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Facebook and National PTA join forces on online child safety

Facebook is teaming up with the National PTA to spread information to kids, parents and teachers about how to responsibly and safely use the Internet, the two organizations said.

The aim of the partnership is to reduce cyberbullying and other risks to children online, issues that have gained attention in recent years as parents, lawmakers and regulators in Washington struggle to keep children safe as the Internet becomes an extension of kids' lives.

Child safety experts said the partnership marked a positive step for the National PTA, which has not played a major role in online safety issues. The National PTA, and organizations like it, can reach parents and teachers through their deep roots in communities, particularly in the suburbs and rural areas, said Parry Aftab, who sits on Facebook’s safety advisory board.

Facebook and the National PTA said they would provide information and other resources through their respective websites and through the PTA’s 24,000 local chapters. An estimated 12 million teens belong to Facebook, which is the world's most popular social networking site, with more than 500 million users.

“Teenagers are our youngest users and they are the users that should be getting the supervision, education and messaging from parents and teachers about the right ways, the best ways and the safest ways to use the Internet and social networking sites,” said Joe Sullivan, Facebook's chief security officer.

Erin Hart, a spokeswoman for the National PTA, said her organization was trying to spark an “interactive conversation” about child safety.

The announcement follows a 148-page report from an online safety committee commissioned by the U.S. government that found the chief danger facing kids is cyberbullying. Other risks include identity theft, obsessive use of technology and damage to reputation. The report recommends that parents, teachers, government agencies and other organizations work together to teach kids how to treat each other with respect and civility online and off. Child safety experts are pushing for an approach that views the Internet as more of a tool than a threat. 

The report is being criticized for not keeping up with the quick pace of the Internet. It "represents a solid amount of work by highly respected individuals in their fields, which makes it all the more frustrating that there isn’t at least one recommendation that we haven’t heard before," ssaid Linda Criddle, president of the Safe Internet Alliance. "What’s missing is an innovative vision that sculpts a safer future."

A safer future is what concerned parents want. A Yahoo survey conducted in April found that 78% of parents are concerned about their children’s online safety, with 70% talking to their children two to three times a year about it and 45% talking to their children about it at least once a month. Parents are getting involved, with 74% connecting to their children’s profiles on social networking sites and 71% taking at least one action to manage their children’s use of the Internet or cellphones. Cyberbullying is the main concern. One in four adults who are aware of it say they have been a victim or know someone who has. Nearly three-quarters of parents want their child’s school to play a role in teaching kids about online safety.

Congress is in the process of examining the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. Other agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, are reviewing online safety and privacy for children.

Facebook, which recently stirred up controversy with its privacy practices, has come under fire in Washington. American University professor and COPPA architect Kathryn Montgomery accused Facebook of attempting to allay concerns from policymakers and parents “about whether young people are being treated appropriately.”

“They are constantly raising the safety issue to deflect concern about a system which is designed to gather enormous amounts of information from young people and encourage them to share all of that information,” she said.

-- Jessica Guynn

 
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