The only issue is that in a small group of kids, who already appear to have other psychological issues, the video games may contribute to and exacerbate those issues. In other words, it's not the video games that are the issue, but a separate problem. But for most children, there are no problems with them playing violent video games, despite what you may have heard on the nightly news:
"Violent video games are like peanut butter," said Christopher J. Ferguson, of Texas A&M International University. "They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems."
He added that studies have revealed that violent games have not created a generation of problem youngsters.
"Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behavior problems, are less violent and score better on standardized tests," Ferguson, a guest editor for the journal, explained.
Other studies also found that many video games have positive aspects, and can be quite useful to kids.
While it still seems like the common belief is that "txt spk" and other sorts of abbreviated elements of the English language harm kids' ability to write properly, we've seen study after study after study after study after study after study has found exactly the opposite. They've found that most kids can tell the difference, and do understand what's proper and what's not. On top of that, heavy texters tend to be better spellers, because they're much more used to writing -- even if they tend to abbreviate the language when communicating via technology.
So it almost seems superfluous to mention that yet another one of these studies has come out and it, too, has found that those who regularly use txt spk have very strong literacy skills. But what's annoying is that both the researchers and the BBC act as if this was a "surprise." It's as if no one bothered to check to see if similar research had been done before, and found the many, many, many studies all saying the same exact thing.
While there were some studies last year claiming that heavy social networking users were likely to have lower grades (though, there were lots of problems with that study), it apparently isn't because it keeps kids up late at night. A new study that looked at students and their social networking habits didn't find much difference in the amount of sleep heavy social network users got vs. those who weren't spending all their time on Facebook and Twitter. My guess is that, with both of these things, there are so many other factors that finding any sort of causal relationship is unlikely in a simple comparison of two variables. There could be many other factors that lead to either good or bad grades, and also impact how much a person uses social networks or the amount of sleep they get. And, in the end, looking for something to blame for either really misses the point. It's an attempt to blame a technology for something else, rather than look at the real underlying reasons why a student doesn't get enough sleep or doesn't do well at school.
But, of course, don't expect that to stop the debate. As I was finishing up this post, along comes a different study that again notes a correlation between really heavy users and bad grades. But, the study also finds that for kids these days, they're pretty much online all the time somehow -- even more than the study's authors thought possible.
One of the more famous examples of abuses of the YouTube video takedown process was the case of Lenz vs. Universal Music, which involved Universal Music issuing a YouTube DMCA takedown to a woman who posted a very short clip of her baby dancing to a Prince song that was playing in the background. It was a clear case of fair use, and while after the woman filed a counternotice Universal chose not to sue, the EFF filed a lawsuit against Universal Music, saying that the DMCA notice was fraudulent, since it was such an obvious case of fair use. While Universal Music argued that since fair use is just a "defense" and not a "right" it need not consider fair use in sending a takedown, the court disagreed.
The notice claims that the video contains content for which the copyright is held by record label Razor & Tie. The guy who got the takedown seems a bit confused, in that he appears to be blaming McDonald's for the mess, when it appears McDonald's had nothing at all to do with the takedown. In fact, the record label Razor & Tie may not have anything to do with it either... as I'll explain below. The song used in the video was from a CD that came with a McDonald's Happy Meal. Looking around, it appears that in April, McDonald's announced a promotion with record label Kidz Bop to issue music CDs. Razor & Tie is the parent company of Kidz Bop. The problem here is clearly not McDonald's. All it did was include the CD in Happy Meals. It's got nothing to do with the takedown, and the guy's anger at McDonald's is misplaced (though, you could make the argument -- and it's a stretch -- that McDonald's should tell its partners to avoid these sorts of ridiculous copyright claims that scare people away from buying Happy Meals).
The next assumption, then, would be that Razor & Tie is guilty of sending the takedown, but I don't think that's true. If Razor & Tie had sent a DMCA takedown, the video would be down. When Google receives a DMCA takedown, it almost always (or perhaps always) pulls down the content immediately in order to retain its DMCA safe harbors. The user would then need to file a counternotice to start the process of potentially getting the video back up. The fact that the video is up and the notice the guy received simply tells him to review the videos suggests that no DMCA takedown was sent.
