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Generation Z’s Digital Interaction Increases During Pandemic

For parents, this is probably common knowledge by now, but the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown has had a significant effect on Gen Z's digital behaviors. According to a report issued by Boston Consulting Group and Snapchat, there has been a boost in Generation Z’s use of social media, video streaming and gaming, as well as an increase in online spending. Their report also highlights Gen Z's increased reliance on mobile-focused video and social platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.

Facebook to Identify Content from State Run Media

Facebook says it will start labeling content produced by at least 18 government-controlled news outlets, including Russia's RT and China's Xinhua News. The social platform will also begin labeling ads from the news outlets and plans to block their ads in the US in the near future. This is a bit of reversal for Facebook who has not been willing to label misinformation or election related materials.

New TikTok Policies Aimed at Supporting Black Creators

TikTok is responding to accusations that it censors black creators by launching a creator diversity council, assessing moderation strategies, developing a new appeals process and starting a creator portal that includes information for the broader TikTok community. The social platform also apologized for a system error that made posts with #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd appear as though they had zero views and pledged to donate $3 million to nonprofits serving black communities.

TikTok Expanding Content

TikTok, a favorite social media platform of tweens and teens, is evolving from featuring short-form quirky clips to live video and content related to everything from sports and gaming to cooking, fashion and beauty, says Bryan Thoensen, head of content partnerships. The social platform expects to see expanded educational content, which would boost users' time on the app while helping creators monetize their efforts, and generating more ad dollars, he says. So expect your children may be spending more time on the app.

The “Freedom of Reach” Question

A new term – “freedom of reach” – is in circulation among those who are concerned about how social media sites are handling misinformation and inflammatory comments. Snapchat is the latest to try to answer the question of “freedom of reach versus freedom of speech” after Twitter has decided to label tweets from President Trump that it considers misleading or “glorifying violence”, and Facebook agonized but decided to do nothing. Snapchat’s approach is to no longer promote President Trumps’s verified Snapchat account. His account, RealDonaldTrump, will remain on the platform and continue to appear on search results. But he will no longer appear in the app’s Discover tab, which promotes news publishers, elected officials, celebrities, and influencers. “We are not currently promoting the president’s content on Snapchat’s Discover platform,” Snapchat said in a statement. “We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover. Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America.”

Since Snapchat is one of the social media sites used mainly by teens and young adults, the fairness of the “freedom of reach” question is one you might want to discuss with your children in the context of misinformation online. Snapchat isn’t deleting Trump’s account, and he is free to keep posting to existing followers. But to the extent that his Snapchat account grows in the future, it will be without Snapchat’s help. In Snapchat’s terms, the company has preserved Trump’s speech while making him responsible for finding his own reach. Trump’s campaign thinks this approach is unfair, but Snapchat has neatly sidestepped questions of censorship by not censoring the president at all. Instead the company has said that if you want to see the president’s snaps, you’ll have to go look for them on your own time.

Watch Out for Deepfake Videos and Images

Here is another vocabulary term you need to add to your lexicon – deepfakes. Deepfakes are images and audio pulled from social media accounts to create convincing videos – sometimes of people who never existed - for extortion, misinformation and disinformation. Deepfake technology enables anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to create realistic-looking photos and videos of people saying and doing things that they did not actually say or do. Cybercriminals are increasingly interested in the potential use of deepfake videos to pressure people into paying ransom or divulging sensitive information or to spread misinformation, Trend Micro reports, making the vetting of any information online or in media even more important.

Understanding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

It will be very interesting to see what effect the new Executive Order that President Trump signed recently targeting Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act has on cyberbullying and misinformation online. While you may have never heard of this section of the law, it was created almost 30 years ago to protect Internet platforms from liability for many of the things third parties say or do on them. But now it’s under threat by President Trump, who hopes to use this act to fight back against the social media platforms he believes are unfairly censoring him and other conservative voices. Some critics say he is trying to bully these platforms into letting him post anything he wants without correction or reprimand, even when he has broken a site’s rules about posting bullying comments or questionable information.

In a nutshell, Section 230 says that Internet platforms that host third-party content (for example, tweets on Twitter, posts on Facebook, photos on Instagram, reviews on Yelp, or a news outlet’s reader comments) are not liable for what those third parties post (with a few exceptions). For instance, if a Yelp reviewer were to post something defamatory about a business, the business could sue the reviewer for libel, but it couldn’t sue Yelp. Without Section 230’s protections, the Internet as we know it today would not exist. If the law were taken away, many websites driven by user-generated content would likely be shut down. As Senator Ron Wyden, one of the authors of the Section 230 says about it, the law is both a sword and a shield for platforms: They’re shielded from liability for user content, and they have a sword to moderate it as they see fit.

That doesn’t mean Section 230 is perfect. Some argue that it gives platforms too little accountability, allowing some of the worst parts of the internet — think cyberbullying that parents or schools struggle to have removed or misinformation that stays online for all to see with little recourse— to flourish along with the best. Simply put, Internet platforms have been happy to use the shield to protect themselves from lawsuits, but they’ve largely ignored the sword to moderate the bad stuff their users upload. It is also important to remember that the cyberbullying that occurs is less than one tenth of one percent of all the traffic online, but it still is important for these sites to acknowledge their role and do more about it.

All that said, this protection has allowed the Internet to thrive. Think about it: Websites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have millions and even billions of users. If these platforms had to monitor and approve every single thing every user posted, they simply wouldn’t be able to exist. No website or platform can moderate at such an incredible scale, and no one wants to open themselves up to the legal liability of doing so. But if that free flow of information and creativity goes away, our online world will be very different.

