With every new YouTube celebrity or social network gaffe, those of us paying attention to the Internet gain a little more experience. We follow models of success, and we learn from our mistakes and those of others. While most parents have digitally documented several chapters of their lives — college, dating, jobs, kids — that provide ample opportunities to learn, the Next Generation is still getting exposed to the basics.
Announced during National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October, Everloop — a social media site for kids under 13 — teamed up with security technology company McAfee to offer ongoing education on Internet Safety. Through McAfee’s series of educational seminars, the partnership hopes to reach more than 50,000 school children by 2013, with Everloop providing an online space to carry on conversations about safety and practice their new skills.
“Just as we learned to look both ways before crossing the street, we want children to learn to make smart choices when using the Internet,” says McAfee Senior Vice President of Global External Affairs, Michael Busselen. The McAfee Cares program mobilizes employees to go into classrooms to teach kids about positive steps they can take to use their digital devices safely. Volunteers craft presentations to target both single classrooms and school-wide assemblies, with messages for both parents and kids.
The seminars are part of a coordinated message of safety initiated by almost two dozen technology companies, including McAfee, AT&T, Google, Microsoft and Verisign:
- STOP — take time to understand the risks of use and learn how to spot potential problems
- THINK — consider how your actions online could impact the safety of yourself and others
- CONNECT — enjoy the benefits of the Internet with greater confidence
Together, these companies are unified in their intention to increase awareness of cybersecurity, communicate strategies to stay safe online, and emphasize our shared responsibility in protecting a common resource: the Internet.
“[McAfee instructors] gear their presentation and content to the age demographic they are speaking to,” explains Everloop co-founder Kim Bruce. “The speakers provide real-life relevant content the kids can relate to.”
At the end of an engagement with a school, McAfee volunteers provide handouts with information about how to join their “Loop,” a discussion forum on Everloop, to test the knowledge they learned at the assembly. The interactions kids can experience online include skills-building activities (e.g., checking passwords), questions for experts, and quizzes to earn a “digital driver’s license.”
“For Everloop, the partnership allows us to provides incredible content around safety and security for the entire community,” says Hilary DeCesare, co-founder and CEO of Everloop.
The idea for the partnership came about when the Everloop co-founders heard a presentation by McAfee in their own kids’ middle school classroom. “We loved the content, but felt they were missing the U13 [under age 13] market,” recalls DeCesare. “By partnering with Everloop, McAfee has the opportunity to continue to engage with the kids after the assembly is over. McAfee’s ‘Ask an Expert’ area on Everloop allows kids to ask a question they might have been too shy to ask at the assembly, or if they simply ran out of time.”
The exposure to this information is sticky. “Kids make loops all the time about Cyberbullying and online safety,” says DeCesare. “We often see kids encouraging one another to not give out personal information, kids giving tips to others about how to deal with cyberbullying, and kids thanking their Everloop friends for making Everloop fun.”
Part of this behavior is attributable to the behavioral norms the community actively works to cultivate. As a proving grounds for Internet relationships, Everloop gives tweens a safe place to interact with peers. It is a heavily-moderated website, using a combination of algorithmic and human oversight to detect and stop cyberbullying before it spreads. As a result, the strong messaging and quick response to damaging behavior may be helping young members of the community feel empowered to respond on their own in recognizing and being intolerant to unsafe practices.
DeCesare points to a recent in-site poll presented to Everloop members as evidence that these are issues of importance to kids, not just parents. The multiple-choice question showed “Stranger Danger” (fear of Internet predators) is the top concern, followed by the protection of personal data, computer viruses and bullying. These kinds of polls are part of Everloop’s ongoing attempts to understand the community they are cultivating and to see what kids are learning.
With the World Wide Web now in its third decade, it seems natural that its newest consumers learn to cultivate their digital fluency at the start of their online journeys, rather than waiting to learn the hard way where their actions can go wrong. The McAfee-Everloop teamup seems a good example of technology companies making such lessons stick.