Mary Kay Hoal is the founder and President of YourSphere Media, Inc., a youth-centered, driven social media network for children ranging in ages from nine to 14 years.
YourSphere has partnered with Kabillion, an Emmy Award-winning multi-media content provider for children offering video on demand and broadband products. Forty thousand households from Kabillion are making their community on YourSphere.
Hoal’s advice about social media is predicated upon the YourSphere solution which offers privacy and age-appropriate content. Below are her insights and the practical reality that inspired a social media network committed to age-appropriate content and experiences.
1. Should children under-13 be allowed access to social networking sites? (What skills–people, communication etc–do they learn by participating in such sites?)
Children under 13 should be allowed to access social networking sites that were created specifically for kids. Social media is a wonderful tool that each of us should learn to use responsibly and safely, particularly children, but only when comprehensive safeguards are in place.
Children don’t learn to ride a bike on the freeway; they’re given the opportunity to ride safely in their neighborhood, then to school, and then perhaps to a friend’s house or after-school activity. Social networks created just for kids, like Yoursphere.com, allow children and young teens to experience the true intended benefits of social media, including digital literacy, creativity, connectivity, community, philanthropy and education opportunities – all while learning safety and privacy fundamentals and the importance of digital citizenship before graduating on to the adult-intended networks.
The “second wave” of social media is here, and thankfully it’s offering social networks specifically for children and young teens. Much like the television industry of the past, when there were only “the big three” networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), there are two big networks in social media: Facebook and Twitter. Then along came cable, which brought age and interest-specific programming including youth channels such as Nickelodeon, CartoonNetwork, Disney, Kabillion and more. Just like the television industry, age-appropriate social networking sites for children are now here. Yoursphere.com leads the lineup as the pioneer in children’s social media.
If Facebook were a movie its content would be rated R or NC-17. Complying with C.O.P.P.A (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) won’t change Facebook to a G or PG rating. There isn’t a hyper-focus at Facebook on supporting the age-appropriate interests, talents and aspirations of young children and teens. Instead there’s a free-for-all culture that often sexualizes members and mainstreams unacceptable social behavior that negatively impacts children and teens. Groups such as NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association, dedicated to legalizing consensual sex between an adult male and young boys), PTHC (Pre Teen Hard Core) and “Smash or Pass” (where young people post their photos asking for others to comment if they would like to “smash”, have sex with, or “pass”, decline) are allowed to exist in Facebook.
Facebook partners with game publishers like EA and Zynga, both of which create games that encourage players to have virtual sex with each other (Sims Social or The Ville). Violent games with an age rating of 18+ abound. A simple Facebook search for terms like “horny” and “naked” will result in dozens of apps and community pages where members exchange mutual interests based on these categories. Sadly, Facebook allows these things to go on even though they know children and teens are using their site.
On Twitter, searching for obvious hashtags like #porn or #sexting will yield hundreds, if not thousands of profiles with pornographic images and tweets with links to pornography websites, or even fake, malicious URLs.
In the end, when our children join adult-intended networks, they lose the opportunity to be just that: children.
2.Do you think it is necessary to have social network solely for children (say under-13 is the limit). Wouldn’t this lead to some predators misusing the site?
Yes, it is necessary to have social networks just for children and young teens. It’s why I founded Yoursphere.com five years ago. Unlike media of the past where children were simply “media consumers”, social media participants are the media; they are the deciders. Social media participants are the content creators, the collaborators, the designers, the architects and the producers. And thus, forever more important, the social media platform that children create this media in becomes reflective of their unique age-appropriate interests, talents and aspirations, and not reflective of the adult culture that surrounds them on mainstream social networks.
I do not believe in fear mongering, and I don’t agree with those that would tell you dozens of sexual predators are singling out your child and are two clicks away. I also don’t support those who want to stick their head in the ground – a natural reaction for parents! My husband was one of those people because he wanted to get rid of the cell phones, computers and mobile devices. He said, “Mary Kay, things were much easier for us without all this technology.”
What I do believe and encourage all parents to be vigilant about is that predators are online – sexual, emotional, financial, identity and reputational predators. Sadly, it’s a side effect of the Internet. Children will only be as safe as technically and humanly possible with a combination of best-in-class privacy and safety practices by social networks for kids like Yoursphere.com, education of young members, and education of their parents so that they can become digitally literate, digitally educated and digitally involved. Without such kid social networks, the culture and subsequent effects on children will not change.
3. What are some of the built-in safety mechanism that your site has for the kids? (I see that you have an impressive list of law enforcement task force.)
The privacy and safety foundation of Yoursphere sets us apart from all others: COPPA compliancy, human oversight, youth and parental education, technology safeguards and leveraging the expertise of a law enforcement team that’s dedicated to protecting children online. While the specifics are proprietary, Yoursphere is approved by the Privacy Vaults Online Safe Harbor of the Federal Trade Commission for the unmatched safeguards we have in place.