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Report urges more education about online safety

An online safety committee created by Congress will recommend on Friday that educators and government leaders focus on teaching children and parents about safe Internet practices while recognizing the limits of filtering technology in protecting young people.

The biggest takeaway from the report by the Online Safety and Technology Working Group, created by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is that the real and online lives of young people are blending, and parents, educators and lawmakers need to treat both worlds equally.

“The reality is that they are completely intersected and one moving, living being,” said Hemanshu Nigam, co-chair of the group and an Internet security expert who formerly headed online security for MySpace.

Just as parents wouldn’t let a teenager leave home wearing something inappropriate, Nigam said, parents should also police how children present themselves online in social networks and other sites.

Nigam said that educators and regulators have focused too much on using technology to block children's access to obscene sites and keep predators away from young people. What they also need to focus on is continually educating themselves and children about the potential risks of being online.

The group is recommending the establishment of a Web-based “clearing house” that would compile frequently updated research. They are also suggesting that local, state and federal educators and law enforcement authorities coordinate on a consistent message about online safety.

The group also is recommending that educators and regulators avoid using "scare tactics" that discourage kids from using the Internet with strident warnings about pornography, predators and violent material. While acknowledging those risks, the group said it also wanted to present the Web more as a tool than a threat.

The group also said that studies have shown one issue that needs to be better understood is cyber bullying. Educators and parents need better ways to teach children that actions online can affect others, the group said. .

“Thanks to the growing body of youth-online-risk research, we are now able to seek solutions as a society which are fact-based, not fear-based, but also that minors themselves – mainly pre-teens and teens – have a role to play in improving their own safety online and that of their peers,” the group said in its report.

The report, mandated by the 2008 Broadband Data Improvement Act, charged the OSTWG to analyze the state of online-safety parental controls and education, as well as Internet industry data retention and child-pornography reporting to support law enforcement.

The report comes as Congress reexamines the Child Online Privacy Protection Act and agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, review online safety and privacy for children and the retention of data by of users by Web sites.

By Cecilia Kang  |  June 4, 2010; 12:02 AM ET
Categories:  Kids Online  
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