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Twitter safety advice for kids and parents

 This post sets out clear ways children can limit their public exposure on Twitter, but still enjoy all the fun of it, including following their mates.

(Updates are noted at the bottom of this page.)

Preamble - why I'm writing about this

Here she goes, writing about Twitter again. Sigh. But this time, it's important!

There seems to be a state of denial on the internet that Twitter has any safety implications for kids, which I find slightly bizarre. I've had very young children try to follow me in the last few days. Given that even when you protect your updates, everyone can still see your follow/following list, and there is no age restriction on searching, the system appears to be as holey as a chunk of swiss cheese.

There are pieces up online for parents, but they are woefully inadequate, leading me to the conclusion that parents may feel a false sense of security about their kids tweeting, given the lack of immediate capacity for images, extended conversation and so on.

I will update this post as it's discussed (I hope) and will also get in touch with Twitter for their official response. I'm certainly not slagging the guys, given that I haven't talked to them about this. Anyone who knows me knows I heart Twitter and have done for many moons.  Here's why I think it's amazing, summed up in one tweet from "@Astro-mike" whilst circling the earth in a Space Shuttle. Now imagine being a kid and getting updates from an actual astronaut, in space, to your desktop or even better, to your phone, the moment he sent them. Twitter is a brilliant tool for promoting engagement amongst kids on a global scale, in a multiplicity of topics - particularly since in many areas, SMS is available, but 'net access is not. It would be terrible not to optimise the Twitter experience for children.

My point is that children are already using Twitter. Twitter's Terms of Service state clearly at the top "You must be 13 years or older to use this site" as the first point. Which is great, but there is no real policing of this.

When you register, there is no way to exempt yourself from people-search, and there are no Safety settings to remove yourself from Search, or to hide your lists of Following/Followers* (check updates below). For adults, I can imagine that these settings would seem antithetical to the point of the whole thing, but for some adult groups (those whose safety would be compromised if they were findable by a violent ex-partner, for example) those features might be extremely useful.

So I hope I've explained adequately what I feel to be failings in the system. I'm not going to suggest that Twitter are vastly at fault. It's probably just not come up. I've searched "Safety", "Parents" and "Children" on the Twitter Help pages and have come up with blanks. I'll be asking them, and I'll let you know.

Meanwhile! I'll come to the advice part.

Advice for children / parents whose kids use Twitter

  1. For parents: Your children will check Twitter out. They might get bored, or they might use it for a while. Don't ignore it, and remember the above point re: Astro-Mike. Twitter has the potential to be brilliant, so take the time to investigate it with your children, if they show any interest.
  2. Kids: Give yourself a Twitter nickname which is gender free. It might have something to do with your gaming, your favourite books, a cartoon character, but if it's not a boy or a girl's name that will help keep unwanted strangers from your door. Even better if it's not too kiddie either. My online nickname, for example, is "Zoonie". It doesn't mean much, and you really can't tell whether the person writing might be a boy or girl.
  3. Kids:...while I'm at it, take a look at your upload image (and your background image too). Do you think it gives away who you are? Try not to use photos. Make something up! My background is a picture of some reflection in water (I know, a bit dull) and my image is a hand drawn 'picture' (if you can call it that) of a cat. By the way, don't worry about using images from computer games. you may not have noticed but...uhuh. There are a lot of adults who like computer games too.
  4. Kids: Make your updates private, so only you and your friends can see them
  5. Kids: Don't ever accept a "Follow" request from someone you don't know. It's not worth the risk. It could be someone just trying to sell you something boring, who has spammed everybody, or it could be someone chancing their arm and trying to find out if you are a kid or not (and not because they  are, either). How do you only accept Follows from people you know? Ask them in person.
  6. Kids: ...and don't search for interesting looking new people who might be adults without checking it out with your parents first, so they know who you are following. It might be easy for someone to hide behind an interesting name, when it turns out that actually, they're not very interesting, or actually, they're horrible.
  7. Kids: If you think your parents don't know about Twitter, and you've started twiddling with it, then show them it, and how great it can be. you could also show them this post, and assure them you're being as grown up as possible about using it. It's amazing how reassuring it is knowing that your kids are being sensible, even when they're playing with knives!

