Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies

The New York Times

A disturbing article about a middle school aged girl in Florida.  A good reminder to have conversations with your daughters about their use of social media, especially ask.fm, Instagram and Snapchat.  All are invited to attend Middle School Technology Night on Monday, September 16 at 7 pm for more information on the topic.

Brian Blanco for The New York Times

A memorial for 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick has sprouted at the abandoned cement plant in Lakeland, Fla., where she committed suicide.

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Published: September 13, 2013 723 Comments

MIAMI — The clues were buried in her bedroom. Before leaving for school on Monday morning, Rebecca Ann Sedwick had hidden her schoolbooks under a pile of clothes and left her cellphone behind, a rare lapse for a 12-year-old girl.

Rebecca Sedwick

Lance Speere for The New York Times

Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, said she had no idea that her daughter, who died this week, was being cyberbullied by about 15 middle-school children, a problem that first arose and was addressed last year.

Inside her phone’s virtual world, she had changed her user name on Kik Messenger, a cellphone application, to “That Dead Girl” and delivered a message to two friends, saying goodbye forever. Then she climbed a platform at an abandoned cement plant near her home in the Central Florida city of Lakeland and leaped to the ground, the Polk County sheriff said.

In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships.

For more than a year, Rebecca, pretty and smart, was cyberbullied by a coterie of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself, her mother said. The Polk County sheriff’s office is investigating the role of cyberbullying in the suicide and considering filing charges against the middle-school students who apparently barraged Rebecca with hostile text messages. Florida passed a law this year making it easier to bring felony charges in online bullying cases.

Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media,” Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said at a news conference this week.

Along with her grief, Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, faces the frustration of wondering what else she could have done. She complained to school officials for several months about the bullying, and when little changed, she pulled Rebecca out of school. She closed down her daughter’s Facebook page and took her cellphone away. She changed her number. Rebecca was so distraught in December that she began to cut herself, so her mother had her hospitalized and got her counseling. As best she could, Ms. Norman said, she kept tabs on Rebecca’s social media footprint.

It all seemed to be working, she said. Rebecca appeared content at her new school as a seventh grader. She was gearing up to audition for chorus and was considering slipping into her cheerleading uniform once again. But unknown to her mother, Rebecca had recently signed on to new applications — ask.fm, and Kik and Voxer — which kick-started the messaging and bullying once again.

“I had never even heard of them; I did go through her phone but didn’t even know,” said Ms. Norman, 42, who works in customer service. “I had no reason to even think that anything was going on. She was laughing and joking.”

Sheriff Judd said Rebecca had been using these messaging applications to send and receive texts and photographs. His office showed Ms. Norman the messages and photos, including one of Rebecca with razor blades on her arms and cuts on her body. The texts were full of hate, her mother said: “Why are you still alive?” “You’re ugly.”

One said, “Can u die please?” To which Rebecca responded, with a flash of resilience, “Nope but I can live.” Her family said the bullying began with a dispute over a boy Rebecca dated for a while. But Rebecca had stopped seeing him, they said.

Rebecca was not nearly as resilient as she was letting on. Not long before her death, she had clicked on questions online that explored suicide. “How many Advil do you have to take to die?”

In hindsight, Ms. Norman wonders whether Rebecca kept her distress from her family because she feared her mother might take away her cellphone again.

“Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

It is impossible to be certain what role the online abuse may have played in her death. But cyberbullying experts said cellphone messaging applications are proliferating so quickly that it is increasingly difficult for parents to keep pace with their children’s complex digital lives.

“It’s a whole new culture, and the thing is that as adults, we don’t know anything about it because it’s changing every single day,” said Denise Marzullo, the chief executive of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, who works with the schools there on bullying issues.

No sooner has a parent deciphered Facebook or Twitter or Instagram than his or her children have migrated to the latest frontier. “It’s all of these small ones where all this is happening,” Ms. Marzullo said.

In Britain, a number of suicides by young people have been linked to ask.fm, and online petitions have been started there and here to make the site more responsive to bullying. The company ultimately responded this year by introducing an easy-to-see button to report bullying and saying it would hire more moderators.

