Archives for February 2012

In the news - the megapixel myth?

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 16:40 UK time, Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Megapixels are taking up their own column inches this week following the announcement of Nokia's 808 PureView smartphone, which boasts a whopping 41 megapixel camera.

It's easy for consumers to look at 'the numbers' and assume that more megapixels equals a better camera. If this were the case the 808 would soon be replacing long-established professional cameras more than 10 times the price.

A 'megapixel' refers to the number of pixels - or dots - a camera can capture. A single megapixel is a square of 1,000 by 1,000 pixels - making one million pixels. It would seem that having more megapixels means a more detailed image.

To put the 808 into context, current top specification (or spec) smartphones feature 8 megapixel cameras, while a digital SLR camera used for shooting high resolution images for billboard adverts are usually around 25 megapixels.

When choosing a digital camera, whether part of a mobile phone or a standalone device, the truth is that the megapixel count is only part of the story. Equally, if not more important, are the lenses and features such as image stabilisation – crucial on lightweight cameras operated by human hand.

This latest offering from Nokia has specs far in advance of any smartphone camera. Digging a little deeper though, it becomes clear that the 41 megapixel sensor is in fact intended to be used as part of a fancy technique called 'oversampling', where the huge number of pixels are compressed down to create a sharper 5-megapixel image. The focus (pun intended) appears to be on what a user can do with an image post-capture - zooming, cropping and editing should all yield better results, with less image degradation.

When it comes to cameras on smartphones though, there is increasing interest in apps that in fact age and blur images, suggesting accuracy is less important than attractive and artistic images.

Perhaps this is an indication that smartphone cameras are closer to superceding compact cameras, but both devices still have two distinct uses. One is a lifestyle tool that offers a range of practical applications, whilst the other allows a user to have specific needs met, with fewer restrictions when it comes to weight and size.

It's up to consumers to see through the ever-increasing specs and identify their realistic needs when choosing a device. And remember - more megapixels doesn't necessarily mean a better picture.

Hajar is a regular contributor to the WebWise blog and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.

Finding great new books online

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Charlie Swinbourne Charlie Swinbourne | 11:00 UK time, Friday, 24 February 2012

The internet and the rise of ebooks have opened up new horizons for bookworms everywhere. Nowadays, you can carry hundreds of titles around with you on a tablet or an ebook reader like Amazon's Kindle or Apple's iPad. We're no longer limited by what is in stock at our local library or bookshop, and we have more choice of what to read than ever before.

So if you're interested in keeping up with the latest book releases, reading reviews or even finding new ways to share your books – whether you prefer old-fashioned paper or hand held devices - there's something for every avid reader on the web. Here are just a few sites to help you explore the world of books online.

Previously, you'd have to sneakily scan your friends bookshelves to find out what they liked reading. Now you can be nosy online – with sites like Shelfari (which is owned by Amazon) that aims to introduce readers to a global community of book lovers, or BookRabbit which connects readers, authors and publishers through the books they own. Meanwhile, Goodreads aims to recommend new books for you to read based on what other members with similar tastes enjoyed.

Lovereading is a UK based internet bookshop that aims to help you choose your next book, even giving you free extracts of all their featured books. The site has been running since 2005 (an age in internet terms) and does look a bit dated, but has features, fiction and non-fiction sections, where you can browse books for teenagers, debut novels of the year and even receive daily dose of literary trivia.

The websites of national newspapers have great book sections. The Guardian is an excellent example with news and reviews of the latest books, a weekly podcast and an interesting blog. The site also has an area dedicated to ebooks. The Telegraph and The Independent also have great, if smaller, book sites.

Would you like to join a book group? Bookgroup has a monthly newsletter, directory of book groups nationwide, plus a section for advice on setting up a book group. The site also regularly interviews authors for its readers, with authors like Hilary Mantel and Cormac McCarthy.

If you believe books should be shared, the most ingenious site I've found is BookCrossing, which calls itself 'the library of the world' and enables users to pass on their books to people across the globe. You sign up and give your book a unique ID. Then you share your book either by giving it away or releasing it into the wild (maybe just by leaving it on a bench!). Afterwards, you can follow your book's adventures wherever it goes, through the book's readers logging on. As the site says: 'it's where books get a new life.'

For people who are blind or have visual impairments and struggle to read the print in books, the RNIB run a Talking Books service which enables readers to listen to books on a CD. You can borrow up to six books at a time, and it's an on-demand service which means you don't have to wait for other users to return their CDs. And if you are deaf or hard of hearing (as I am) or simply have an interest in deaf culture, Forest Books – a site dedicated to selling books and resources about sign language and deaf issues is an option.

We all have a different taste in books. My own book collection varies from sporting biographies to Paul Auster novels, though with two young daughters, more often than not, I'm reading beautifully illustrated childrens' books of an evening. No matter your taste, the websites above will help you find a new way of finding your next book, sharing your taste, or passing on a treasured read to another grateful reader.

Charlie is a journalist and scriptwriter specialising in articles and films featuring deaf culture and sign language. He has written for the Guardian online and has contributed to programmes for Radio 4, while his films have won international awards. He also works in the arts, helping to make theatre accessible for deaf people.

In the news - can the web save languages?

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 11:28 UK time, Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Traditionalists could argue that our reliance on the internet – and particularly social media – is removing our need for human contact and threatens our 'real' communication. Why ask your friend how their holiday was when you can see all their photos on Facebook, or pose a question to an individual when you can use a search engine?

I, for one, find my hand aches after writing with a pen for several minutes, and now perhaps 90% of my contact with friends and colleagues is over email. I'm also not as convinced of my ability to hold a conversation without muddling my words, so used am I to typing and retyping sentences.

But a wonderful story this week reminds us that the web could be crucial in preserving a very important part of our communication – language.

K David Harrison, National Geographic Fellow and associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, is using digital tools like YouTube and Facebook to record endangered languages.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Harrison unveiled eight 'talking dictionaries' that he hopes will not just archive languages, but see them taught and revitalised within communities.

Harrison told of how he went to a village in the Himalayas and used a digital recorder while a young man described parts of a fish to him in the Koro language. Such a simple technique could be all that's needed to build resources for young people from remote communities – some of whom are heavy social media users – to stay connected to the modern world whilst preserving their heritage.

Of course digital copies don't just work for language. Although you might not beat an original old photo for sentimental value, storing a digital copy will make sure that if anything happens to the physical item you still have something of the memory. As individuals, our own possessions, photos and family records could one day be treasured as historical artefacts for future generations. Now that we're in a digital age, we have no excuse not to preserve our own pieces of history.

If you want more information on making copies of your old photos read the WebWise guide on using a scanner.

Hajar is a regular contributor to the WebWise blog and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.

3D TVs - A new perspective

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Maggie Philbin | 17:22 UK time, Friday, 17 February 2012

The BBC just announced its 3D coverage of the 2012 Olympics - but will you have the right tech to watch it?

