Beef Up Internet Security, Urge Panelists

L-R: Joanna Coles, Randi Zuckerberg, Barbara Walters, Chelsea Clinton, Amy Guggenheim Shenkan
L-R: Joanna Coles, Randi Zuckerberg, Barbara Walters, Chelsea Clinton, Amy Guggenheim Shenkan

ESPN journalist Erin Andrews didn’t plan on becoming an advocate for stricter Internet security.

Then again, she never expected to be filmed in the privacy of her hotel room, either, by a complete stranger, who was holding a cell phone up to a peep hole, in the sick hope she’d walk by. (It was later discovered he had been stalking her and had creepily caught 14 additional women on tape).

Having a video of herself, naked, go viral on the Internet, was out of the realm of possible.

That was before.

“It’s the biggest violation, the biggest embarrassment, of my life,” said the once confident, articulate sidelines journalist suddenly reduced to tears. “This is not a joke. We need to start paying attention to what can happen.”

Andrews recounts calling home to Tampa, to her mom and dad (also a journalist), in shock, after being tipped off by a sports blogger friend. “There’s a naked video and I don’t know where it came from. It’s going to blow up,” she said. “My career is over.”

The man had given the video to a European website. Online viewing that started in Paris soon spread worldwide.

More than a year has passed. The man responsible is now behind bars, a convicted felon. Yet, Google her name and, as of this posting, “Naked Pictures Hit the Web” is still among the top five headlines to appear.

“There is simply no policing of the Internet. Things need to change,” pleaded Andrews.

As day faded to dusk against a stunning cityscape outside the 44th floor of Hearst Tower, a panel assembled Tuesday evening to discuss “Social Media: The Perils and Possibilities of Living in a Digital World.”

Panelist Randi Zuckerberg, sister to Facebook founder Mark, who oversees marketing partnerships for the social network responded to Andrews, saying, “I am heartbroken.”

Then added, “Bullying has been around for years. Luckily on Facebook and Twitter you can block. You can’t do that in the outside world.”

When asked how Facebook is addressing increasingly widespread security concerns, Randi Zuckerberg mentioned the safety advisory council that is now in place.

She went on to acknowledge, “There is much more that we can do. We are actively trying to work with partners like Common Sense Media.”

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that educates people on evolving media and technology and cosponsored the event with Marie Claire magazine, has to date reviewed some 15,000 songs, apps and other pieces of Internet media in order to rate them according to age-appropriate guidelines.

The group has also developed digital-awareness curriculum for grades K-12.

In the evening’s opening remarks, Chelsea Clinton, who sits on Common Sense Media’s Board of Directors, cited a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study finding that the average child in America spends 7.5 hours with media and technology a day. “Every day children are creating and consuming media,” said Clinton. “There are clear risks and dangers. We need to educate, empower and protect [children] in the ever-changing media and technology world.”

Later in the panel discussion, Randi Zuckerberg remarked, “Teens are much savvier about privacy than we think they are. They set their privacy settings and choose who can see what. We need to educate parents and PTAs,” then, in response to an audience mention of recent scandalous headlines, added, “I guess we need to educate our politicians, too.”

A representative from People magazine raised a hand to voice the discomfort she felt on receiving friend requests from her daughter’s friends to join their networks, a discomfort exacerbated when she saw photos of her daughter, who is not allowed to have a Facebook page, on the profiles of her daughter’s friends.

How old were her daughter’s friends? Ten and 11.

Yes, you are correct. Technically you are not permitted to have a Facebook page until you are 13 years old.

And, yet.

I heard a comment spill in back of me. It was from Barbara Walters (I watched enough 20/20 with my folks growing up to recognize that voice anywhere) saying what sounded like, “That’s got to go.”

Walters posed a question to the panel, “If you could propose legislation, what would each of you propose?”

The most comprehensive response came from Panelist Amy Guggenheim Shenkan, president and chief operating officer of Common Sense Media, whose own daughter is seven years old.

First, policies need to be readable, she said, so you don’t need a Harvard JD to be able to figure them out. Second, there should be some sort of erase button to make it easier for people to take down information on the Internet. Lastly, some sort of mandate or funding of digital literacy education is needed. So the nation can raise a “savvy and smart generation on all aspects.”  The aim of Shenkan and her colleagues is to make the Internet “public by effort and private by default.”

Responded Facebook’s Zuckerberg, “It’s Difficult when you are at the forefront of trying to figure out what the line is. We put trust in organizations like yours to educate us. Could you erase the common cold?…I wish for you there could be an erase button,” later adding, “it does get dangerous when we talk about censorship.”

According to Clinton, on hearing Andrews’ story earlier, “I would argue that is not freedom of expression. It is not someone’s freedom of expression to exploit Erin.”