“You hear about this all the time,” Ms. Norman said of cyberbullying. “I never, ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”

Questions have also been raised about whether Rebecca’s old school, Crystal Lake Middle School, did enough last year to help stop the bullying; some of it, including pushing and hitting, took place on school grounds. The same students also appear to be involved in sending out the hate-filled online messages away from school, something schools can also address.

Nancy Woolcock, the assistant superintendent in charge of antibullying programs for Polk County Schools, said the school received one bullying complaint from Rebecca and her mother in December about traditional bullying, not cyberbullying. After law enforcement investigated, Rebecca’s class schedule was changed. Ms. Woolcock said the school also has an extensive antibullying campaign and takes reports seriously.

But Ms. Norman said the school should have done more. Officials told her that Rebecca would receive an escort as she switched classes, but that did not happen, she said.

Rebecca never boarded her school bus on Monday morning. She made her way to the abandoned Cemex plant about 10 minutes away from her modest mobile home; the plant was a place she had used as a getaway a few times when she wanted to vanish. Somehow, she got past the high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, which is now a memorial, with teddy bears, candles and balloons. She climbed a tower and then jumped.

“Don’t ignore your kids,” Ms. Norman said, “even if they seem fine.”

Lance Speere contributed reporting from Lakeland, Fla., and Alan Blinder from Atlanta.

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Snapchat Photos Can Be Retrieved

Snapchat, which allows users to send photos that are visible for only 10-seconds, has become extremely popular with middle school aged students.  It now appears that images sent on Snapchat are retrievable.

Actually, Snapchat Doesn’t Delete Your Private Pictures And Someone Found A Way To Resurface Them

Business Insider

Alyson Shontell | May 9, 2013

 

The beauty of Snapchat, a popular photo-sharing app, is that photos disappear moments after picture messages are sent. They can never be resurfaced by the sender, and the recipient can’t view the image for more than a few seconds before it self-destructs.

But apparently Snapchat doesn’t actually delete the photos. It just buries them deep inside a device.* A digital forensics examiner named Richard Hickman has found a way to resurface the private pictures on Androids. The finding is similar to a flaw Buzzfeed uncovered in December.

Hickman, 24, took a mobile forensics course at Utah Valley University. During his research there, he discovered that Snapchat stores every photo in a folder called “RECEIVED_IMAGES_SNAPS.” An extension, “.NOMEDIA” is added to each photo file which makes them hard – but not impossible – to find.

“The actual app is even saving the picture,” Hickman tells KSL.com. “They claim that it’s deleted, and it’s not even deleted. It’s actually saved on the phone.”

 

Snapchat Folders.PNG

Decipherforensics.com

Snapchat storage structure, uncovered by Hickman.

When Hickman changed the .NOMEDIA extension, the photos were viewable again. 

“It’s not that [a photo is] deleted — it just isn’t mapped anymore,” Hickman says. “It says, OK, that spot where that picture was stored is now available to be overwritten. That’s what would happen with a regular camera.”

On average, it takes Hickman six hours to resurface the photos on Androids, depending on how much data is stored on the device. He’s still cracking the Snapchat code on iPhones.

He’s detailed the full methodology for resurfacing Snapchat photos here. Snapchat has not given a public statement about Hickman’s findings.

SEE ALSO: What Snapchat Is And How To Use It >

*UPDATE: Snapchat has emailed the following response to Business Insider.

“There are many ways to save snaps that you receive – the easiest way is to take a screenshot or take a photo with another camera. Snaps are deleted from our servers after they have been viewed by the recipient.”

Note that while it says photos are deleted from Snapchat’s servers, it doesn’t say photos are deleted from the devices.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/snapchat-doesnt-delete-your-private-pictures-2013-5#ixzz2SpiPlzUT

Snapchat: Good for Teenagers?

By Adam McLane

Snapchat: Good for teenagers?

A lot of youth workers have been asking me about Snapchat, a mobile picture sharing service that is popular amongst some segments of teenagers.