In industry circles, 2010 was 'The Year of 3D' - you could hardly move at trade shows for journalists wearing outsized glasses. It was like being at a 'Joe 90' convention! But 2011 was really the year the technology really began to sell in the high street. According to Jim Bottoms at Futuresource, over 200,000 sets are now being used in the UK and 2 million across Europe.

3D technology has been around longer than you might imagine. It's been 'the next big thing' since as far back as 1844, when David Brewster showed off his 3D photographic pictures. The first audience to pay to see a 3D film donned their glasses for The Power of Love, on 27 September, 1922. Stereoscopic 3D television was hard on its heels, demonstrated for the first time in 1928, by John Logie Baird himself.

Andy Quested who ran the recent Wimbledon 3D trials for the BBC, says it's not so much difficult to do as expensive. 'You need three times the number of cameras, one for 2D and two for each 3D position.' To create the illusion of depth perception, images first need to be recorded from two perspectives to mimic human eyes. When filming subjects relatively close to the camera – tennis or football for example – this means using a special piece of equipment with two cameras mounted side by side separated by the same distance as a person's pupils. Sometimes you want to capture images in 3D that the human eye would normally see in 2D as they're so far away – clouds for instance. In this case, the two cameras are positioned hundreds of meters apart to give us the illusion of a 3D cloud.

The camera positioning is critical. 'At Wimbledon we didn't always get that right,' admits Andy. 'But when we did, the 3D looked very good. Flare and mirror reflections were an issue too'.

If you saw the finals in 3D and are interested in how much technical learning took place, check out Andy’s blog where he goes into the 'hows', 'whys' and 'oh dears' of the experience.

Alison Hunter, who tours with the BBC Blue Room explaining technology, says one of the most common misconceptions is that 3DTV sets only deliver 3D pictures - 'Many people don't realize 3D is an option on the remote'.

And that's just the start - sometimes there's even confusion over the choice of systems.

If you're about to invest in a new TV, you need to decide how you want to watch the 3D effect – with or without glasses, and then even which type of glasses!

Those two offset images coming from the two cameras – which give that fringing or doubling effect when you look at a 3D set without special glasses – need to be filtered separately to the left and right eye. This can either be done within the set by splitting the images directionally into the viewers’ eyes, or outside the set, by getting the viewer to wear glasses.

At the moment the two most common types of glasses are the lightweight 'passive' polarised lenses and the 'active' shutter lenses.

Many people find the fit and feel of passive glasses better, but prefer the picture quality of the more expensive active-shutter glasses. It's worth asking whether you'll need to dim lights, close curtains and sit at a particular distance to get the best out of the 3D experience. Also, as Andy Quested points out, the more you pay for the glasses, active or passive, the better the experience will be.

Soon, you'll also be able to opt for 'auto-stereoscopic' or no-glasses 3D. But the convenience of not wearing glasses usually has to be balanced against the need to sit in 'sweet' viewing positions, not always practical in a family sitting room, though eye-tracking technology can improve on this problem. These sets are just coming into the market, so expect a very high price tag for the luxury of 3D with no specs.

Although 3D content is growing and some, like Sky, are investing heavily - re-cabling Premiership football grounds and commissioning feature documentaries like The Bachelor King 3D narrated by David Attenborough - others are more cautious.

Producing 3D content is expensive and according to independent technology analyst Ovum, many broadcasters rate production of 3D content and channels as their lowest technology investment priority. Manufacturers are responding to this by running their own 3D channels on internet enabled sets.

3D is an immersive experience. Fine if you're watching a football match, or a must-see movie; you can sit there with your goggles on and the curtains closed. But it doesn't sit well with channel hopping or for the increasing tendency to watch TV whist doing something else on a companion device.

With the 3D button appearing on more and more remotes, the question isn't so much how many of us will have access to 3D as how often we will use it. I suspect 3D will finally have its day when we can enjoy a fantastic 3D experience without glasses from anywhere in the room. And maybe more focus should go into developing integrated cameras, which can shoot in 3D and 2D simultaneously to make production costs more sustainable.

Because we'll only be completely won over when programme makers provide more must-see content. Maybe the Olympics are just the start!

Maggie Philbin has worked in radio and television for 30 years on a wide range of science, medical and technology programmes. She is currently a regular technology reporter on BBC 1's Inside Out.

In the news - Twitter racism row

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 12:27 UK time, Friday, 17 February 2012

Speculation over the presence of racism in football is rarely out of the news, but recent times have seen it once again spilling over into the online world with big names in the sport reacting to alleged racist abuse on Twitter.

In just the past week, Manchester City defender Micah Richards appeared to have closed his Twitter account - reportedly following racial abuse from a number of people online, and on Tuesday 21-year-old student Joshua Cryer appeared before magistrates to face charges of sending 'grossly offensive' messages to pundit and former England striker, Stan Collymore - a charge he denies.

But why would people follow celebrities on Twitter only to insult them? Perhaps it's not as clear-cut as saying someone is simply racist, but the point may be – for those who think of social media as a popularity contest – just one of the many ways of offending the famous in order to get a reaction. In a sea of hundreds of thousands or even millions of online fans, it's easy to feel anonymous and for members wanting online attention they might think an abusive tweet will garner more interest than a friendly message.

The sense of anonymity on Twitter also exposes a lot about the collective habits of its users. There are several Twitter accounts that offer 'racist humour', racking up hundreds of thousands of followers with the aim of making offensive topics funny. Does the banner of comedy mean they're harmless or do they actually enforce stereotypes that a 21st century society should be doing its best to move away from?

With a 140-character limit, some might think it advisable not to discuss more sensitive issues at all in such a medium, where brevity severely hampers nuance. Diane Abbott last month found herself at the centre of a race row following her tweet, 'white people love to play "divide & rule"'. Despite claiming the message was taken out of context, she still received stern words from her boss Labour leader Ed Milliband, who deemed her comments 'unacceptable'.

It's up to individuals to report matters of offence to police, as Twitter doesn't remove what it calls 'potentially offensive content'. In its help section it states that 'If there is something that you don't agree with, or find insulting, it's best not to look at it all', and recommends blocking users who post such things.

The allegations against Joshua Cryer are another reminder that what you write online can lead you straight to a magistrate. Although it might be understandable that Twitter wouldn't want to get involved in the millions of tweets that users may find offensive, the issue of how to tackle racism online may still need addressing. Should users ignore it, report it, or should websites be doing more to stamp it out?

If you want to find out more about cyberbullying the effects it can have, and how to deal with it, check out WebWise's coverage of Share Take Care.

Hajar is a regular contributor to the WebWise blog and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.

Share Take Care: On the BBC

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Alex Duin Alex Duin | 14:56 UK time, Thursday, 16 February 2012

If you're an avid reader of the WebWise blog, you've almost certainly noticed the coverage we've had for Safer Internet Day: Share Take Care. It's been a pretty big deal, including a panel of experts to question, videos from Meera Syal, guides for parents and more.

But did you know that people have been talking about Share Take Care across the BBC?

