Posted in Safety/Privacy, z personal

Sticks & Stones & Words can break you

I live at a crossroads.

On one side, there is the life I have built for myself.  I fought to be educated, even though I came from little means and was told people like me (poor, woman, etc)  don’t go far. I built a career in a new field and found offshoots and tiny niche corners that suited my skills.  I pushed myself to think outside of the box and question everything – status quo, paradigms, my bosses 😉  And it worked out pretty well, if I don’t say so myself.

On the other side of the crossroads is where I came from – my family, both born to and chosen.  They do not choose to question everything, as everything seems fine to them.  Sure it could be better, but that sounds difficult, so they just deal. Or maybe their situation is fine but hurting someone else – sucks to be them then.  Conflict makes them uncomfortable, yet they always seem to find themselves in it somehow, wringing their hands and praying for something or someone to make it different for them.

My identity was formed by (and opposed to) the latter.  Even though I do not lead a similarly flavored life as my families, I love them dearly and use them often for perspective.

So since I was always so different, I got made fun of a lot.  Like from everyone, always.  I am pretty sure I am on the autism spectrum, albeit in the higher functioning area. And I think that spectrum afforded me some protection from the social anxiety that was being forced on me all the time.  Whether that was the reason that one of my career offshoots was community management, I do not know.  For whatever reason, though, I am drawn to social interactions, especially more heated ones, and I try to work to help those in the tension see perspective, reality, and hopefully, compromise.

Remember “Sticks & Stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you”?

They don’t say that anymore, because they know it’s not true.  Most people ARE hurt by words.  And it’s not because they are snowflakes or sheltered by their religion or community.  It’s because mean words hurt feelings.  And feelings matter, as all my licensed clinical social workers friends implore my robot brain to believe.

Last night I posted a picture of me and my old black pug on my Facebook wall to commemorate the 10 years I have had him. One of my family members innocently made a joke appropriating a social justice movement.  In the life I’ve built, I have acquire so many amazing friends and acquaintances, many of whom have progressive ideologies.  As such, the remark offended and garnered a response.  Ever the community manager, I jumped in to explain to the family member that I understood the innocence of the post, but that innocence doesn’t remove the sting of the insult to many.  He apologized for the slight, but instead of removing the comment, decided to leave it me to remove it.

Then I went sleep.  I hadn’t slept well in a while, so I slept in late.  And I woke up to scores of messages on every messaging channel I’m on.

Apparently an old friend of mine from high school commended my tact at handling the situation by hurling a couple detailed insults at my family member.  Then my family member, clearly offended by the insults, threw more pointed ones back at my old friend.  Then a another friend jumped in.  Then another family member piped in, with threats of being more racist and offensive than anyone, as a ploy to stop the flame war (I’ll never understand this tactic).  That was coupled with multiple pleas from yet another family member, begging me to delete it all.

But the thing is – EVERYONE could have deleted their comments.  Noone’s hands were tied behind their backs.  Even if you literally couldn’t control your fingers from typing the initial offensive remarks, and you can’t bring yourself to apologize for your offense, you can ALWAYS delete your own content and take that small level of accountability for your actions.  But they all put it on me to manage. So to borrow an idiom, I’ll bare that cross. I deleted the entire subthread.

We have always lived in volatile emotional times.  Many disenfranchised groups are now getting their concerns amplified louder than ever before, so it just feels to many like the cacophony is louder.  But they were always there.  It’s not new.  What’s new is some groups are now hearing it and upset that they have to hear it.

Change takes so much time.  And not being an idealist or optimist, I think it’s a maddening amount of time.  But I surround myself with idealists and optimists who assure me that the greater good is worth fighting for, even if you never see the resolution.  But you know what happens along the way – fighting, arguments, insults, vile humanity.

The only thing you can do it take it in stride.  You are not going to make the bigots in your family stop being bigoted, but ignoring them is not going to make you feel better either.  Speak up, remind people of theirs and your humanity.  Be calm, but tenacious.

But more than anything.  Don’t say or type insults.  There is NOTHING good that comes from them.  If you accidentally do, take accountability and apologize and/or remove the offense as soon as you can.  Delegating that to others is an act of cowardice.  Wiping your hands clean of the situation without owning your role or by pointing out that THEY did something bad too, isn’t a mature way of dealing with a situation.  Sticking your head in the sand and pretending it’s not happening is not a mature choice either.

Own your words. Because they can hurt.  If you chucked a rock out of your yard while doing yard work and it hit someone in the face, you would feel bad and apologize and do whatever you could to help, even if you didn’t mean to hit them (I am not even dealing with you people who wouldn’t).  Treat errant words the same.  The hospital bills are lower and all you have to spend is a bit of your pride.