I know there are some innocent uses out there. I’ve even heard from youth ministry folks who use it to connect with their students and crowd-source ideas. But I also know of some horror stories. Stories of regret and exposure to things their eyes didn’t want to see.

 

Rather than respond to specific things I like or dislike about the service I think it’s better to respond with a few principles I’ve taught teenagers, parents, and youth workers for years.

  1. Everyone isn’t who you think they are online. Just ask Manti Te’o. Unless you are 100% confident that you know every single one of your Snapchat friends and they know every one of their Snapchat friends, you don’t really know who is seeing the pictures you are sending nor can you predict what you are likely to be sent.
  2. Anonymity, or perceived anonymity, never benefits teenagers. There have been hundreds of studies done about how far humans will go to punish, humiliate, and harm fellow human beings when they perceive they are inflicting harm anonymously. The most famous of which is the Milgram experiment. I’ve seen it time and again: Anonymity among teenagers leads to cyberbullying, pure and simple. When I first looked into Snapchat I thought it was another experiment, like Chatroulette was. And in fact, I’m still not sure if it’s real or if it’s another Stanford experiment… It’s just too obviously set up to gain the trust of teenagers while attracting men looking for porn to be real. It’s not hard for a grown man to pose as a 15 year old female on Snapchat. And if it isn’t hard, you know that’s what’s going on.
  3. There is no such thing as anonymity anywhere online. When I listen to teenagers talk about this service they seem to like the innocence and cuteness of it. It all just kind of goes away. Awesome. Unfortunately, everywhere your device goes online has the ability to be tracked back to you. (Relatively easily) A service can say something is anonymous and they can have intentions of keeping that private. But if a law is broken, say you see a nude picture of an underage friend, all of your usage data is able to be seen by the courts for your prosecution. Ask Kwame Kilpatrick about that. While Snapchat tries to convince users otherwise the proof is right in their privacy policy… they store everything for their own purposes and will give it out however they need to. The privacy policy details how they store your UDID, (device ID) email, phone number, MAC address, (network identifier) and all your usage data… which images you looked at, how long you saw them, if you touched the screen while you looked at it, etc.
  4. Nothing you post online goes away. Ever. Forget the marketing copy, it’s a lie. That’s just not how the internet works. A service can say it isn’t storing images but it is stored, indexed, and potentially sold. Again, the Snapchat privacy policy makes it abundantly clear that they are storing everything and will use it however it best benefits their investors within the law. Think of it like this… if I could convince you to post lots of photos of yourself which I could then use for any purpose I wanted whenever I wanted… why would I ever delete that? I wouldn’t. I’d store it and potentially use it later. And when you’re 25 and you apply for a job that does a background check, guess who is going to be seeing your embarrassing 10 year old photos? Yup, thems the breaks kid. COPPA only protects you until you’re 13. After that you can identify your flirty Snapchat self with the non-flirty MBA self trying to get a government job. Additionally, they are legally obligated to store every-single-image because if a law is broken and they’ve deleted evidence they may be criminally responsible. So they can say they are deleting stuff all they want, but they are storing it all.
  5. Things aren’t always as innocent as they appear online. Snapchat is a service targeted at 13-17 year old females. All of their promotional materials are out of casting central for a Disney Channel-esque television show. Who do you think are the vast majority of users? I’m going to guess men. Snapchat is like bait for a To Catch a Predator episode. When it was first described to me I wondered if Chris Hanson occasionally popped up and said, “Hello there Joe. I’m Chris Hanson from Dateline NBC. Can I ask you what you’re doing here?

I’ve been soft on responding about Snapchat because there hasn’t been a lot of data to back up my assumptions about the site. But I do want to point out that based on all the experience I have in working with digitally connected teenagers, all of the principles that I teach should navigate any and all students away from using this app.

Are there innocent uses? Certainly. Am I being alarmist? That’s not my style. I just don’t see the positive outweighing the negative.