It's true; everyone from CBBC's Horrible Histories to the big dawg himself, Westwood (he's dropped the Tim now) has been spreading the word about internet safety.

 

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Most of the BBC's local Inside Out BBC 1 shows had a piece about internet safety - such as this look into how employers are using social networks to screen candidates, and we've already reported on the Panorama special that showed the effect that cyberbullying has had on pop starlet Cher Lloyd.

It wasn't all doom and gloom though, as that same Panorama episode also included reporter Declan Lawn confronting internet troll Darren Burton (AKA Nimrod Severn), in a clip that has gone viral across the internet, with almost 300,000 views so far.

However, perhaps no one took the message of Share Take Care to heart more than BBC Radio 1, which had talk about internet safety across the whole day, from Chris Moyles to Scott Mills.

 

They even made an hilarious game where you can help protect your favourite DJ's reputation online. Perhaps their crowning glory was a catchy song played on Greg James' show titled Router Has It - based on Adele's Rumour Has It - skip to 2:43 to have a listen!

 

Meanwhile, over on Radio 5 live the breakfast show was dominated by Share Take Care talk with the 10am phone in slot being given over to internet safety calls and case studies appearing in the regular news bulletins.

While this CBeebies film advised parents on keeping their kids safe online, News School Report grilled one of Facebook's bosses on privacy settings.

Everyone at the BBC across TV, radio and online, whether that be local,  regional or national took up the cause for internet safety and carried the Share Take Care message for Safer Internet Day 2012.

Visit the WebWise minisite for Share Take Care at www.bbc.co.uk/sharetakecare or find out what our panel of child safety experts advised in the Ask the expert feature.

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Share Take Care: Ask an Expert

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 18:45 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

Are you the parent of a teenager and worried about how they use social media and in particular how much they share with others online? Teens and social media are a powerful combination - the benefits can include sharing experiences and making friends, but these can be outweighed if compromising information appears online.

Thanks to everyone who contacted our Share Take Care experts - this feature is now closed.

Latest questions:

Our experts

 

Charlotte Aynsley is currently Policy Advisor at Beatbullying having previously led the successful and innovative CyberMentors programme. She leads Beatbullyings interface with government in relation to Cybermentors and other programmes and its position on cyberbullying. To date, Cybermentors has been delivered in over 200 schools and there are over 4,000 young Cybermentors.

 

Jonathan Baggaley heads the Thinkuknow education programme at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. Thinkuknow is aimed at children, parents and teachers/trainers and uses a range of age appropriate materials, including specially created award winning films. The programme has been accessed by children over 9 million times to date.

 

Sangeet Bhullar is the founder and executive director of WISE KIDS, a non-profit organisation set up in 2002 to promote innovative, positive and safe internet use. WISE KIDS achieves this aim through the delivery of training programmes, consultancy and resource development. WISE KIDS works with young people, youth professionals, educators, community, public and private sector organisations.

 

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people’s use of the internet and associated new technologies. He is a key government adviser on internet safety and is on the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS). He is also on the Advisory Council of the Family Online Safety Institute in Washington, DC, USA, and Beyond Borders, Canada.

 

Will Gardner is the CEO of Childnet International, a children’s charity working with others to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. He is a lead partner at the UK Safer Internet Centre, and in this role, organises Safer Internet Day in the UK. He is a member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, and is also on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board.

 

Karl Hopwood was a primary headteacher for eight years and now works as an e-safety consultant, both in schools (with pupils, teachers and parents) and with a range of organisations including the European Commission and UKCCIS (UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He's a trustee of Childnet International and adviser to CEOP and the UK Safer Internet Centre.

 

 

Trish O'Donnell works for the NSPCC developing new responses for issues in the sexual abuse field as well as developing specialist sexual abuse services. She's worked as social worker in child protection for a local authority and the NSPCC for 20 years as a practitioner and a manager. She's Vice Chair of a local Safeguarding Children Board and a member of their task group on sexual exploitation.

 

 

Professor Andy Phippen has conducted research into young people and their use of technology since 2005. He works with young people, schools, parents and online safety practitioners to explore effective solutions to dealing with problems that can arise for young people online. His recent research is around sexting and “websex”. He is a research partner with the UK Safer Internet Centre.

 

 

Vicki Shotbolt is the founder and CEO of the Parent Zone which exists to make life easier for parents. Vicki has been developing information for parents about internet safety for 10 years responding to the parenting dilemmas of the digital age. Vicki works with schools, technology companies, the police, parents and young people to create and deliver information that allows parents to make informed choices.

 

Visit the Share Take Care website to watch Meera Syal's video on internet safety and your family.

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Ask an expert: Hi, I'm 14 years old, I've have been bitched about on Twitter and Facebook these last couple of days...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 18:31 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

...I've already told the head-teacher and he had a word with the girls, but nothing has changed and I'm sick of it. The two girls have stolen something out of my school bag and put in a mouldy banana skin and also toilet paper. I don't know where to turn next and today I had my first panic attack, and almost fainted as they bitched about me right in front of me and I can't take it anymore :( I really do hope you can give me advice :/ on how to stop it, thank you :)

Answered by our panel of experts:

Hi, we are really sorry to hear of your situation and it sounds very tough. What's happening to you isn't right and so is making you very unhappy and ill. You really, really need to talk to someone so that these girls can be spoken with and you can feel safe at school and elsewhere.

Go back to the head and explain that you are scared and worried and are suffering from panic attacks and please, please, don't suffer in silence. It sounds like you should speak to your form teacher also. They are supposed to keep you safe in school and deal with bullying.

So whoever you talk to next will help make this happen and they will make sure the school do their job properly and change things for you. We know this because it's happened to others and it can be stopped.

This is not something you or anyone can tackle on their own and there are people that will help you. You don't say if you live with your mum or dad or someone else but whoever you live with will want to know. Get them to talk directly to the school and your teachers.

If you really, really don't feel you can tell them, phone someone like ChildLine where you can actually talk to a real person. It's free, and confidential - 0800 1111 or find them on www.childline.org.uk. Confidential means not telling anyone else about what you've said you can feel safe talking to them about this. You can call ChildLine anyway whether you tell your folks or not.

You can also get help and direct support from other young people, adults and counsellors on www.cybermentors.org.uk. There are people to talk to on there till 2am in the morning. You can also get help with the practical things you can do online, like changing your passwords, email addresses and nicknames.

You should also print a copy of the messages (do a Print Screen) as they can be used as evidence against the people writing these messages. You should also report it on Twitter and report it on Facebook. If you haven't done this already make sure you do.

On a practical level, you should also talk to your friends and try and avoid areas in school where you know the girls will be. That may be hard but try it. Don't respond to the bitching by trying to be smart back. You are not alone, so talk to a trusted adult, and they will help.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: Despite being warned by a friend, I found myself on what I think is a 'scam' social networking site...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 18:17 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

...I now have three anonymous comments on my page which seemed to be fabricated as I can think of no-one I know who would write such rubbish. The problem with this site anyone can add to the site whether you know them or not.