(And to further the analogy, if the person you accidentally hit in the face then threw another rock back at you and hit you, you are still at fault for the initial rock – these are elementary school rules you learn and should be teaching your kids.  Try to follow them yourselves)

Posted in online community, Safety/Privacy, virtual worlds, web business

My Interview on the Community Signal Podcast

This past month, I had the honor of being interviewed by Patrick O’Keefe, for his community management focused podcast, Community Matters.  You can download it on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, or stream it here:
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On the podcast, we talk about many things, but our focus was on the treatment of those staff on the front lines of community – the moderators and engagement staff that actually interact with customers.  I feel very strongly that while some of the burden of choosing and keeping a potentially toxic job is on the employee, an equal, and in some cases larger, portion of that responsibility is on the employers and brands hiring those individuals.
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Often times, they are highly marginalized team members – many are contractors with little or no interaction with the larger team or the client/brand team.  They are usually paid very low wages, even state-side, being told that they should be “happy” with their work-from-home status.
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And that’s just when the content they are handling isn’t toxic.  On most moderation teams, they have to screen out all the “bad” content, so that the audience doesn’t see it.  But the moderators still see it and are usually not given the support required to handle emotionally volatile content.  Even in communities for children, moderators can come across triggering content and some teams do not prepare their staff for that possibility.  “Becoming numb to it” is an awful skill to have to develop on the job.
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I also worry about the increasing trend to offshore moderation work to low-wage countries.  As an employer, I understand the urge, but it is difficult to maintain high quality with non-native speakers, not to mention the difficulty of oversight of procedures regarding the emotional well being of those moderators.  Just because they are offshore, doesn’t mean negative content won’t affect them the same.
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I am interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Let me know what you think in the comments or via twitter.
Posted in marketing, online community, Safety/Privacy, tween, virtual worlds, web business

Facebook and livestreaming tragedies

Great NPR Marketplace story on the conundrum of “free speech” and expression on social media during these tense times and how to moderate content for brands and different audience consumption.

http://www.marketplace.org/2016/07/07/life/facebook-and-livestreaming-tragedies

On the conversations happening at Facebook in the aftermath of Philando Castile’s death:

I imagine there are conversations around content moderation. You know, how do we treat events like this? Should they be subject to the normal rules surrounding violence or is there some kind of special dispensation that should be created for videos about news events, or videos that depict injustice. I think it’s a very tough line to straddle. –Deepa Seetharaman, reporter covering Facebook and other social media at the Wall Street Journal

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online advertising, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

COPPA/FTC- you make it so difficult to help you out

So I have a reputation as somewhat of a COPPA compliance warrior – so much so that my co-workers have been known to groan when I mention registration or database needs.  It’s an odd thing to have attributed to you, especially with no legal experience SLASH a general frustration with legal risk aversion in general.  But when you have been working on kids websites and communities for coming up on 15 years, you kinda get a hang for the ins and outs of the laws that surround it (or at least you SHOULD).

That’s the thing.  COPPA is required. It’s not a choice.  You have to comply.  If you don’t, you get in trouble – like super expensive trouble – in dollars and negative PR.  So you just do it.  I always find it odd when people brag about it or add it as a tagline to their branding.  It’s akin to saying – “My name’s Harry and just so you know, I definitely DON’T punch random strangers in the face.” Duh, Harry, but thanks for letting me know.

But COPPA compliance has become alot like speeding on the highway.  Many people obey the speed limit, but many more edge a bit over the line.  When they see a cop, they pull back and pretend that 55 is totes what they were driving the whole time. But then they inch back up to 65 or 70 the second they are in the clear.  I’ve heard some people actually see a speeding ticket every now and then as a valid cost of driving – a tax they are willing to budget for.

Much the same, companies have started inching over the compliance line on COPPA.  I actually have been in meetings with kids brand execs (NOT my current ones 😉 ) that considered having a slush fund set aside in case their was a sanction levied against them.  But even Pollyanna-well-intentioned brands sometimes find themselves inching toward or even over the COPPA line.  You know why?  Because it’s SUPER hard to comply to in the internet/digital culture that we are in right now.

COPPA was put in place to protect kiddos from nefarious marketers who wanted to sell personal info. It was not for predators or decency or to teach personal accountability in identity protection.  But, with our culture of fear, those are the things that people think it’s in place for.

Is it good that a byproduct of this rather draconian law imposed on site operators so they don’t profit from the sale of kids info, ALSO helps prevent kids from distributing personal details about themselves in public forums?  Maybe – but I’m not sure that that remote and avoidable byproduct outweighs the other hurdles the law imposes.

You see, the whole thing is predicated on parents being super engaged in their children’s online lives.  Ask a parent about this and they will undoubtedly say:

“YES! Of course, I want to know what is going on with my child online AND to help them make good decisions accordingly!  I am an amazing parent!”

This is evidenced in tons of surveys.  But do those surveys follow up with the parent (and I mean REALLY follow up – not just ask the parent in another survey) with a

“Ok, parent, but do you REALLY? Are you ACTUALLY the super engaged parent you painted yourself to be?”

Chances are, if that followup actually happened, the answer  would be dodged with an excuse about lack of time or understanding, lament of the speed of tech advancements or a bold faced lie.