All Snapchat appears to be is a teenage version of Chatroullette. It might be used innocently. But it’ll also lull you into to taking bigger and bigger risks until its too late. There’s just no upside to it. Cute and fun? I am not buying it.

What’s an alternative and why? Instead of Snapchat I’d recommend Instagram, a photo-sharing service with a more open sharing community and a proven abuse desk via Facebook.

My encouragement to students, parents, and youth workers is to help teenagers find a better platform for connecting than Snapchat. Too many unknowns and built too easily for exploitation.

The Internet, As Seen By High Schoolers

Here’s some information on what social media sites teenagers are using.

Executive Tech Editor, The Huffington Post

The Internet, As Seen By High Schoolers
Posted: 01/09/2013 7:08 pm
Kids these days. Just what are they up to online?

Intrigued by one tenth-grader’s musings (via her brother) on trends in the tech world, investor Garry Tan conducted an informal survey of how 1,000 teens and twenty-somethings are using social media.

Among the high-schoolers (aged 13 to 18) and millennials (aged 19 to 25) that answered Tan’s survey, Tumblr > Facebook > Twitter > Instagram > Snapchat, in terms of popularity.

Because “teens love photos, but they hate text,” in the words of FWD’s John Herrman, here’s a picture of the survey results:

social media use teens

Teens used every single social site more than their older peers, and Snapchat and Instagram were nearly twice as popular among high-schoolers than millennials. Thirteen percent of teens reported using Snapchat regularly, while just 4 percent of twenty-somethings did so. Twenty-one percent of users in the younger demographic use Instagram, versus 11 percent in the older demographic.

The survey points to the graying of Facebook: more high-schoolers and millennials are using Tumblr than Facebook (59 percent versus 54 percent). By comparison, just 5 percent of online adults are using Tumblr, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Tan’s survey jives with comScore data from May of last year. Together, Facebook and Tumblr accounted for 90 percent of the time teens spent online.

Middle Schoolers and Social Networking

While social networking has many positive benefits, some middle school aged children around the country continue to struggle to make good choices on the Internet.  We recently learned about the site ask.fm, which allows members to send and receive anonymous comments and questions.  Many middle school students also use the mobile app Snapchat, which allows members to post photos and videos that disappear after a few seconds.

I recommend that you have a conversation with your daughter about her safe and responsible use of these sites.  I don’t recommend that any of the girls should use ask.fm; I can’t imagine much good that can come from a site that invites anonymous comments and questions.

Read below for some information on Snapchat:

Snapchat: Sexting tool, or the next Instagram?

Doug Gross, CNN
By Doug Gross, CNN
updated 9:20 AM EST, Thu January 3, 2013 | Filed under: Mobile
Snapchat is a fast-growing mobile app that lets users share photos and videos that quickly disappear.
Snapchat is a fast-growing mobile app that lets users share photos and videos that quickly disappear.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Competition from Facebook Poke may have spurred popularity of mobile app Snapchat
  • Snapchat lets users send images or videos that disappear after a few seconds
  • Popular with young users, Snapchat has a reputation as a “sexting” tool
  • Creators downplay its use to send nude pictures, say short-term sharing is fun

(CNN) — You may not have heard of Snapchat. But if there are teenagers or 20-somethings in your life, it’s a safe bet that they have.

Snapchat is a mobile app which lets users share images or videos that disappear after a few seconds. That’s right — they vanish forever in the time it takes you to read a tweet.

In a little over a year since it was released by a Stanford student and his recently graduated business partner, Snapchat has has quietly amassed millions of users and now claims to process more than 30 million messages a day. Some bloggers have called it the “next Instagram.”

Not bad for a mobile tool which, rightly or wrongly, is often cited for one very specific ability — the “sexting” of naughty images to other users. In an age when young people are constantly being warned not to post inappropriate things online, Snapchat offers a degree of freedom by letting users share unfiltered thoughts or images without much fear of reprisal.

“Like most people born before the 1990s, I’m not a Snapchat user, and I’ve long assumed the worst about the app — that combining cameras; young people; and secret, self-destructing messages could only mean trouble,” wrote Slate’s Farhad Manjoo last week.