This site offers to remove you for a fee. It also tracks your Facebook profile so if you amend your photo on Facebook, the profile on this other site is the same. The only way I can think of getting rid of it is to get my ID changed with Facebook but unless you are reporting a specific comment on Facebook, there is no central e-mail address you can contact to ask for advice.

Answered by our panel of experts:

Unfortunately there are a number of these sites around and it can be very easy to suddenly find that you are being subject to unwanted comments or contacts. Some of these scam sites offer "too good to be true" services. And, as this particular individual has discovered, some will use the site as a front to extort money in order to remove an individual.

Unfortunately most of these sites fall outside of the jurisdiction of the UK so it is very difficult to have any legal approach to them, particular when someone has voluntarily signed up to the service. Without knowing the specific site it can be difficult to give advice about how to remove content.

However, the point you make about Facebook should be easier to deal with. Facebook does indeed allow other apps to access information from your profile, but you can take control of this.

If you go to privacy settings and then apps and websites you will be able to see all of the different apps that you are using and can then edit the settings for each individual app. This will at least allow you to check out what apps you have downloaded and delete any that you are not happy with (instructions here). Further help is available on this from Facebook.

You are also able to change your Facebook username, but can only do this once. Once again it so often comes down to privacy and so it can be worth changing your password just in case someone has managed to get access.

For more information on security and avoiding scams read this PDF from Facebook. Again, the Safer Internet Centre's Professional Online Safety Helpline (helpline@saferinternet.org.uk) might be able to liaise with Facebook on an individual's behalf if you want to create a new profile and get the old one removed.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: I have tried to make my IP address and location not visible on Facebook, but under Security settings, active session it still shows and won't let me delete or edit it. Could you help me please?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 15:45 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

This information is indeed visible on Facebook, but it is only visible to you as the user of the account. The main purpose of this type of information is for security purposes as it shows how many active sessions there are open on your Facebook account.

Many young people complain about being "fraped" (often by their friends) which is the process whereby someone else alters your status without your permission. This most commonly happens because a user hasn't logged out of Facebook or because someone else (usually a friend) knows their password. Users are able to close the active sessions that they are no longer using.

I appreciate that this information being visible may concern you, but it is really there as added security and provided that no one else is able to use our account it will be secure. By collecting the IP address and location of each device which is logged into your account, Facebook provides an opportunity for a user to tell whether or not their account is being compromised.

A pupil in a school recently told us that she knew someone else was accessing her account and when she checked in the security settings (as you've described) she discovered that her cousin in a different part of the UK was accessing her profile.

She had spent the weekend there and closed the browser without logging out of her social networking site, so her cousin was able to access her content. If you are concerned about logging in from a public location you can access Facebook securely via https://www.facebook.com (this can be set as the default in the security menu), this will not hide your IP address though.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask an expert: I'm not a teenager but I am being bullied online...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 15:33 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

...somebody keeps creating false Facebook pages of me online using professional information they have gathered from a professional social-networking website. Is there anything I or anyone can do to stop, or indeed trace who is sending these nasty messages? I have already reported it to the Police and to Facebook. Is there anything else I can do?

Answered by our panel of experts:

We would suggest the first thing to do is contact Facebook who are normally very responsive at dealing with this sort of thing. Essentially it is against the rules of Facebook for anyone to have more than 2 profiles in the same name - so you can use this to report the fake profile through Facebook.

They might be able to trace back to the page creator to make sure they do not do this sort of thing again. To find out more you can go to the Facebook Help Centre and search for 'how to report a fake account'.

Make sure that you protect your professional and personal identities so ensure that you make your privacy settings tight. Ensure that no one except people you know well can access personal info on you.

I know its tough but you are doing exactly the right things by contacting Facebook and the police. You may also want to put a note on your 'real' profile so that others know it is the real you!

If you would like further support the UK Safer Internet Centre's Professional Online Safety Helpline is set up to help professionals working with children on internet related issues. You can email them on helpline@saferinternet.org or call them on 0844 381 4772.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask an expert: Can you tell me where I can find more information about bullying through phones?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 12:14 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

If there is any information you could send me or anyone I could contact about this I would be extremely grateful.

Answered by our panel of experts:

After social networking mobile phone (texting) is the most common form of bullying. However there are things you can do but it really depends what network you are with. Support and help is available and mobile providers take the protection if their customers seriously.

Most if not all of the networks will allow you to change your number or block numbers and are usually very responsive when if you report the abuse to them. They will, if the matters are serious, involve the police.

If you visit the Teachtoday website it gives a list of the numbers that you can call depending on your network and they will guide you in terms of blocking or changing your number. Numbers can also be blocked on the handset.

If a child is subject to such abuse and bullying then they should be reassured that there is something that can be done about it. Informing or involving their parents should be the first step, research shows that children best recover from abuse if supported by their parents and for some children being bullied can have devastating consequences so it is really important that they get the support.

School can play an important role and the child can go to someone at their school, like the child safety officer (designated teacher) and the school working with them and their parents may contact the mobile providers or police on their behalf.

We would encourage parents to talk to their children about bullying as part of an ongoing discussion about the safe and responsible use of technology. Victims of cyberbullying show the same sort of behaviours as those who have been bullied "offline" - withdrawn, quiet, upset.

If you want more information about cyberbullying in general there are a number of useful websites and the charity beatbullying has just issued some research which looks at this.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: I am a pensioner living outside the UK. My family and I have been subjected to persistent cyberbullying...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 11:26 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

...can you please advise us on where we can get help and how we may put a stop and clear the internet of this abuse?

Answered by our panel of experts:

This would depend on the nature of the abuse but the first thing you need to do is to contact the service provider for whichever platform is being used (for example, Facebook or Google). In most cases the providers have clear guidelines on how to report abuse and they will get abuse comments removed.

The next thing you should do is save the evidence so that you are able to use it should you need to. If the nature of the abuse goes beyond name calling to things such as racist attacks or threats of violence, the police should be involved. The police should be able to contact service providers on your behalf if laws have been broken.

It's a distressing and worrying time for you but there are things you can do. Many countries have organisations that take a lead role in internet safety and they may be able to help.

For example there are 30 Safer Internet Centres across Europe and more information on these can be found at www.saferinternet.org. Each centre has a helpline that will be able to offer help and support with this type of issue. You should also contact the Citizens Advice in the UK as they will be able to help.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: My 13 year old daughter keeps getting rude messages and pictures posted on her website? How can I avoid this?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 10:18 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

Unfortunately the nature of the internet and particularly social media means that some users will abuse the technology and leave inappropriate content. The good news is that we are able to control our own profiles and websites and can choose who has access to them as well as who is able to leave comments and content.

It’s not clear whether this is a website your daughter has created herself which allows comments or if you are referring to a profile on a social networking site. However, in both cases your daughter will be able to determine who is able to post content and she should be able to block another user if they are posting inappropriate material.

