The Silicon Valley Voice

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CYBERBULLYING

Technology and its potential is still in its infancy so it’s difficult to keep up with and understand the latest applications and gimmicks available. In order to protect our children, however, we must be aware of the dangers of social networking and all that it entails. For example, online video games are particularly susceptible to bully behavior.

One reason is they are difficult to monitor. The most popular games have moved out of the television console and live on the social web. As a result, it is more difficult to safeguard our children in these virtual environments.

My experience with video games has not gone beyond Pac-man, so I turned to an expert. Michael Fertik is the CEO and founder of the Bay Area company, Reputation.com. He founded Reputation with the belief that businesses and individuals have the right to control and protect their online reputation and privacy.

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The company has also created software specifically for parents called, MyChild. With MyChild parents can see where their child’s name is appearing online and in what context through easy-to-read monthly reports.

I asked Michael some questions regarding online bullying, specifically online gaming and my eyes were very much opened.

“Digital natives–kids who are young enough not to remember the “pre-Internet” era, don’t differentiate between online and offline lives.” He informed me, “In addition, 58% of cyberbullying victims do not tell their parents or any adult about their experience for fear of their computer rights being revoked.”

According to Michael, one reason bullying has become so prevalent on the Internet is, “The cost of inflicting harm is low; bullies have free access to blogs, powerpoint, social networks, YouTube and more. Meanwhile, advances in our search engines, including facial recognition technologies, video search and more robust search engines make the spread of information much wider and also constant.”

I also asked him which games are more susceptible to bully behavior.

Xbox Live is one of the most popular online gaming systems. With more than 20 million users logging on each day, it may not be uncommon to cross paths with an overly aggressive player. To greatly reduce risk of online harassment, avoid overly familiar contact with people you meet via competition-intense games such as the “Call of Duty” series.”

He elucidated, “With games, parents and children should also monitor for signs of cyberstalking. While participating in online games, it is crucial to keep the player’s personal information offline. In 2007, a man was arrested for stalking and threatening a 15-year-old girl he met while playing Halo on Xbox Live. By doing a simple Google search, he was able to find her home address and phone number.”

Michael’s final advice, “Encourage your child to practice good privacy. Privacy settings don’t work well, but they are better than absolutely nothing.  If your child is on a social networking website (Facebook, MySpace, etc.), make sure he or she maxes out all the privacy settings available to him or her, one by one.  Additionally a free tool from Reputation.com, called PrivacyDefender, can actually set the privacy settings for you and your child with two clicks.”

I may be naïve, but I also believe the golden rule can apply well here, remind your kids to be ethical at all times, and when playing in cyberspace, to treat fellow gamers the way they themselves would like to be treated.

Contact Margaret Lavin at elementarydays@gmail.com.

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