So where do we stand? While the executive order sounds strict ( and a little frightening with the government making “watch lists” of people who post or support “certain kinds” of content) , legal experts don’t seem to think much — or even any — of it can be backed up, citing First Amendment concerns. It’s also unclear whether or not the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to regulate Section 230 in this way, or if the president can change the scope of a law without any congressional approval.

Predators Looking for Information

As the pandemic continues, online safety continues to be top of mind. Officer Travis Spencer, a school resource officer in Georgia, warns that whatever an online predator’s motivation, what they want most is information.  They are looking for the kind of information that will let them see into your life, find out where you live, what you like, and let them delve into your most personal thoughts and dreams. Spencer says “Let’s use TikTok for example. The background in your clip for example says a lot about where you are. Like my background right now shows where I work. So, if you were going to put up a very popular video with a current song, your backdrop will tell people not only who you are, but where you live. You might have a poster on the wall, certificate, or something with a school name. Predators will take that information to find out where you live and what you like. So, it’s incredibly dangerous.”

How To Keep Your Kids Safe While Playing Games Online

During the pandemic it has been almost inevitable that kids and adults are playing more games online. The usual top pieces of advice about keeping your kids safe with online games is to be familiar with the games they play, to play with them if possible, and to talk to them about how they feel about these games. With luck, parents may have had a little more time to do just that during the lockdown. Beyond that basic advice, there are several categories of things parents should also be thinking about:

  1. Privacy
  • Make sure your child picks a username that protects their identity. Try to pick something that has no clues to name, birthday, hometown, school or phone number. Be creative!
  • Remind kids to never share with their password or gaming account with anyone else, even good friends. That password may be a way for a stranger to figure out passwords for other accounts if they are similar. Having that information, even if only for a “joke,” can let someone else use their account to harass, bully, or post inappropriate things.
  • Kids are easily led into sharing little tidbits of information about their life but instruct them to keep any conversations with people they are playing with about the game itself. If someone starts asking personal questions, it might be best to stop talking to them.
  • Most online games and gaming apps have privacy settings that you can set (an online search to help you find out how for any particular game). Many have privacy settings that have options for showing information such as when you're online and what games you're playing. Additionally, consider limiting who can play with your kids in the game.
  1. Avoiding Cyberbullying
  • Kids should understand that people can and do lie about who they are online, especially when they are playing games. While it is fun to talk to people kids meet while playing, it is smart to assume they are lying about who they are. They should always treat online “friends” as strangers and never agree to talk to or meet them in real life.
  • Cyberbullies have discovered gaming is a great place to find targets. Your children need to know that they can tell you when someone is being mean to them online and that their experience isn’t going to bring an abrupt end to their gaming life. When they do tell you about an incident, talk to them about what happened and help them figure out how to block that person. Emphasize to them that it is never okay for someone to send mean messages or mistreat them while playing a game, but sometimes things can be said in the heat of the moment when someone is angry about losing. It is important for them to know that repeat patterns of harassment or abuse are not acceptable.
  • Most important, keep talking to your kids about their gaming experiences. Reiterate the importance of protecting their personal information and listen carefully when they are talking about their online friends for any clues to that fact that there may be bullying going on. Ask if they have needed to block anyone. Questioning them about what their character in a game is currently doing can also help you decide if the game is appropriate for them.
  1. Beware of Scams and Expenses
  • Caution kids to avoid downloading tip or cheat sheets for online games as they may contain a virus or spyware, even if these come up in the game itself or appear on the website of the game developer.
  • Help your children to review ratings and reviews on games before they play. Always make sure a game is appropriate for your child’s age range. Make sure that other players say they enjoyed the game and did not experience technical issues.
  • Turn off in-app purchases so your child can’t run up a bill. Some games are free to download and may also offer free game play. However, these games are often set up for in-app purchases if players want access to higher levels. Your child may accidentally make expensive in-app purchases while they’re playing, which can result in a huge bill. Open the app or mobile settings on your child’s phone and switch off in-app purchases
  • Other players may offer to sell your children characters or gear, but as with anything on the Internet, it may not be what it seems. Be sure to research that the person is active on gaming sites and has been around long enough to have the characters or gear they’re selling. It’s better to pay through a service like PayPal so you can file a claim if the person is scamming you.
  1. Set Limits and Offer Breaks
  • Gaming is fun, but kids can get carried away and not realize how long they are playing. Limit how much time your child can play in a single session.
  • Tell you children they can’t play games until their homework or chores are done.
  • Offer alternative activities like getting outside to play catch, take a walk, play with the dog, etc.
  • Make sure your kids are taking breaks when they are tired, hungry, or getting frustrated by a game.

How Our Online Lives are Being Reshaped by the Pandemic

Two months ago if you asked a teen or young adult to call someone on the phone they most likely would have looked at you like you were crazy, preferring communicating by text or social media instead. Now in the solitude of quarantine, a craving for intimacy and personal connection means people want to hear each other's voices and see each other's faces more than ever. In an article on the rewriting of social connections during the crisis, cultural anthropologist Megan Routh describes the ways the pandemic is reshaping the way people connect with each other, including the democratization of online communities as people turn to social platforms for interaction (i.e. anonymous Zoom dance parties). She writes that young and old consumers alike are rejecting aspirational content from social influencers and instead are seeking relatable content that reflects real life, seeking optimism instead of snark and having more respect for facts.