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Looking for a Guide to Parental Controls?

Screen time is becoming more and more of a family issue and many tech companies are attempting to help parents by providing tools such as Apple’s Screen Time, Disney’s Circle and Amazon’s Freetime. How do you make sense of all the different options out there and figure out which one will fit your needs? National Public Radio recently released a great starting point called A Guide To Parental Controls For Kids' Tech Use that asks you questions that help you zero in on the help you may be needing.

New Study: Children May Benefit From Social Media

Social media use, such as scrolling through Instagram and texting, had positive findings for 9- and 10-year-olds participating in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, a project of the National Institutes of Health. The study, launched in 2015, gathered information about how young people's brains develop and how they navigate adolescence. The study's results showed that when comparing different types of screen time, social media use led to more physical activity, less family conflict and better sleep compared to time spent watching TV or playing video games. As the author of the study put it, “The most important thing is that not all screen media is bad, if you want to put it in a nutshell. There's a lot of pre-existing biases that if we expose kids to media, something terrible is going to happen. What we show is that's not the case."

The Evolution of Social Media

Almost 79% of consumers are somewhat or very worried about information privacy on social media, and over 82% censor themselves, finds a survey by The Atlantic online. Facebook was the least-trusted social platform, despite also being the most widely used. Older people were more likely than younger people to report self-censoring because of privacy concerns, though the likelihood was 75 percent or above for all age groups. “Self-censorship” for this survey was defined as stopping yourself from posting something you might otherwise want to share, because of concerns about privacy.

Social Media Part of Texas School Safety Program

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced several proposals recently aimed at keeping students safe in schools. Among the ideas were stricter policies for gun ownership and social media assessment programs. Abbott noted that social media often gives clues about the intentions of those who want to do fellow students harm and wants to expand a program led by Texas Tech to use telemedicine mental health screenings to identify students at risk of committing violence.


Survey Says Teens Constantly Online

Forty-five percent of teenagers say they are online “almost constantly,” according to a new Pew Research Center study on teens and social media use. That percentage has nearly doubled in just a few years: in a 2014-2015 Pew survey, 24 percent of teens said the same. That rise in the “almost constantly” category is probably linked to “a pretty big jump” in teens who have access to smartphones, researchers say. 95% of teens have access to a smartphone in 2018, whereas three years ago, Pew reported that number was only 73%.

The results were also very interesting when it came to teens answering the question about whether social media has had a mostly positive (31%), neither positive nor negative (45%), or mostly negative (24%) effect on people their age. Adults tend to talk about the negatives of teen social media use in terms of addiction, but instead of addiction, more teens in the survey were worried about social media’s role in bullying and hurting relationships.

Twitter Using New Way to Counter Misinformation

Twitter has announced that user behavior, not simply tweet content, will now be a factor in the way conversations are modified, or even blocked from general consumption. Content from users could be demoted by the platform's algorithm if the users have been blocked frequently, if they have multiple accounts using the same IP address, or if they regularly tweet to a large number of accounts that they don't follow.

Intel Contest Includes Project on Misinformation

About 1,800 students from 81 countries competed in the recent Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, held this year in Pittsburgh. One high-school student's project was aimed at combating fake news after he says he nearly fell for a false headline on Facebook. Ryan Beam says he almost believed a headline about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump (and indeed, it was untrue), which got him to thinking of ways to look at the fake news situation for himself. His study found that people who identified themselves as Independents were the least likely to share misinformation.

Questions on Social Media Use Urged for Adolescent Health Screening

As research consistently shows a clear impact that social media usage has on the psychosocial health of teens, researchers are suggesting to include social media use questions in standardized adolescent psychological screenings, according to a recent Pediatrics article. This will give pediatricians and other health care providers  the opportunity to address concerning responses through the development of a family media plan, follow-up visits or behavioral health referrals. Questions researchers would like to see asked of adolescents include the following:

  • Which social media sites and/or apps to you regularly use?
  • How long do you spend on social media sites and/or applications in a typical day? (If the child answers more than 120 minutes per day, this would be a concerning response.)
  • Do you think you use social media too much? (If they answer yes, ask if they have attempted to remedy it.)
  • Does viewing social media increase or decrease your self-confidence?
  • Have you personally experienced cyberbullying, sexting or an online user asking to have a sexual relation with you?

Be Best

First Lady Melania Trump is offering a new initiative for American children on the subjects of well-being, social media and opioid abuse. Her program is called simply, “Be Best.” Although the program focuses on some of the biggest issues facing children today, it has also received some criticism for merely being a repackaging of projects that already exist, including an initiative by the National Safety Council that encourages people to talk to their doctors about opioid abuse, and guidelines distributed by the Federal Trade Commission on children’s social media activity. Others have also criticized the title of the campaign, pointing out that children often worry too much about being the “best,” leading to issues such as depression, loss of self esteem, and even thinking that they deserve to be bullied because they feel they are not the “best.”

Facebook’s Clear History Feature is Coming

Facebook recently announced it is working on a new feature called Clear History, leaving many critics to ask why something like this hasn’t been available all along. The feature will allow you to see which websites and apps send information to Facebook when you use them, let you delete that information from your account, and turn off Facebook’s ability to store that information. While the feature will not be available for a few months, Facebook continues to try to add privacy features to belay user’s heightened concerns about online exposure of their personal data.