It is possible that her account has been hacked. That means someone has either guessed or got hold of your daughter's password and so is able to gain access and do everything on the site as if they were your daughter. There is only one way to stop this happening. Get your daughter to change her password then make doubly sure she understands how important it is not to tell anyone else what it is.

We would recommend encouraging her to choose a secure password, ideally, a mix of upper and lower case letters and a number. It is also important to log out when she finishes using a social networking site, (and using a PIN to protect access to her mobile phone also helps to protect your information and data, and can help prevent access to your social networking profile).

Your daughter’s account may also have been attacked by malicious spam – similar to receiving spam through an email account, the same thing can happen with social networking users, where they find that their account has been taken over and spam is sent as if the user had sent it themselves. You can read more about this in Facebook’s Security page.

Spammers often advertise surprising things (for e.g. the opportunity to see who viewed your profile/timeline) to try to lure people into their spam traps. Facebook encourage users who think their account is sending out spam to do several things:

•    Secure their account by following these steps
•    Change their password
•    Run anti-virus software on their computer
•    Never click on suspicious links, even if they’re sent by your friends
•    Never copy and paste text into your internet browser address bar if you are unsure of what it is
•    Learn more about keeping your account secure

If it happens again it is just possible that your daughter's machine has been invaded by a virus or other piece of so-called malware. This would be a "key logger" or something similar. Key loggers can record every keystroke you make then send it off to whoever put it there in the first place.

Key loggers were thought to infest many machines in internet cafes so if your daughter used one to log on to her account that could be the way it happened. However, this may be unlikely as it is usually crooks involved in financial crimes that do that sort of thing.

Check that the anti virus software is up to date on your daughter’s machines and that the firewall is working. Get the anti virus software to do a check, just for your own and your daughter’s peace of mind. 

It’s great that she has told you and that you are already involved and able to help and support her through this. Too often young people feel vulnerable to the comments of others and aren’t always aware that things can be done.

Dialogue is crucial. Depending on the nature of the content you may feel that this needs to be reported to the police or to the social network provider or internet service provider (whoever is hosting the site). Some content may not be illegal but may well contravene the terms and conditions of the website in question.

The bottom line is that the owner of the site and profile can take control and doing so should hopefully empower your daughter to deal with this problem effectively.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: What are the risks of my child being targeted and groomed online?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 14:30 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

There's always a risk with talking to someone you don't know at first - and while there's a thrill and enjoyment in making new friends, there's an added small risk online that adults can pretend to be young people. Adults who want to find young people know where to go.

Make sure your children know that. Make sure they also know that these risks can be minimised by taking some practical precautions. Most children may never encounter such individuals, but nonetheless, it is good to speak to them about sexual grooming, and how that could work, especially as your child is in secondary school.

Help them to reflect on and develop good values and responsible behaviour by talking about these issues regularly as part of life, and keep up to date with all the services and gadgets that they use, and the necessary privacy settings they can use. Help them to reflect on the difference between what may be ok and not ok to share online.

Have some rules about what is never OK to do on line, like giving out their address or phone number or location. For younger children make sure that they are supervised, that you know all their friends, and that they do not upload or send any photos without your consent. Just like you like to know where they are going and what they are doing and who they are with in the real world - make it the same online.  For instance do you know which chat services they use and how they work?

Remember that risk does not automatically mean harm, so keep a balanced perspective. There are many organisations that provide useful advice and guidance. For example Childnet's Know it All for parents, CEOP's ThinkUKnow  as well as the NSPCC.

Trust your instincts: if they are telling you about someone or something they are doing online or even about what a 'friend' might be doing, follow it up with them  - and  keep going till you satisfy yourself its ok.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: My 14 year old daughter has become very secretive is spending a great deal of time online...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 14:13 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Full question:

My 14 year old daughter has become very secretive of late and seems to be spending a great deal of time on the internet or on her mobile phone. She has also started dressing differently, obviously trying to look a lot older than she is. I am worried but I cannot get her to talk to me about what is going on in her life that makes being online or on the phone so important. Any clues or tips?

Answered by our panel of experts:

The situation you have described is very familiar. There are several possible explanations ranging from completely normal to extremely worrying. So it's important not to panic or over react. 

Coming at your daughter in an angry or over critical way, accusing her of being deceitful or anything like that may make it harder for her to see you as a potential source of help and understanding, a way out of whatever might be troubling her.

As children get older they develop a better understanding of issues and have a right to some privacy. Developmentally, it is perfectly normal for them to want to strike out on their own, form their own independent relationships and meet new people.

In many ways the internet is a perfect medium for doing this. The problem is that there are also people out there, typically older men, who are perfectly well aware of it. They go looking for teenagers and are very skilled at manipulating their feelings, perhaps convincing them that they are the great and lasting love of their life when in truth they are only seeking their own sexual gratification. 

They might try to persuade your child to meet in real life, or try to get them to pose for still or video images, perhaps with highly sexualised content.

The changes in her appearance and increased secretiveness could indicate a problem like this or something else altogether. It is important that you try and establish trust and communication with her. Also, this is not an "internet problem". It's about your daughter and what she's going through.

Cutting off the internet or removing the mobile phone could make things worse not better.  If you remain seriously worried and all of your strategies for trying to get your daughter to talk to you don't seem to be working it might be an idea to seek help or advice. Try Family Lives or CEOP's ThinkUKnow.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: I don't think my child has been looking for over-18 content but how can I be sure?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 14:06 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

We all remember, as teenagers, trying to find out information about subjects our parents might not feel comfortable talking to us about. Or us to them! Things haven't changed. Kids Google sex. Sometimes, it doesn't even take that - they might be looking for something completely innocent and come across content that is really unsuitable.

It's impossible to protect your children from everything and it's inevitable that they will want to push the boundaries. However, you can set parental controls on all the devices in your home - including their mobiles.

It's worth checking that the over 18 content bar is on if they have a mobile phone or tablet device. Talk to them to make sure they're not worried or confused about something they've seen online, and even if they won't tell you what they've seen because it's private at least they'll know that you're aware of what they might have come across.

Finally, try to sit down with them and look at their browsing history. Watch some of what they are watching with them. Even very popular sites, like YouTube have videos which can be unsuitable for kids.  And don't do it once and forget about it.

The internet is evolving all the time so staying up to date with what they are doing and seeing online should be a regular job. Developing your understanding of the Internet through use will also help.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask an expert: I'm worried my child is sharing too much personal data

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 12:03 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

If you are parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online, contact the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page where you can put a question to our panel.

The fact is what goes online has a high probability of staying online so it is really important to be aware of your child's digital footprint which is built up whenever your child puts something online, posts something about themselves or registers on a website.

Things that feel funny to a 12 year old are likely to seem much less funny once they reach 21. Most social networking sites will provide privacy settings so it's important to check that the correct settings in place for whatever sites your child is using.

It's a tough one for parents to control but the best thing you can do is to talk to your children and encourage them to think before they post. This doesn't just apply to their own information, but to their friend's information as well.

