up with thousands of hits. The list provided below is from www.netsmartz.org, which is supported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

* Clear, simple, easy-to-read house rules should be posted on or near the monitor. Create your own computer rules or print the Internet safety pledge (on the Web site). The pledge can be signed by adults and children and should be periodically reviewed.

* Look into safeguarding programs or options your online service provider might offer. These may include monitoring or filtering capabilities.

* Always read a Web site's privacy policy before giving any personal information. Also make sure that a Web site offers a secure connection before giving credit-card information.

* Web sites for children are not permitted to request personal information without a parent's permission. Talk to children about what personal information is and why you should never give it to people online.

* If children use chat or e-mail, talk to them about never meeting in person with anyone they first "met" online.

* Talk to children about not responding to offensive or dangerous e-mail, chat or other communications. Report any such communication to local law enforcement. Do not delete the offensive or dangerous e-mail; turn off the monitor and contact local law enforcement.

* Keep the computer in the family room or another open area of your home.

* Get informed about computers and the Internet. Visit the resources section (on the Web site) to find additional information on Internet safety.

* Let children show you what they can do online and visit their favorite sites.

* Have children use child-friendly search engines when completing homework.

* Know who children are exchanging e-mails with and only let them use chat areas when you can supervise. NetSmartz recommends limiting chat-room access to child-friendly chat sites.

* Be aware of any other computers your child may be using.

* Internet accounts should be in the parent's name with parents having the primary screen name, controlling passwords, and using blocking and/or filtering devices.

* Children should not complete a profile for a service provider and children's screen names should be nondescript so as not to identify that the user is a child.

* Talk to children about what to do if they see something that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable or confused. Show them how to turn off the monitor and emphasize that it's not their fault if they see something upsetting. Remind children to tell a trusted adult if they see something that bothers them online.

* Consider using filtering or monitoring software for your computer. Filtering products that use whitelisting, which only allows a child access to a preapproved list of sites, are recommended for children in this age group. NetSmartz does not advocate using filters only; education is a key part of prevention. Visit the resources section (on the Web site) for Web sites that provide information on filtering or blocking software.

* If you suspect online "stalking" or sexual exploitation of a child, report it to your local law enforcement agency. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has a system for identifying online predators and child pornographers and contributing to law enforcement investigations. It's called the CyberTipline. Leads forwarded to the site will be acknowledged and shared with the appropriate law enforcement agency for investigation.

For more Internet safety tips or tips on how to deal with cyber-bullying or harassment or Internet predators, there are several useful Web sites online. These Web sites can be found by typing in the key words cyber-bullying, cyber-harassment, Internet predators or Internet safety on any search engine.

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Solving internet safety online is a formidable task. There is a solution www.Safewave.org has created iLAND5. The solution to safe social networking for kids ages 5-18 is to #1 start with the sign up process and lets' make sure we are dealing with just kids and not adults, that's where the schools come in to verify student identity. #2 create a network of websites of age grouped kids that helps reduce intimidation.

#3 provide an anonymous reporting function so the victim of cyber bullying is not threatened by retaliation. #4 build into the social network the most dynamic word filtering available on the net today that detects Kids language and where the kids help you update the language. #5 don't allow uncensored uploads or ability to copy profile information, Iland5 is content monitored, eyes on, 24/7. Now, take all of that and create an environment of "students for safer schools" within the network that empowers the children to resist, report and work together as a community.

With all that being said, add games, fun, storylines, comic strips and educational content and homework help and a way for the kids to provide ideas, apps, videos and you get www.iLAND5.com. A solution that can handle a large community in a safe and fun online network. Please take a look and ask others to do the same, it's all FREE. I know this is a good site. I have my child on it.

-- Posted by Roxanna on Thu, Dec 11, 2008, at 1:46 PM

I know this site is good. Here is my story about www.iLAND5.com and www.safewave.org. My son was the victim of an imposter profile on MySpace that accused him of illegal and obscene activity that was completely false.

I contacted Safewave.org for direction and help. SafeWave, creators of iLAND5, a bully-free and predator-free website for kids that's free to use, and Debbie Johnston helped me navigate the system to have the imposter profile removed and finally stopped 3 months of humiliation for my son before it got any worse.

Even though the page was removed makes no difference, anything that is ever posted on the internet is out there for forever. You can watch his interview with Dr. Phil by going to Safewave.org and clicking on 'In the News'. Education and a safe place to put kids on the internet is the key. If all social networking sites were like SafeWave and verified the users identification before they could become a member, things like what happened to my son would not happen. I hope schools and parents put their kids on iLAND5.com.

-- Posted by Sparks on Thu, Dec 11, 2008, at 1:53 PM

With regard to the story, I wanted to offer a great web filtering tool that was recently awarded the seal of approval from both the National Parenting Center and Parent-Tested-Parent-Approved for its ability to keep children safe while online. Livia Web Protection http://www.liviaweb.com is a new software filtering tool designed to help parents keeps their kids from accessing adult content while also keeping them safe from websites where child predators may lurk.

-- Posted by Rey on Thu, Dec 11, 2008, at 8:03 PM

The only answer to the problem raised in this article is by using online age verification systems such as the biometric age verification online, in real-time, provided by VerificAge (www.verificage.com):

- It establishes full segregation between adults and children online

- Does not use any kind of data base. Eliminating risks involved in storing and maintaining data.

- It does not identify the user personally but rather his/her age group category; therefore, the user's privacy cannot be jeopardized.

- The system is based on a "one time" biometric measurement that can distinguish a child from an adult with a very high accuracy rate.

- It can assert a user's age every time he wishes to access a website, content, or while interacting with others

It seems that VerificAge's solution is going to change the surfing culture on the Net and increase dramatically children's safety online.

-- Posted by odedy on Sat, Dec 13, 2008, at 4:06 AM

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