Truth is that, anecdotally (albeit with my use-cases in the thousands), parents don’t know about COPPA and their assumed required involvement.  So we can demand verified parental consent til the cows come home, but if the parents don’t understand that is something that is needed, all the FTC is protecting is a child’s ingenuity to lie about their age, while simultaneously making it harder for an an ethical site operators to pay their staff while providing good content for kids.

Unless these impositions on the site operators are coupled with a robust (and effective) campaign to explain to parents WHY and HOW they need to be involved, COPPA is simply discouraging smaller brands away from quality content from kids, encouraging children and parents to learn truth-dodging techniques in registrations and forcing the nefarious operators deeper into the shadows to avoid detection.  Only bigger brands can afford the legal counsel needed to check that they are in the right.  The ones who can’t afford will simply not offer the content, or worse, slap a “over 13” stamp on it and skirt their responsibility.

The internet is based on communication channels – especially in the age of social media that is now the norm.  By starting from the false axiom of parental involvement and prohibiting use of the now standard means of communication until this involvement is verified, you are setting up either a web of lies OR limiting our next generations ability to learn how to use these channels correctly.  Both are horrible choices.

And don’t even get me started on how most of the mobile rules don’t even have a path to compliance…

Instead, we should flip the paradigm:

  • For the operators – we make the compliance voluntary and, therefore, honestly brag worthy.  Make it like shopping on a secure site – you get the security so that your customers feel safe.  If you don’t have that seal or badge or OK from the FTC, parents/kids would think twice before using their site.
  • For parents – we give them back their parenting responsibilities.  If they think their child shouldn’t be giving out info online, the parents should be punishing the children for breaking their house rules, not blaming the sites for making it too easy for their child to give out info.  And we should be helping parents understand this and how to do this – not assuming they are already there.
  • For kids – we teach them media awareness, basic stranger/danger skills and critical thinking.  If they aren’t ready for it – their parents shouldn’t be letting them use those sites – whether they are 8, 12, 15 or 17 years old.

I am not naive, I know this isn’t going to happen this year or even next.  But I am optimistic as to this happening at some point.  Until then, I will remain the compliance warrior, marching and marching on.  But I have 10 million+ kids and parents on my compliant site – so you better believe I’m gonna start the first steps toward a more rational model now.

Posted in Animal Jam, kids, Safety/Privacy

Safer Internet Day!

Yeah, I know.  First, Community Manager Appreciation Day (#CMAD) and now Safer Internet Day?  How many trumped up days do my peers need to feel good and noticed?  (The answer is infinite – we are passionate, insatiable service providers, so we will take whatever we can get.)

That said – the twitterspheres I pay attention to were all over Safer Internet Day yesterday.  For really great resources, run a twitter search on #SaferInternetDay or #SID2013.

At Animal Jam, we launched a new Parent Video series that we are calling Animal Jam Parent Connection.  We will go through tips for frequent issues parents deal with and review some of the offerings we have at Animal Jam.  This first one focuses on teaching good password habits.

I host the first, and my aversion to myself being videoed aside…, I think it came out ok.  Let me know what you think and if you have ideas of other topics we should cover, like parent controls, bullying, naiveté, safe chat habits, etc  🙂

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

Digital Kids and 2013 Predictions

I am excited to be involved in this years Digital Kids Conference as an emcee for the first day’s talks.  It’s collocated with Toy Fair again in NYC, so we should have a nice crowd.  Tonda, Chris and crew are promoting on the regular social channels – Facebook, Twitter, etc.

There is also an affiliated Digital Kids Safety Summit as well – you know I’ll be THERE too.

In prep for the conference, I was interviewed about my predictions for our industry in 2013.  Here’s a snippet:

“The new COPPA articulations have changed the digital climate. COPPA requires a level of parental engagement and involvement that many families don’t realize. Parents don’t understand how much parental consent they have to give, and new online safety and privacy articulations are going play an important role in online parenting,”

You can see the whole interview here.

Hope to see you all there!

 

Posted in marketing, online community, Safety/Privacy, virtual worlds, web business

Network makers responsibility

I think a great deal about my responsibility as a kids community producer in establishing and maintaining a healthy and safe culture in the communities I manage.  This has been the case since I began in 2000 and is a constant driving force in my career.

With the addition of Social Media to the landscape and the mass market adoption of the online world, I often feel the personal responsibility to act as a steward to this Digital Citizenship/Netizen culture with those I interact with online – be it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or whatever new site anyone is jumping into at the moment.

So danah boyd’s article on online networks and their role in our society was very exciting for me to stumble upon this week.  It’s a couple months old now, but the concepts are textbook caliber and really made me reflect on the more conceptual aspects of my day to day work.  I am proud that her final statement in the article is one that I remind myself of on a regular basis.

One thing’s clear: it’s high time we examined the values that are propagated through our tools. We all need to think critically about the information we create, consume and share. We all need to take responsibility for helping shape the world around us. – danah boyd

Definitely worth the read for anyone interested in the shift our collective societies are taking and the unique concerns that apply to the digital space, as well as the ones from the offline space that have followed us online.