Instead, the blame almost certainly lies with Google's content recognition engine/filters that the record labels pushed them to use to try to catch copyright infringement ahead of time. Now, Razor & Tie is somewhat complicit here, in that it appears to have uploaded its catalog to train Google's filters (if I remember correctly -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- Google needs the copyright holder to submit copies for its filter to work). So, Google had this particular song on file, and noticed the similarity. Google's filter algorithms don't appear to consider fair use (or, perhaps more likely, they do a bad job of it in many cases) and the guy then is sent the automated notification, even though it makes everyone -- McDonald's, Razor & Tie and Google -- look bad, though the blame from the recipient appears to be in almost reverse order of culpability.
Unfortunately, the guy who received the notice also appears to be confused concerning his own rights. He says he is going to take down the video, though he clearly has a strong fair use case in asking for the video to be left alone. It seems likely that Google would allow the video to stay up, and I highly doubt that Razor & Tie would do anything else (it would be ridiculous to try to claim that this was not fair use).
Either way, this highlights a variety of interesting things. First, despite all the publicity of the Lenz case, these types of "takedowns" (even if it's not a DMCA takedown) still happen. Second, people on the receiving end of these notices assume that there is no recourse that would allow the video to stay up. People get official sounding notices and they assume they need to jump. Third, Google's content match filter isn't particularly good on fair use issues. Fourth, when these sorts of bogus notices are sent, it reflects very poorly on a variety of companies. In this case, McDonald's is getting most of the blame, despite being almost entirely blameless (well, it did decide to put out these silly music CDs, but that's a separate issue). Even Razor & Tie may be getting misplaced blame (though it may depend on the "rules" it set for Google's filter). Amusingly, it may be Google that deserves the most blame, and it appears to be getting the least.
Still, no matter what the situation, it's simply ridiculous that a guy filming 30 seconds of his kid dancing should have to worry about any of this.
There are a bunch of different "child filtering/monitoring" software on the market these days, and many parents use it to help them keep track of what their kids do online. I have no problem with this -- so long as such filters aren't mandated by the government. But it appears that just selling the tools isn't enough for some companies. JJ sends in the news that one of the top providers in the space doesn't just monitor what kids do for parents, but collects all the data -- including the text of chat room discussions -- and resells it to marketers. You have to imagine that this isn't exactly what the FTC (or parents) expects of such tools.
The company defends the practice, claiming that the data is anonymized and no identifiable data is included -- but we've heard that before. Every single time someone insists their data is anonymized, news breaks showing that it is not. I don't think there's anything wrong, necessarily, with doing targeted marketing programs, but using unsuspecting parents and getting them to install filters and monitoring software, without realizing the data will be handed over to marketing firms, seems pretty sleazy.
Over the past few months, there's been a push among some to suggest that file sharing is really a marginalized behavior, only done by a small group of people -- and that with just a little education (and maybe a few big legal victories, such as the ones against Jammie Thomas and Joel Tenenbaum -- combined with new services like Spotify), perhaps it can be brought "under control." The "evidence" given for this has often been a case study in how to use statistics to delude yourself, often looking at the total percentage of people or internet users who engage in file sharing. But, the fact is that ignores the real issue: which is that kids today (tomorrow's consumers) are file sharing at a very high rate. A new study, sponsored by UK Music (the UK organization that's looking to get ISPs to put in place some sort of blanket licensing plan) has found that over 60% of kids in the UK admit to file sharing, with 83% of those admitting to doing it regularly, and those surveyed claiming to have downloaded an average of 8,100 tracks. Think about that for a second. 8,100 tracks.
While the defenders of the old system want to liken file sharing to a problem like shoplifting, at some point you have to realize it's something entirely different. This isn't a marginal behavior done by "bad kids." This is about as common as can be. Oddly, the BBC tried to spin this report to say that file sharing has dropped, but that "drop" was only 2% and it's within the margin of error of the survey -- meaning there's no actual evidence that it dropped. The study also contradicted that other study we wrote about recently (also in the UK) that claimed that kids were replacing downloading with streaming services. In this survey, 78% said they had no interest in a streaming service, and 89% saying they'd never pay for such a service.