Apologies if I sound like a pillock in the advice tips. I'm not a professional writer for Tweenagers ;)


Talking to Twitter about changes:

One week later: well, I've tried to get through to Twitter via  the way a member of the public would, and have been sent back the form email with no personal response twice now. I think repeating the same action over and over without seeking other routes would be a pointless gesture of negativity on my part. I'll get back to you with how it's going. Meanwhile, if anyone from Twitter reads this before I get anywhere, wave and let's talk!

Other updates:

  1. When I sent this article to industry mail list Emint for comment, Amy Pritchard pointed out to me that something I suspected was true: @astro-mike (sob) didn't tweet from space! No! My illusions are shattered. However, the point still stands, I think. Had I written this a year ago, I would have substituted him for another glorious NASA invention: @MarsPhoenix, of course. 

  2. Ribs Susiaho, the keeper of an excellent name, suggested the inclusion of the safety tip regarding use of images. To use a BoingBoingism: Thanks Ribs!

    *Twitter updated! It is now the case that if you are operating a restricted account, people cannot see your followers, or who you are following. That's brilliant, and means that younger users can be sure that they can tweet to their friends, in private. Note that your account will hoever still show up in Search, so all that stuff about keeping your nickname 'gender neutral' and keeping the description pretty vague still holds true.


Slight hiatus there due to lack of available funds for paying Typepad.

In the slight hiatus:
-Insane cuteness from children
-Country walks, I'd say 70% successful
-Depression lifting slightly, partially as a result of chemical help
-I've now cycled 1500 miles since last Sept, and not had to spend £500 on travel fairs - or rather, have avoided £500 of debt, er, well. Under that particular budget heading, in any case
-Bashed my toes on my left foot something rotten, but they're getting better now

My newly acquired 'not quite so depressed' status is getting my head buzzing with lots of things I'd like to do / organise which is lovely - like greeting an old friend. A slightly rubbish old friend who over-promises and can be a bit of a shambles, but just can't help getting all excited and going "Oooh, ooh, we could do *this*!" all the time.

But have also reached some kind of philosophical high point with the cycling, where I have realised just how much wonderful good it does my sense of wellbeing, and must always try to remember that, and not try to shirk off.

Blurting this out of my system

Trying to institute a thing where I actually talk about my ideas as opposed to letting them fester / never happen.

I'm shorthanding this one though because I'm busy and it's the middle of the day.

My old boss, Jon Gisby put a link up to "The Sharehood", and it focused a whole bunch of thoughts I've been having around this area but there's a bunch of stuff to face up to with it as well.

-I've been thinking of an extremely similar thing to The Sharehood - ie: setting up a party, for our back garden, inviting a clutch of hyper-local neighbours and basically being as lo-fi as possible - providing a bunch of clipboards and forms on which people could identify what they have that they could share - be it objects (the lawnmower example) or skills. My original idea was to have small parties that fan out from the original one, so you keep it at a "get to know your neighbours" level. Bigger may be better, I don't know.

-Original muse (probably on the bus) came from the old traditional American 'barnraising' ie: when a whole community got together over a couple of days and pulled together a beautiful new barn for one of their neighbours. Being me I'm thinking all altruistically about it, but suppose you could join a smallish network, hyper local, whose only goal was - once every 6-8 weeks, they all meet at an agreed house for a day / two houses (because it takes time for paint to dry in one, so you can do no.2 whilst waiting), with materials, brushes, tea, home made cakes etc, and then you just Bang. Decorate the house. It's done. There's 20 people doing it, it takes no time at all, and you're guaranteed, if you're in the network, to get your house redecorated. not only that, but you'd probably have a really fun day. It suits self interested people, and, if you add 'poor elderly / people with disabilities' in to the mix, you could all donate one of your get togethers to painting someone's house who really couldn't do it, couldn't afford it and have been living in a place they hate more and more over time.

I really like the idea but broadening it out works too. I think it's a fundamentally different project than a broadbrush skill/object share, but if you're clever, you could lobby for the painting idea from within the skillshare one.

