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Cyberbullying: It’s A Whole Different Game

A Space of their Own
The Next Generation of Social Networking Tools Target a More Exclusive Youth Market

Published: February, 2005

Hip to the fact that parents don’t want their kids hanging out in mixed company, especially in mixed-age company, there’s been a new push in the online community towards social networking sites. These sites encourage 13-19 year olds to stick to their own kind and not seek out adult social networks.

Why 13? Because that’s the cut off for COPPA compliance. COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, says that if you market your services to children younger than 13, then you accquire parental permission. This is hard to do in cyberspace. Why 19? Because, no self respecting 20 year old would be caught dead hanging out with teenagers.

That said, parents need to understand that there is absolutely no way to enforce an age limitation on the Internet and be certain it’s working. Some websites target teens with the type of content they create, others monitor the site for what might be adult activity. Still others are charging a fee in the hopes that parents will pay to keep their kids in a safe closed world with the protection that a sign up and credit card verification offer.

Here are a few examples of the new breed:
Think of as the Internet version of friendship bracelets. You post your profile online and friends can tag you with an assortment of colorful square shaped “tags” representing everything from “Dancing Dool” to “Drama Queen”, Teamate to Brainiac. In addition the site is big on Top Ten Lists of everything from favorite music and movies to the creation of quizzes to give to friends. Because of the content, and because of some proprietary identity checks in the background,’s attorney and Chief Education Officer feels pretty good about the site’s ability to cater more exclusively to preteens and teens. “One of problems with MySpace,” says Louis Willacy, General Counsel,” is that it was never designed with this age group as the target.”

Currently more popular in Europe than the US, but catching on, is targeting kids ages 13-19 by giving them a safe place to play plus with some hot new tools. One of these tools is WhiteBoard, a very cool drawing tool that lets them create and post drawings to theirs and other’s pages. You can become another member’s groupie. and like the site lets you design quizzes for friend to take.

Despite the intent, Bebo has a more adult feel to it, and I found it pretty easy to run into trouble. Each time I’ve logged on I’ve quickly encountered suggestive photos and talk of booze and babes. I managed to register as a student of my son’s ex- nursery school, even though I gave my age as 19. Clearly there is some monitoring (I cannot, for example, register myself at multiple schools)but this site has a long way to go before I’d deem in much different than MySpace.

Industrious Kids
This group announced its plans to launch a subscription service for preteen and teens (primarily junior high school students) that would require parental permission and carry a monthly fee. Parents will even get an update as to what their kids have been doing on the site.

Will parents pay to keep their kids safe in an area designed just for kids? Will kids go willingly to a safe kidsspace on the Web? If history is a teacher, few websites have managed to generate sufficient interest to attract paying parents. But, with all the fear and uncertainty about social networks, the timing may be right on this one. Watch for the company’s site, to launch.