But increasingly, he writes, it appears possible that “teenagers are more likely using the app to safely explore the sort of silly, unguarded, and sometimes unwise ideas that have always occupied the teenage brain … in a manner that won’t haunt them forever. In other words, they’re chatting with Snapchat precisely because it’s not like chatting with Facebook.”

Not to be outdone, Facebook last month actually launched a virtually identical social app called Facebook Poke, a mobile re-imagining of one of the site’s earliest, and ultimately most ridiculed, features. But instead of siphoning users from Shapchat, Facebook’s move appears instead to have launched the upstart app to new heights.

Both apps let users send images or short videos and messages via their smartphones. The sender can choose how long the message will be visible — up to 10 seconds — before it self-destructs.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly was part of the team that coded the Poke app, currently available only on Apple’s iOS system, in only a couple of weeks. A family photo posted by sister Randi Zuckerberg purportedly showed their family playing with the app over the holidays.

But if Facebook was looking to flex its billion-user muscle to take over the instant-chat market, it doesn’t appear to be working.

On Thursday, Snapchat was the sixth-most popular free app for Apple’s mobile devices. Facebook Poke wasn’t in the top 100. As Forbes said in a recent headline, “the kids like SnapChat because it’s NOT Facebook.”

A newer version of Snapchat for Google’s Android devices sat at a respectable No. 33 in the Google Play store, ahead of stalwarts like Draw Something, Spotify, Fandango and Amazon Mobile. Facebook Poke isn’t available for Android.

A look by analytics firm Topsy showed that mentions of Snapchat on Twitter spiraled to more than 212,000 on New Year’s Day, up from about 16,000 on December 20, the day before Facebook introduced Poke. Facebook Poke got 1,822 mentions on January 1, according to Topsy.

So, does that mean young, socially savvy users are sending millions of racy pictures of themselves through cyberspace every day?

It’s difficult to say. Technological advances and nudie shots have shared a strong, if secretive, relationship for centuries. From the printing press to pay-per-view to VCRs, new tech (particularly the kind that creates new levels of privacy) has always been followed closely by folks figuring out how to personally or professionally use it to get dirty.

There are clear, and sometimes ugly, signs that sexting is common on Snapchat.

“Snapchat Sluts,” a Tumblr blog full of nude and semi-nude images, was started up last month by a “party photographer” who says he put out an open call for salacious shots on Twitter and was overwhelmed by the response. Another Snapchat-themed blog on Tumblr is filled with complaints about male users sharing photos of their genitalia.

Snapchat users may think their naughty images will never come back to haunt them. But people can still grab screenshots from their phones, even though both Snapchat and Facebook Poke notify the sender if the recipient of an image takes a shot of it.

And last week, Buzzfeed exposed an apparent security flaw that it says lets recipients retrieve videos sent via Snapchat.

All of which should be bad news when young people and questionable decisions collide with the dark alleys of the Internet, where even the most ill-gotten of sleaze is posted.

Snapchat did not respond to an interview request from CNN. But in one of only a handful of interviews he’s given since launching, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel told TechCrunch he thinks the sex talk about his app is overblown.

“I’m not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be,” he told TechCrunch. “I just don’t know people who do that. It doesn’t seem that fun when you can have real sex.”

But he also acknowledged to TechCrunch that the idea for the app, which he and Bobby Murphy hashed out after meeting at Stanford’s Kappa Sigma fraternity house, was partly inspired by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s unfortunate decision to share racy photos via Twitter.

So, if not for naughty bits, what exactly is the purpose of sending images and videos that rapidly disappear?

In a September blog post celebrating its first anniversary, Team Snapchat shared a vision that comes off as downright wholesome.

“We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends,” it read. “It’s not all about fancy vacations, sushi dinners, or beautiful sunsets. Sometimes it’s an inside joke, a silly face, or greetings from a pet fish.

“There is value in the ephemeral,” the post continues. “Great conversations are magical. That’s because they are shared, enjoyed, but not saved.”