Friday, May 15, 2009

Local DC station reports on gossip website and schools; Dr. Phil on more dangerous teen Internet behaviors

Television station WJLA (7, an ABC affiliate) reported Thursday May 14, that parents and teachers in Germantown, MD (Montgomery County) and probably the surrounding communities were up in arms about a website that students were using to post vicious rumors about each other and teachers.

This is the link for the story.

WJLA offers an embedded three-minute video here

The site (not named in the WJLA story but offered in the video) is “Peoples Dirt” and McAfee site advisor gives it a green rating. McAfee does downgrade sites known to have illegal content.

The Maryland Gazette reports that the site had been shut down for illegal content in December, and then it reappeared.

According to WJLA, the site was the repository for a threat that was made last week against another school in Montgomery County. The details are available at WJLA. The site has been blocked on all Montgomery County school computers and may well be blocked on other area school systems.

The story is interesting because a few months ago there was a lot of controversy about “Juicy Campus” which eventually ceased operation. I had covered that on my main blog here in February 2009.

The WJLA video has a parent saying that free speech is fine for adults, but for kids, the digital records of mistakes last forever – the “online reputation” problem. I’ve discussed these issues at length in my main blog and COPA (Child Online Protection Act) blog (see my Profile) since I was a COPA Plaintiff.

Today (Friday May 15) Dr. Phil had a session on “dangerous teen trends” and presented the story of a 12-year-old girl who set herself up with an alternate identity as an Internet “star” and gave out personal information for everyone in her family. (No, we won’t name names here.) The link for the show segment is this.

The point was made that siblings could have been endangered as well as her. The story reminds one of Justin Berry, who had set himself up as a “star” at age 13 and is now working with federal prosecutors. A New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald worked on the case and says that teens should never have webcams in their own rooms.

Update: Sunday May 17

The Metro Section of the Washington Post has a story by Donna St. George and Daniel DeVise, "Slur-Filled Web Site Hurtful but Not Illegal: Some Call Teen Forum 'Toxic' Free Speech" link here.

I'd love to get some comments on the ethical questions behind running sites like this or "Juicy Campus."

Update: June 12, 2009

Terrence O'Brien has a story on Switched about the shut-down of "People's Dirt" after action by the Maryland Attorney General, link here.

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