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Links to my published articles online
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Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience

Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis "from the Bottom Up". Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38) Best Paper Nominee.

Weblogs as a bridging genre

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The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

Buxom Girls and Boys in Baseball Hats: Adolescent Avatars in Graphical Chat Spaces

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New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

December 26, 2003

Teens & chat

I have been having an email discussion today with a person who posted a question about setting up CMC options – chat and IM – to the Association of Internet Researchers listserv. Some of the issue we have been discussing frame this blog entry.

The balance between three points frame my concerns about the addition of synchronous CMC elements to websites for teens – legal/ethical considerations, the cost of maintaining safe systems, and using CMC as a lure for other materials. Teen chat sites are disappearing from the web. The primary reason is one of protection for the teens online from unethical persons who wish to take advantage of them in a variety of ways. While sexual predadation is often the “official” stated reason, teens are open to other predator behaviors including stalking, harassment, and extortion by persons – often other teens – in synchronous online environments. The creation of sites where teens can meet others and form friendships is a great addition to the web, but sites supporting CMC features must be clear on the legal and ethical issues created by including these features. Consult your legal advisor and do some background research so you are clear on how all of this impacts you before you institute any CMC feature.

Assuming background research is completed and all the legal/ethical issues are understood, then the cost of maintaining a safe site becomes a clearer issue. Synchronous elements require oversight; chatrooms must be moderated or monitored to maintain the participant’s safety. This raises many questions that must be answered by the sponsor: Will the CMC feature be available 24/7 or only limited hours? Where will the moderators/monitors of the site come from? How will they be selected, and supervised (which raises employment issues)? All of these issues become financial decisions, aside from the fact that synchronous elements increase the technological requirements of site maintenance and cost.

My last element is probably the most important when considering adding CMC features to a site: What is the goal? In my opinion a site must be designed to be a draw on its own. If the information isn’t important to the target audience, useful, and easily accessible then no amount of luring will make people visit the site regularly. I think the most important question that must be asked over and over again during a design process is – What’s the point? It is impossible to have thought about this question to much.

Ok, all that said I feel a need to say that I love chat. It was my entrée into the Internet, teen life online, CMC, and a the research I love. But I don’t think it is the right addition to all sites nor do I think all teens should chat. I advise parents and teens I know to hold off allowing unsupervised access to these sites and features until the teen is roughly 16. Would you let your teen age child roam around a large terrestrial public venue like a state fair or the Mall of America without adult supervision? If you wouldn’t why would you let them roam around the world, via the internet, without supervision? Chat and IM’s are wonderful, adult predators online are probably overstated by the media, and most kids you meet online are nice stable healthy kids. However one incident of kids being hurt by activity online is too much in my opinion, so I tend to err on the conservative side.

Posted by prolurkr at December 26, 2003 06:01 PM

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