Given the two conflicting studies (both sponsored by biased parties), you have to question the results of both. But, given the fact that kids are more likely to deny file sharing activity these days, rather than admit to it (knowing they could get in trouble for it), you have to wonder if this study even undercounts the actual activity.
Now, once again, let's make a clear point: I'm not saying this is right or legal. I don't think anyone should download music from an artist who does not authorize it. But the fact is that file sharing is not a "small thing" among kids today, and to think that there's some sort of magical method of getting it to go away is wishful thinking. Given that we're seeing more and more artists learn how to embrace file sharing to do better with their own business models, at some point it's time for those fighting against it to recognize -- from the copyright holders' perspective -- that it's better not to fight what consumers want, but to embrace it, combined with a smart business model, and stop worrying.
President Obama is the latest in a rather long line of politicians to start calling out video games as being something that is bad for kids and should be taken away from them, as encouragement to go outside and play:
The second step that we can all agree on is to invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children. It means quitting smoking, going in for that mammogram or colon cancer screening. It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.
Of course, there's been very little evidence that playing video games alone somehow leads kids to be less active or to play less outside, but it may also be worth putting this into a historical context. Tom sends in a look back at some old quotes from Scientific American, where the last one on the page, written in July of 1859 -- yes 150 years ago -- sounds quite similar to Obama's comments on video games, but is in reference to that pernicious child-obesity-causing monstrosity we call "chess":
"A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages. Why should we regret this? It may be asked. We answer, chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises--not this sort of mental gladiatorship."
A new study from the UK says that parents underestimate by half the amount of time their kids spend online, while 81% of those parents surveyed said they had a good idea of what their kids look at online, but just 31% of kids agreed. All this happens in spite of more than half of British parents saying they put filters or other sorts of controls on the PCs their kids use, suggesting that -- surprise, surprise -- those controls aren't particularly effective. Furthermore, the survey would seem to indicate that what's lacking here aren't technological controls on kids' online behavior, but rather a lot of parental attention. Trying to outsource parental responsibility to some technological solution isn't going to work -- but the responsibility shouldn't be to fully or accurately monitor kids' online behavior (which is largely impossible anyway), it should be to educate kids to protect themselves and behave responsibly on the internet.
Stats out of the UK say that the number of students taking IT and computer courses is falling. Fewer students are taking IT courses at the GSCE level, or at ages 13-16, and consequently fewer are studying and getting qualifications in it at sixth-form level, or when they're 16-18, and the country's Office for Standards in Education says this is cause for concern given the importance of IT skills in adult working life. It is certainly true that modern, advanced economies demand workers with computer skills, but perhaps the growing pervasiveness of home computers means that students are getting sufficient hands-on training, and don't have as great a need for dedicated computer coursework as they once did? Also, the Office says that the schools doing the best job of teaching IT and computer skills are those that spread computer resources across multiple subjects, and don't use them solely in specific IT courses. One would imagine that students' general computer skills have risen across the board over the last several years, and they pick them up through their other coursework, and of course, their personal lives. Curriculum should adjust to reflect this, and if there is less call for general computer skills, IT coursework should be refocused to provide students interested in IT careers the best base possible from which to work.
For the past decade or so, the press and certain politicians have been somewhat successful in building a moral panic about video games and the supposed harm they do to children. The problem is that there's almost no evidence that this is true -- and almost all of the evidence that claims this is true doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Often, the moral panic-inducing results are actually either the researcher or (more likely) the press coming up with a conclusion that does not match with the actual study results.
However, in just the last year, we've finally been seeing prominent researchers and politicians start to push back on this notion of video games causing harm. Last year, two Harvard professors came out with a book reviewing all of the research and adding some of their own, all of which showed no evidence that video games made kids violent (in fact, it found that it was the kids who didn't participate in video games that you should be worried about.
Perhaps even more surprising, though, is that some politicians are now pushing back, as well. A study done in the EU Parliament is now noting that video games are actually good for kids, noting that they can help "stimulate learning of facts and skills such as strategic thinking, creativity, cooperation and innovative thinking, which are important skills in the information society." The report does, unfortunately, still claim that in some cases violent video games may stimulate violence (though, without much proof), but it's still surprising to see a political report on video games that sees them as being useful.