ANYWAY. So there was a discussion on Twine a week or so ago which wasn't quite about this, and doesn't wholly work but it mentioned "Intentional communities" which the more I think about it sounds more and more like Kibbutzim! Not... er... no (I have some issues with the generational aspect of small scale communal set ups - or instead, frankly, big ones, but it's a different debate). Whilst I think most of the Twine post is not really bang on at all, I really like that phrase in its physical "get up and do it" aspect.

Another zeitgeisty thought, obviously. It makes me think - there have been skillshare things around for years, but like social networks were before their time (6 Degrees, I'm thinking of), they are to a certain extent ignored. New, dynamic, local focused ideas that do not rely on the web, but maybe use mobile as a primary mode of galvanisation / keeping it going (bridging the digital divide might be easier than you think)... "Landshare" is an interesting one, and I've put myself down as a helper - I hope it gets to a critical mass or, as we say these days, 'tipping point' (I know all the hep phraseology, me).

Here's the plan.

I'm going to try and get a party / afternoon drink thing together (non alcoholic drinks provided - very high Muslim constituency in the neighbourhood). I think I'd better call it a 'pilot', so it can be kept small. I'd like to talk and listen to everyone, and I can't do that with an invite list of 250.

Any thoughts, any ideas, any brainwaves - dump them here please.

Toe noes!

I cracked my big toenail open on Friday morning. A bike fell on my open sandalledfoot, just as I was about to take James to nursery. Cue a fairly reasonable amount of blood and a rather enormous pain. Spent most of Friday with my foot in the air or feeling queasy from pain killers.

It does look rather impressive. I have had worse pain, but you'd be amazed - no, you probably wouldn't. Remember how painful it is when you stub your toe? Now imagine that pain not stopping for about 6 hours.


James talks. A lot.

It's brilliant.

For about two and a half years, James would watch, and watch, and was for the first couple, the most genial, calm wee laddy... with the occasional word. We tried hard to remain easy going about that given that you know. He had a sister who could be described as an attention hog. Just, you know. Occasionally.

After the age of 2, James became more and more frustrated at not being able to explain himself. Latterly, lots of crying and anger was the result - but only in isolated bursts.

Now we have... a delightful, fun little boy. He talks non-stop, and still does have that slightly careful way of talking as if he's thoughtfully constructing each word mentally as he speaks it (very probably true). Everything is "Me". So Me goes to the shops. Lots of present tense. Lots of phrases caught from other contexts and said back with great, James emphatic-ness.

We were looking at an aphid in the garden:
-What is that?
-What, James?
-You have to tell me what 'that' means darling, can you point? Ahhh. It's an aphid. D'you know what?
-Ladybirds eat aphids
-Uhuh. They munch them up.
-What a lot of nonsense!

Or, the utterly brilliant:
-James is wanting to do something vaguely naughty like go in to the bathroom and play with water on his own. Nora is having her hair brushed in the bedroom by me. James slams the bedroom door as he exists. I go to open it.

-James, you have to keep this door open...
(James tries to close it again)
-James, I want to have this door open so I can see you
(James, with a sense of mounting frustration...)
-Then I turned and fled!

...exit in to the living room, with lots of stomping.

In other news, he's very switched on, very active, laughs all the time, cries very easily when hurt and needs lots of hugs - and because he's Mr Roister Doister this means he gets a lot of hugs. He also has a tendency to RUN unless holding hands so tightly it's ridiculous. this comes from his essentially fearless nature. The result of this is the somewhat awkward extended use of the buggy, which is rapidly falling apart. James should be on his scooter by now - Nora was, for getting to nursery, for example. Aha, though, Nora was careful and slightly fearful so it was relatively easy to instill in her the need to stay close to Mummy and Daddy. James? Put him on a scooter and he's off, regardless of where you both are.

So, I'm not sure exactly what the answer is on that one. I think we're going to have to do something like put one of those straps round his wrist or something ridiculous and almost train him to stay close. The weather being sunny is the perfect opportunity to wean him out of the slightly dependent relationship with the buggy. this morning, instead of running across the common and enjoying a bit of freedom, he was afraid his hands would get cold so stuck to the buggy like glue. Not good. Not good at all. If only he'd complete the transition to being a little boy, then we wouldn't have to carry around a nappy bag. Life would be a lot easier - although of course, I feel pangs for my baby James ebbing away and my little boy James coming in to fuller focus every day.