When it comes to sharing personal data like home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses they should check with you first before sharing these details.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: How do I manage my child's internet access?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 11:47 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

There are many different ways in which to manage access to the internet but the most important thing to remember is that managing their access to the internet is like any other parenting job.  It shouldn't be intimidating as it's less about the technology and more about parenting. As a parent you need to ensure that you:

  • Set clear rules and boundaries (again like you would with anything else) e.g. how long are they allowed online and at what times? Establish what they need to do first and what are they allowed to do once they are on there.
  • Ensure that you put tools in place to manage access e.g. like safe search and check with your ISP to see what features they have to help.
  • Particularly with young children try to ensure that the computer, mobile device or games console is in an area where you can supervise their use.

There isn't a one size fits all solution, so the safeguards that you have for a 7 year old will be different to those you have for a 15 year old. Talk to them about what they are doing and take an interest.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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In the news - Share Take Care

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 10:50 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

In the news this week it's all about internet safety, with Tuesday's Safer Internet Day focusing on connecting generations to build a safer web environment.

Working in partnership with the Safer Internet Day campaign and the UK Safer Internet Centre – the BBC launched Share Take Care, its campaign to raise awareness of the issues around safety and safeguarding reputation online.

To do their part, BBC WebWise has been giving readers a chance to "ask the experts" on everything from filtering content to the impact a teenager's e-reputation could have on their future. There are also tips on keeping your child safe online and Nathalie Emmanuel takes a look at the reality of the web for young people in a documentary for BBC Three.

Panorama this week also took a closer look at cyberbullying, speaking to former X Factor contestant Cher Lloyd about her struggle to deal with online abuse. The singer revealed she was unprepared for the negative online attention she received following her television appearances.

 

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Lloyd's poignant words on the fear, pain and anguish cyberbullying can cause are a well-needed reminder that online harassment isn't something we should be teaching victims to just shrug off and live with. The internet is integrated into real life and perhaps the attitude that it's a place where we should have free licence to express a cruel alter-ego needs challenging.

It's easy to say that the solution to online abuse is simply to close a browser window or not go to a forum, but the internet is so much a part of our lives that such advice can be like telling someone to leave school or quit their job if they're being bullied, rather than speak to a teacher or employer. It's an issue that needs to be addressed from both sides, as many people who are cyber bullies aren't aware of the distress they cause, nor of the legal ramifications of some of their comments and messages.

Although the teen star said she accepted friend requests from all who added her at the start of her career, there is a lot to be positive about when it comes to how web savvy young people are. In a survey commissioned by the BBC, 85% of 13-19 year-olds said they would be unlikely to accept a friend request from someone they didn't know at all.

For many parents, there's a fear that the web and social media have left them powerless to protect their children's privacy and reputation, but as Safer Internet Day's theme suggests, connecting the generations will help foster a safer web experience, where parents learn more about youth web culture and the resources available to them. Why not start by checking out Share Take Care?

The Parents' Guide to Facebook on BBC WebWise offers insight into the social network for parents wanting to learn more about how their children connect over the internet, or read the WebWise guide on what to do if you or someone you know is being bullied online.

Hajar is a regular contributor to the WebWise blog and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.

Ask an expert: Should I be worried about how much time my child spends gaming or on his phone or other electronic device?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 16:13 UK time, Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

Lots of parents worry about how much time their children are spending online or wedded to their mobile. If you find that they are online for hours on end, or at the expense of everything else - sport, homework, talking to anyone in the real world - then you may want to think about stepping in.

Bear in mind that for most children there is no distinction between online and offline activity - it is just communication to them. However, being online all of the time is not good. One group of children said 'if they do it so much they get boring then that's too much' which is a pretty good rule of thumb!

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask an expert: Can I filter YouTube?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 17:00 UK time, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

There is a safety mode on YouTube that enables the user to choose not to see ‘mature’ comments and content that may be offensive. The Safety tab is located at the bottom of the YouTube page. It is possible to lock it, but be aware that the lock applies to the browser you are using, such as Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, and you would need to set it for all the browsers available on your computer.

If inappropriate content does come through, then flag it as inappropriate and this will report it to the site owners. The browsers available on mobile phones do not have the safety mode feature but if you have installed parental controls on the mobile you may find that you can block access to YouTube that way. Google, who own YouTube, have family safety advice available on their website.

It’s worth mentioning that it is good practice to ensure that all users have their own login to the family computer as this will mean that the restrictions only apply to the users that need them.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: What else can I do other than set parental controls to protect my children from upsetting content?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 16:17 UK time, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Full question:

I have set parental controls and filters on all of our family internet enabled devices. Is there anything else I should be doing to help manage my children's access to online material that might upset them?

Answered by our expert panel:

There are a number of products that can be used to limit what children can access online, but we need to be realistic about this. In a world where everything is becoming more and more mobile rather than constantly restricting children we need to help make them more resilient and provide them with the skills and knowledge that they need to keep themselves safe when they go online.

Parents will be very aware that although a particular game may not be allowed in their house, other families may have different levels of acceptable use and it is highly likely that children will encounter these different thresholds when they go their friend’s houses.

As more and more children have mobile devices with internet capabilities at an ever younger age, it has to be about education. Yes, we can put the parental controls onto these devices, but research suggests that many of us don’t do this, and in reality this is only going to work with younger children.

Phones are relatively affordable now and of course there are places where young people can get their phones unlocked. Dialogue is once again the most important thing. Parents need to have good channels of communication with their children so that they know they have someone to turn to if something goes wrong.

We can use the parental controls but they are not a substitute for good old fashioned discussion and parenting. Parents themselves can go on courses to learn more about the Internet. Becoming familiar with devices like smart phones can help parents develop their own understanding of the changing digital landscape and will help them guide their children from a place of knowing.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: I'm worried my child is viewing porn online. What do I do?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 14:17 UK time, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

Are you worried they are viewing it accidentally? If you are it's good to check your parental control settings on the home computer. They are now more widely available and can be used on mobiles and games consoles. Check with the providers and get them in place. More importantly talk to your child and explain why you are using these controls. 

We are starting to understand the impact of long term exposure to porn at an early age and it is not good. There is no real substitute for parental supervision but you can't control their online activity every minute of the day so it's important to help them develop the skills to be responsible and self monitoring.  This extends to many things that they may encounter online. For example, do they know why they shouldn't respond to just any mail or questionnaire they get sent? Or download unknown files?

For younger children get them to tell you when they've been on the net and which sites they've been on.  A non punitive approach can help here if they come across something disturbing they are more likely to tell you about it if they think you won't take their phone or computer away as a result. It is important to create a culture of trust and discussion, rather than one of blame, as this will help them talk to you more readily about their experiences.

If you are worried that it is something they have got into through curiosity or peer pressure, then you can contact your internet server provider (ISP) to explore what filtering options they provide. Similarly, there is filtering software that can block this sort of content. But if they are doing it, an open and frank discussion about porn and adult material is necessary.