Good Vibrations?

Facebook is working on a technique that allows people to feel smartphone notifications through their skin when they are unable to access their device.  According to a paper published by the social media giant’s research team, in-house scientists are working on a sleeve-like prototype that translates words into vibrations delivered by pads onto the arm. The wearable device could be useful in situations when a person is unable to check their smartphone, such as during a meeting or while in class. Undoubtedly that will make for some interesting changes to a school’s smartphone user policies!

Social Media and College Admissions – The Latest Take

How much is social media considered in college admissions? About 68% of admissions officers say they reserve the right to check a prospective student's social media presence, but only 29% reported doing so, according to a series of surveys by Kaplan Test Prep. That’s actually down from the 35% last year who admitted checking an applicant’s social media presence. The data also shows that 20% of schools have set policies around checking students' social media, with just a third of those forbidding the practice.

Schools and Their Use of Facebook

Does your school use Facebook to post messages and news about what is happening at school? In light of the current headlines about Facebook sharing personal data without permission, many schools are worrying about protecting their students. Concerns over data privacy have some advocates calling for increased protections or, more harshly, recommending schools to stop using the platform all together. The National Education Policy Center has deleted its account and has encouraged others to take similar steps, but most schools are keeping their accounts but rethinking what they post.

What Many Are Thinking About Facebook These Days…

A recent survey from Creative Strategies found that 20% of respondents don't use Facebook, and most of those say the top reason is privacy concerns. The research also showed that consumers who do use the platform don't mind ads, but are more worried about how Facebook is tracking the rest of their browsing activity. Almost half the respondents also said they are using Facebook less and limiting how much information they share on the platform.

Teens Worry About Privacy Too

There is a misconception that young people don’t care about privacy, but research is showing that just isn’t the case. The latest take on the subject is shown in a small, but in-depth study by Claire Fontaine of the Data & Society Institute. The study finds that young adults (16-20)  are very aware of online privacy, spend “significant time managing how they present themselves on social media”, and worry about what digital footprints they leave behind.

Perhaps most eye opening about this study is Fontaine’s take on schools and the message they are sending out on privacy. She contends that schools frame online privacy for students as primarily a matter of personal responsibility, which these days really isn’t true. That’s because Silicon Valley's current business practices and a lax regulatory environment can make anyone who participates in life online vulnerable no matter how safety conscious they are. She also feels schools are falling behind in their adoption of new technology and therefore failing to keep up with their students. That failure to keep up makes it harder for teachers and administrators to guide students who have concerns, leaving them alone to wrestle with huge questions about privacy, data collection and distribution that—if recent headlines are any indication—even the adults and institutions in society are ill-positioned to handle.

This interview with the author of the study further explains the findings of the study. As Fontaine puts it, we are seeing the “adultification of teenage-hood. “ We tell kids that online privacy is a matter of personal responsibility, but the truth is that it is likely that no amount of personal responsibility can completely secure your privacy and security online. That means a much better discussion to have with kids is about the tradeoffs associated with the technologies we use. That’s not an easy task, obviously, but undeniably more realistic.”

Facebook Rewrites Terms of Service

Facebook is spelling out in plain English how it collects and uses your data in rewritten versions of their Terms of Service and Data Use Policy. The policies are being rewritten in an effort to be more transparent with users, not to ask for new rights for collecting and using data. The movement for this change came about after Facebook revealed that they think 87 million users (or more) accounts were scrapped for data in what was known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal. You can expect to see other updates and changes in these agreements as the company moves forward.

Facebook Offers Feature To Remove 3rd-Party Apps

Facebook has released an option that lets users remove third-party apps in bulk. Now all you have to do is go to the Apps portion of your Facebook settings where you can click on any number of third-party apps with direct access to your data and remove them in bulk. The changes are part of Facebook’s larger efforts to make app access easier to manage and understand, alongside Facebook’s decision to more broadly limit app developers’ access to user data. The company also says it will remove apps from users' accounts automatically if they have not been accessed in more than three months.

Middle School Relationships Have Changed – The Effects of Technology

You are likely aware that dating today is nothing like it was years ago. Smartphones, apps and social media have even affected the relationships of middle-school students. In an article in Wired called The Middle School Relationship Is Dead (As We Knew It), current and recent middle-schoolers share what's in -- Instagram and Snapchat -- and what's out -- human connection.

To Facebook or Delete? Not an Easy Question for Some Students

Concerns about how Facebook has used its users' data have some users pledging to delete their accounts. However it may not be that easy, as schools, teachers, and even parent teacher organizations use Facebook pages to deliver news about what is going on at school or to highlight activities. Some high school teachers also use Facebook as a way to communicate with class members, answer student questions after hours and even enhance instruction. While many schools and teachers have moved on to other apps and learning management systems, it still raises the question of whether or not it is necessary to have a Facebook account.

Hamilton 68

Are you curious about the Russian social media disinformation campaigns that have been a hot topic in the news recently? The Hamilton 68 dashboard tracks Russian social media in real time as it appears on Twitter. Named after Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper 68 (on the importance of "protecting America’s electoral process from foreign meddling"), the dashboard initially tracked election-related tweets but has since expanded to additional topics, such as the Parkland school shooting. It is an interesting tool to look at with your kids when talking about misinformation online.