Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"I'm Scared"

Edvard Munch The Scream

Of what? I asked.

My caller was a new student in EDM310 who feared disclosing anything about herself or her family on the Internet. Why this fear?

There are predators on the Internet was the basis of her reply (she was afraid for her children), in addition to a fear of losing control over her privacy.

How do we, as teachers who have embraced the use of the internet, respond to such expressions of fear?

One response I always give is that if you want your kids (and you as an individual) to have an equal chance at economic (and political I would add) success in the new world, they must be skilled in and willing to use the most powerful communication and information tools available to them and others. Right now that is the internet and the associated communication tools that have been developed to extend our ability to interact freely and at no cost with practically anyone around the world using text, audio and video.

This answer, however, does not get at the fear of danger lurking "on the Internet." Usually the fear is expressed in terms of "being stalked" or being sexually or physically attacked.

We should then ask how often this happens as a result of interaction with the Internet.

If we read the papers or listen to District Attorneys (especially those running for office) you would think it is an extremely frequent occurrence. What do we know about interactions on the Internet? Here are some interesting figures. Chris Gayomali reported on July 1, 2011 that there are 200 million Tweets a day on Twitter. That is six trillion Tweets a month. What about Facebook? In one minute Gary Hayes (August 2011) estimates that there are 699,073 items shared on Facebook per minute! That is 41,944,380 per hour or 1 trillion a day.*

Now pretend that you are a stalker or some other kind or pervert that scares the living daylights out of pour souls just because you exist. How do you select from all the communications traffic whom to pick as your victim? A rather daunting task given the enormity of the communication events that you encounter! The answer is you troll. You fish for a victim. You try and get someone to respond to you. One way is to try and get people to accept you as a friend on Facebook or in chat rooms(or elsewhere) and share their personal stories, desires, fantasies, hopes and attributes. (Yes, sometimes those revelations are enhanced so they are more interesting, attractive or alluring). Now you, as a predator, have a much smaller pool of potential "victims" to work with. You know that they are "interested". They have identified themselves as potential cooperative participants, or at least have spiked your interest in them. Looking at thousands of blog posts, Facebook items or Tweets means fishing in too large a pond. You are now able to fish in a pond where the fish have indicated a possible willingness to bite. Now your efforts are far less daunting than surfing the entire communications network.

How do you protect yourself and your family? Not by hiding entirely from the Internet world. Instead you learn when and where to reveal what about you. My Mother told me over and over again not to accept rides from strangers. But she did not say that I could not get a ride home from school with Susie's mother. I was expected to learn how to make wise decisions and good choices. The same applies to the Internet.

You must teach your children (and you must learn yourself) how to safely use the Internet. Like crossing the street: look both ways before you cross and obey the lights. But do not refuse to ever cross a street!

One more thing. The greatest danger to you and your family is not "a pervert on the Internet." It is an automobile accident. Thirty-three percent of all deaths of 15-24 year olds in the USA come from an automobile accident. Forty six percent from all accidents. Think drinking and driving or texting and driving. Fifteen percent are homicides. The vast majority of these are caused by someone known to the victim. Thirteen percent are suicides. Eleven percent are diseases or congenital conditions.

Be aware. Not afraid. Help you family to learn to drive responsibly (no alcohol, no texting, no racing, etc. help your family to learn to use the Internet responsibly. And remember: The interactions you have on the Internet are a relatively minor part of your life. At least I hope you have a life other than an Internet life!

* Although not directly relevant to my argument in this post, I call to your attention the number of YouTime videos watched as reported by Gary Hayes far exceeds even the Facebook items shared. Are you ready? Here are Hayes' figures for Videos Watched on YouTube (August 2011):
Per minute: 2,097,221
Per hour: 125,833,260
Per day: 3,019,998,240
Per month: 93,619,945,440


  1. This is something that my aunt is crazy about! She will not for the life of her put anything about her or her kids on the internet. I can see where she is coming from, but on the otherhand if you do not expose yourself to the internet, its only impairing yourself. Internet is a daily thing for the whole world. Its not only for personal use, school's are now getting in on it! I think that if everyone was taught how to properly use the internet, there would not be as much controversy over it.
    There are just some stupid people out there, though. Like for instance, do not accept someone you do not know on facebook...that's just a given. Do not go in chatrooms where there is innapropriate subjects being discussed. Make smart decisions, don't respond to someone from some place you've never heard of. That's irresponsible on your part.
    The internet is such a marvelous resource that it is impossible not to be apart of the cyber world! The internet is never ending and it is constantly getting more and more popular with schools. So, my advice is get involved with it! It can only broaden your mind and people can learn everything there is to know thanks to the internet!

  2. Hello Dr. Strange. I am one of your hardworking EDM 310 students. I have to admit that as a mother of three children, ages 9, 11, and 13, it does make me nervous sometimes to think of those internet predators. I used to be scared myself about that kind of thing, but the more comfortable I get with technology, the more I see its enormous value. I think the key to squashing that common fear is education. At the school in which I teach, the computer teacher and the counselor teach a class on internet safety. We try and give the students the tools they need to navigate the internet safely. I also teach my own children at home to use the internet wisely. There are so many wonderful educational opportunities to be found in technology. We shouldn't be scared of technology; we should embrace it. It is our future regardless.

  3. Dr. Strange,
    I agree with this blog post. I stated in my last post that we, as parents and teachers, need to stop teaching children about how dangerous the internet is and start teaching them about all the positive possibilities it has. My parents never told me about how Google can help with researching. Their main concern was to stress to me over and over, "Stay out of chat-rooms!" Of course, this only caused me to WANT to go into chat-rooms. Of course there are people out there who want to hurt others, but we don't need to (and really can't) hide from the internet.
    I personally don't mind if someone living in China finds a picture of me and knows my name. Like you said, it is important to know what is acceptable to post on the internet. Obviously I am not going to post my address or social security number, but having my name and my opinions on the internet cannot harm me if I do it correctly.
    Thanks for sharing your post!