This can then include talking about ways to avoid getting drawn into activities with their friends that they don't want to do. Reinforce the positive, and explain clearly where you stand on these matters based on your family values. Explore the ways in which they have successfully avoided peer pressure about other things and get them to apply it to this.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask an expert: How can I monitor what my child is doing on Facebook in order to make sure they are using it safely? Is it a good idea to be my child's friend on Facebook?

Post categories:

Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 13:44 UK time, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

This is a really common question and the answer will vary depending on the relationship that you have with your child. Different parents have different strategies that they use. Some are friends with their children on Facebook. Some ask an older sibling or a cousin or someone their children are friends with on Facebook to keep an eye on them.

In an ideal world being a friend of your children online is great, but care is needed not to overreact to some of the content that you might see them or their friends posting. There’s no quicker way to be removed from a friend list than by interfering too often and criticising every bit of bad language that you encounter.

However, children have been known to set up two accounts, the one that they actually use and the one that they set up to show their parents what they are doing online!

The most important thing is that parents need to be open, honest and transparent with their children. Spying on them will always be met with negative reactions and this is understandable, everyone has a right to privacy. Dialogue is crucial and not overreacting is important.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: What online issues should I be aware of as a parent with pre-teen or teenage children?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 13:18 UK time, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

We need to be encouraging our children to be responsible when they use the Internet, and to treat others as they would like to be treated. We can do this by helping our young people to reflect on what sorts of information (photos, text or video content) they should share online, and why.

As children get older, parents should be talking to them about self respect, respecting their friends' privacy, assessing interactions online, the issue of having an online identity and a reputation that goes with that identity as well as what might be good public/private boundaries when having an online presence.

However, the Internet is also a very powerful tool to use to develop a positive presence, and parents need to realise the potential for this. In terms of behaviours like cyberbullying or sexting we should be encouraging our children to reflect on the very real consequences (social and emotional) of these actions.

In cases of sexting, many young people may share/ pass on nude images of their friends without any awareness that they could be prosecuted. There also isn’t a one size fits all solution so that children who are young may need different guidance to children who are teenagers.

Often parents also do not set boundaries in terms of time spent gaming online, or excessive use of Facebook. If a young person is facing some problems in real life, they could potentially seek out these activities all the time, in the place of face-to-face interaction.

It is therefore important that parents realise that they need to be having discussions with their children about these things, encouraging balance and setting boundaries where necessary.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

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Ask an expert: I'm really worried about my young children coming across age inappropriate materials on the web...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 10:38 UK time, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

...is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of that happening?

Question in full:

I have young children at home. We allow them to use my iPad and the family computer and I try to supervise their use when they go on the internet, but you cannot be there 100% of the time. I am really worried about the possibility of them coming across horrible, and by that I mean age inappropriate, materials on the web. I’m thinking mainly about violent images or pornography. Even if I’m stood there with them it only takes one click of a mouse by either child to take us to somewhere very undesirable. Is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of that happening?

Answered by our panel of experts:

Undesirable, age inappropriate content can very easily slip through the net and appear on a child’s computer screen/iPad, very often as the result of wholly innocent activity or an unintentional slip.

These kinds of mistakes often occur, especially among children, when they use one of the well-known search engines to find something where you do not already have the address, or maybe they just typed in the name of a favourite toy or band to see what came up.

One solution to this is to turn on ‘strict filtering’/ ‘family filters’ under the preferences options available on search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing. There are also some search engines designed especially for young children. BBC  WebWise has more information about these.

Alternatively, you will normally access search engines such as Google or Bing or Yahoo! through a web browser. Some browsers will allow you to set the controls to prevent adult material being presented as the result of a search. No software is ever going to be 100% foolproof so it always a good idea to stay close and stay engaged, particularly when younger children go online.

Not every browser has a filtering capability built-in, alternatively you might want to have greater control over a wider range of activity that your children could undertake on their machines. If that is so there are filtering programmes you can use that will help. The company you pay for your internet access may provide you with a free copy.

Finally, remember it is possible for children and young people to access the internet from a variety of devices, not just computers. Almost all new mobile phones and games consoles have internet access built in, usually with Wi-Fi.  Also don’t forget if you, or even a nearby neighbour, has unsecured Wi-Fi it might be possible for your child to use it to go online from any room in your house.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask an expert: My (17 year old) son has put some silly photos of himself on his Facebook profile...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 12:20 UK time, Monday, 6 February 2012

...which I have not seen – he won’t let me be his “Facebook Friend”, says it is too embarrassing to have your Mum sharing everything. But I have heard from other parents whose children obviously have seen the pictures or have been told about them by their children. I gather in one of them he looks either totally drunk, or worse, and in another he is wearing very strange clothes, but not many of them! Should I ignore this or could they be doing him harm?

Several employment agencies have acknowledged they routinely trawl the internet, particularly social networking sites, looking for information about people whom they are considering offering a job to, or whom they might invite for an interview.  Even higher education bodies have been known to do it.

When youngsters post stuff on their profiles they are not making an application for a job or University place. They are typically just larking about with mates. But, unfortunately, it can have disastrous consequences.

For these reasons if for no other, it is very important to impress upon your son the harm he might be doing to himself. All his mates get the jobs or College offers they wanted. He gets left behind because of a few stupid pictures.

It is also a good idea to explain the importance of making his profile “private” so it cannot be seen by anyone he isn’t friends with. But unfortunately, and this can be a hard lesson to teach and to learn, he should also know that even if he only allows friends to see his embarrassing pictures once, those images are on the net they can be copied and then posted elsewhere or misused. He may never know who did it but, again, the consequences can be serious.

Unless the images your son has posted are actually illegal or in some other way break Facebook’s terms and conditions there is nothing that you can do to get them removed. Facebook’s relationship is with your son, not you and they probably won’t even speak to you about it or reply to your emails. You need to sort this out within the family.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask the expert: My children know more about the internet than I do - where should I start?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 12:13 UK time, Monday, 6 February 2012

Answer from our panel of experts:

The notion that children know more than their parents can be a little misleading and often only serves to make parents feel inadequate and ill-prepared to help and support their children when they are online.

It is very true that many young people are technically able, they can race across the keyboard and generally work out how to do things more quickly than their parents, but knowledge is not the same as wisdom, and that’s where parents come in.

Young people can be resilient, but some do not deal with risk and don’t really think about consequences, they will do something and then think about the consequences later!

Parents are often better experts at protecting their children from all of the less pleasant things that can cause problems for us in the offline world: bullying, pornography, violence, racism all exist in the physical world.

The internet has not created any wholly new risks to children but it has enabled some old and familiar ones to present themselves in new forms.  In a way, this should be of some comfort to parents and they should have some confidence in dealing with these issues.

The internet just changes things. Children are children, they are curious and will make mistakes and sometimes do things that they shouldn’t. A good analogy could be looking up rude words in the dictionary which many of us did when we were at school.

Children still do that now, but of course when they use the internet the content that they are faced with is far more extreme than the dull, uninteresting definition that we found in our traditional dictionary.

