Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adventure on Kid's Social Networks Land


Yesterday night my casual stop by my daughter's bedroom to steal a kiss turned out into a fascinating and then scary experience.

My daughters Nicole (10) and Angelina (7) have been into kid's social networks for around 3 years.
While my older daughter Nicole was obsessively pursuing Club Penguin's cheats, my younger daughter Angelina, 7, was all about having boyfriends and of course later breaking up with them.
Recently they switched to RoBlox.com, as Club Penguin is totally "boring", according to them. On the new site they continue with the same pursuits. Nicole is playing games, accumulating points and building her own games. In the meantime, Angelina is taking the dating scene to the next level.

Back to yesterday night! Apparently, Angelina, also known as "roGirlsRock" just broke up with "Amit...", her boyfriend from the last two months to be with "Xenergy...".
"Xenergy..." suggested Angelina would get an iPod app called Text Plus (not the first one that appears on the search, but the second one) which allows kids to text each other from any iOS device from ficticious numbers (as the phones and internet separation line gets blurry, a kind of cool concept, freemium, pay $2 a year if you want to chose your number). So, we did install the app. Then, we tried to send the fake text plus number to her "boyfriend", and roblox acted as if it was doing that, but indeed it was actually completely blocking it and never sending the whole line to the other players.

Letting the experiment continue ... we launched the Text Plus app.
First thing I realized launching the app is that text plus, as opposed to most kid's networks does allow you to publish your picture. So glad I was there! We take a pic of her roblox character and add it to her profile. Next thing I see on the incoming text is instructions on how to take her own pic. Then, the kid sees that Angelina uploaded her character's pic and asks "ro" as he calls her:
- Send me a pic of you.

Paranoia!
At this time I'm completely stressed out knowing that Angelina is having a super rush with her new boyfriend but this is potentially and absolutely wrong. All sort of scenarios appeared into my mind: could this be a kid's predator? would this be just a normal teenager doing their normal thing? after all texting and interchanging pics, is what teenagers do! Either way, this is way too much for Angelina, even with her social smarts she is only 7! Actually, she just turned 7 today!! I instruct her to tell the kid she can't post pics of herself, she's only 7. At that point, even she gets scared and writes:
- "I'm breaking up with you".
The kid goes:
- "Ow. why?".

Then, we both decide she could be friends but no pics, you've got to realize all of this is happening super fast.
So he's sending pics of some tiger in the snow and all seems back to pretty naive.
A second later there we go again, Angelina is sending pics of our office (not including herself) and that instant I remembered that some day I read that's the way they do it, they ask kids to send pics of anything and once they get into the habit and comfort they go back to the personal pics request. Paranoia! Paranoia!!

I really have no way to tell if this is a total pervert or a completely normal teenager and I keep thinking this is nuts! There should be a way to know who's who in the net, which brings me back to my previous post on Digital Identity through Social Networks Algorithms.

Anyway, we both knew we had to stop just around the same time my husband become aware of the situation and his common sense was luckily stronger that my curiosity to understand how things work ... so that's the end of "Xenergy...", I guess Angelina will have to go back to "Amit..." who didn't ask for a pic in two months :)

New rules:
1. No communications outside roBlox except with real world friends. At least inside roBlox most communications between kids are public.
2. No pics exchange until she's 10, to be continued ...

It seems amazing to me that a kid can save so much "real life" pain and learn many lessons online in "test mode". On the other hand I find myself and my daughter completely un-prepared to handle all the new situations that arise with this new culture.

Suggestions are welcomed!!!!

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