Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jeepers Creepers

Government agencies continue to be concerned with how teens are using e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, and social networking sites. Federal and state authorities refer their citizenry to the interactive Flash "game" ID the Creep, in which young girls can practice identifying suspicious electronic correspondents as possible pedophiles. Apparently boys aren't at any risk from cybercriminals, because the "game," which offers both English and Spanish versions, only allows you to play as "Alicia," "Kelly," or "Shanna." Despite its gamelike interface that allows you to collect points and rewards rapid correct responses, it doesn't actually have the kind of negotiable consequences that are usually associated with more nuanced game play. I found that the easiest winning strategy to rack up points was to simply identify all online identities as creeps without making any distinctions between them. Certainly it's not a way to teach the interpretive skills necessary to decode digital rhetoric.

California is also offering its own online product: Cyber Safety for California. Like everything else on our state government websites, it features a prominent Arnold Swarzenegger head. Although it is affiliated with the state's PTA, it hawks books like MySpace Unraveled, which at least promises to approach the subject without "fear and hype." To their credit, state-sanctioned BlogSafety acknowledges the value of a recent Pew Internet study about social networking that contradicts the image of the teen as gullible media innocent that is often promulgated, and this group even posts an interview with one of the Pew senior research specialists. I'm glad to see a site that actually refers parents to recent research about actual media practices rather than relying on attention-getting anecdotes. Still, my feelings were hurt about not being invited to their summit, even though some PTAs are now distributing my 10 Principles for the Digital Family. (YouTube video coming soon!)

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