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Teens Grapple With Cyberethics in the Digital Age

By Richard Adhikari
Oct 7, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Adolescents growing up in a digital, highly mobile world are increasingly coming to grips with questions of ethics and behavior, with mixed results.

Teens Grapple With Cyberethics in the Digital Age

On the one hand, cyberpranking and cyberharrassment have increased. On the other, more kids are willing to intervene when they see cyberharrassment.

For example, 34 percent of respondents to a recent survey on digital abuse said someone looked at their text messages and recent call logs in their phones without their permission this year.

The figure for 2009, the first year this survey was conducted, was 40 percent.

To offset that, 56 percent of the respondents to this year's survey said they're likely to intervene when they see someone being mean to another person on social networking sites, up from 47 percent in 2009.

Also, 51 percent of the respondents to this year's survey are likely to ask someone to stop using discriminatory language on social networking sites.

This year's survey was conducted in August by Knowledge Networks on behalf of MTV and the Associated Press.

Even More Survey Results

Twenty-one percent of the respondents to this year's survey reported that someone had impersonated them by logging into their email, social network or other account without their permission this year, as against 12 percent in 2009.

Further, 16 percent said someone had put embarrassing pictures or videos of them on an Internet page without their permission, as opposed to 11 percent in 2009.

The number of respondents reporting that someone wrote something untrue about them on a Web page was 26 percent this year, compared with 22 percent in 2009.

Twenty-four percent said someone wrote something very mean about them on an Internet page, as against 19 percent in 2009; and 21 percent said someone used email, IM or text messaging to spread untrue rumors about them this year, as opposed to 18 percent in 2009;

Thirty-four percent stated someone looked at their text messages and recent call logs in their phones.

Putting Things in Context

"When you look at 14- to 24-year-olds, you do see an increase [in digital abuse, cyberbullying and sexting] between 2009 and 2011," Jason Rzepka, who heads MTV's drive against these behaviors, told TechNewsWorld.

MTV conducted its first survey in 2009, when it began looking into the issue of digital abuse, cyberbullying and sexting, Rzepka said

On the other hand, "the use of social media has increased drastically during that period (2009 to 2011), so in some sense it's not unexpected to see that young people have seen some sort of unsavory experience," he said.

Causing Pain Is a Crime

Apparently, some young victims whose cellphones, computers and Facebook pages have been hacked or invaded without their permission pass this off as a prank.

However, cyberharrassment or invading someone else's digital life may break the law.

"From the standpoint of criminal statutes, if you're taking someone's passwords and hacking into their accounts, or hacking in and changing something you don't have the right to do or viewing something you don't have the right to view, it's a crime," Roy Hadley, an attorney at law firm Barnes & Thornburg pointed out.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a kid or a juvenile," Hadley told TechNewsWorld.

"We tend to think social media is a different area, but it's still subject to the same laws [as everything else]," Hadley continued. "Just because something's on the cutting edge doesn't mean you can disregard the law."

A Clash of Cultures

Part of the problem is that the current generation of youth is growing up in a world different from anything its predecessors have known, and there are no societal guideposts stemming from previous experience to help them proceed.

"No generation has grown up this way before, connected 24 x 7 all their lives," MTV's Rzepka stated.

"There's a generational gap, not just technologically but culturally," Jeff Mcintyre, director of national policy at Children Now, told TechNewsWorld.

"We're still in an age where most adult communications focus around email, and talking to a child about email is like teaching her to drive an Edsel," McIntyre explained.

"There's a big need for this to become part of the classroom experience and to teach digital ethics," MTV's Rzepka suggested. "We're giving these kids power tools and we're letting them use these with no training."

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