Again, dialogue is the most important thing and ensuring that children know that they have someone to turn to if things go wrong.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Ask an expert: How do I know if my child is being bullied on line? What can I do if they are?

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 11:06 UK time, Monday, 6 February 2012

Answered by our panel of experts:

Bullying is bullying regardless of the means used – the behaviours exhibited by victims are the same. If your child is being bullied online you might notice changes in them and their behaviour. Are they withdrawn or have become depressed or aggressive or short with you or their brothers and sisters?

Any change to their online habits, not using it so much or becoming obsessive but anxious about using it?  Any changes in attitudes to school or other friends?

There is no one way of knowing, but it is ok to ask them directly. Have they received an email or instant message that’s upset them?  How’s it going on Facebook? Has anyone said anything they don’t like about them or are there posts or pictures they are not happy about? 

Have they had a bad experience whilst chatting on their game console or messenger programme? Asking these questions as a regular part of your own conversation with your child can help make it easier for them to talk to you if something does happen.

If you find out they are being bullied, reassure them that they are right not to tackle it alone. You will need to know the scale of it, and it may be that a few practical things might help like changing their privacy settings, removing friends from Facebook or using inbuilt tools to bar people. Be sure to tell them not to respond.

You need to know if it is someone at school and if so, you may need to contact the school; they will have an anti-bullying policy which incorporates cyberbullying. 

The internet can also be helpful to you - the Cybermentors website which is run by young people for young people who have been bullied may be a good place for your child to get some support.

The CEOP website also provides good advice and the NSPCC Helpline can provide advice to parents. And Child Line can be another ear for your child if they want to talk to someone.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.

Videogames - a global phenomenon

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Alex Duin Alex Duin | 10:00 UK time, Friday, 3 February 2012

In 2009 a piece of entertainment was released that sold 4.7 million units across the UK and USA in a single day. Those one-day sales generated $310 million. This made it – in revenue terms - the single biggest entertainment launch in history.

It wasn't Avatar. It wasn't a Harry Potter novel, or a lost Beatles album. It was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the incredibly popular first-person war simulation videogame. And the next year, the game's successor, Call of Duty: Black Ops shattered that record by selling 5.6 million copies.

The videogame industry has become a behemoth that is difficult to ignore. What was the sole preserve of geeks and hobbyists in the 1970s is now run by huge multinational corporations, almost as large as the Hollywood studios. As cinemas struggle to secure bums on seats, and TV channels scrabble over a shrinking pool of viewers, most years more videogames are sold than the last.

And games aren't just soulless profit engines. Videogames are regularly delivering experiences more spectacular than anything seen in blockbuster films, and with the added benefit of letting the player interact with them. Just this year, Uncharted 3 showcased a breathless adventure through a burning French château, on Colombian rooftops, and culminated in a heart-stopping plane crash into an endless Arabian desert.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, gives the player astonishing freedom to explore a huge and often beautiful wintry fantasy world based on a Scandinavian template of snowy mountains and fjords. And these two examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

Videogames are expanding beyond these mind-blowing epic adventures as well. The fastest growing segment of the industry is that of casual games – simple games of the sort played on social networking sites or on smartphones.

Zynga, the company responsible for the most popular Facebook games, is now reckoned to be worth between 15 and 20 billion US dollars. Games also make up 15% of all the downloads on Apple's App Store for the iPhone - which has total download numbers well into the billions – making them the biggest single app category. And all these games are being sold to a much broader market than videogames' usual young male demographic.

These and other digital distribution technologies have also allowed a new wave of smaller, but often more artistic and cerebral 'indie' games to bloom. One of my personal favourites is Braid, a vibrantly coloured game from creator Jonathan Blow which is simultaneously a mindbending set of puzzles, a metaphor for the melancholy of a lost relationship and an incredibly subtle allegory for the creation of the first atomic bomb.

Less intellectual, but making up for it with amazing popularity, indie game Minecraft's randomly generated, blocky worlds have been so successful that it's made Markus Persson - the Swedish coder who originally single-handedly created the game - a millionaire many times over. I can rather embarrassingly admit that I've sunk far too many hours of my life exploring and mining those bleak, cubic landscapes.

And all this success isn't just money flowing out of the country. The UK is the third-biggest producer of video games in the world (by games sold), and by some distance the biggest in Europe, employing around 9,000 people. Blockbusting titles such as Batman: Arkham City and the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto series are made by British developers.

Ed Vaizey, the government's Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, wrote on the Huffington Post website that 'Anyone who thinks video games are a niche industry is totally out of date. This is an industry that has grown to rival any entertainment business. And it's an area where the UK has some of the most talented and successful developers in the world.'

The unstoppable juggernaut of videogames isn't expected to stop any time soon. At the end of last year, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released, and again blew away its predecessors' records. This year, the next in the Grand Theft Auto series is expected and will likely sell by the shipload, and a whole new generation of more powerful game consoles are on the horizon.

With so much going on, perhaps you might join in yourself? You'll certainly have company!

Alex Duin has spent his whole life wading through technology and the media, and in the process has worked and written all over the place, including for Channel 4, and Digital Unite. He currently lives in London

In the news - Facebook timeline

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 11:40 UK time, Wednesday, 1 February 2012

If you joined Facebook as an adult, then the news that 'timeline' will soon become a mandatory feature on all profiles hopefully isn't giving you too much cause for concern. If, however, like me you joined as an angst-ridden 19 year-old with no understanding of netiquette, you may be shaking in fear at what might be uncovered!

The timeline is a new form of the Facebook profile where users can upload a large header image, resize their posts and – the scary part for most – look through month and year subheadings to easily access all their posts and statuses since joining the social network.

It's an option that's been available to users since December, and anyone signing up is given seven days to organise their profile by deleting certain items or tightening privacy settings. When the change is enforced across the whole site (a closely guarded secret - but soon), all users will have a week to spring-clean before it switches automatically.

Of course, in terms of privacy the new timeline isn't that different to the old profile format. If you have a lot of time on your hands and are desperately interested in knowing all about someone, you can trudge on through older updates until eight hours later you're at their very first post ('So, how do I use this thing?') and, still in your pyjamas, have realised that you've forgotten to go to work that day.

The difference with the timeline is that this information is easier to access, hence the global firm is giving users enough warning to think about how much of their online past they want to keep visible.

When you sign up to having the timeline, you can either limit past posts in one fell swoop by going to your privacy settings and clicking 'Manage past post visibility' or you can go to your profile and select Activity Log and decide what posts from a specific year or month you want to delete or increase privacy settings for.

Facebook has provided lots of information in its help section for people making the switch to the timeline profile.

The social media giant may well be facing its own privacy conundrum if it confirms rumours that it's set to launch on the public stock market with a value of $100bn. If they go through with it, Facebook would have to disclose a great deal of financial data and performance figures in order to, like its 800 million users, change its profile.

If you're still apprehensive about the timeline and how to stay safe online, find out more about internet safety on WebWise's Share Take Care minisite.

Hajar is a regular contributor to the WebWise blog and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.

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