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Nuts & Bolts

November 29, 2012

Slate: Protecting kids online

(Continued)

Another example of good online citizenship: MTV's efforts to get kids to out themselves or people they know for crossing over from "digital use to digital abuse." This is happening on a popular app called Over the Line? The app hosts more than 6,800 posts, like this one: "Okay soo this boy ask 4 a pic of me without a top on, cause he sent me a pic of his . . . I really don't want to. . . . Idk wat 2 do HELP!!!" Users can post anonymously or by name. Other users vote on whether the behavior described is over, on, or under the line — meaning, socially acceptable or not. (Being asked to send a topless photo when you don't want to: definitely over the line.)

Now MTV is rolling out a new feature, based on a partnership with a lab at MIT. The lab designed an algorithm that categorizes users' stories and then helps them find other stories that are similar in terms of subject matter. The idea is that kids posting about bad online behavior will know they have company, and with luck, will find comfort in seeing their own troubles in the context of others' struggles and solutions. It's crowd-sourcing, by and for teen-agers, about the boundaries of online behavior.

"We wanted to help our audience come up with their own answers," said Jason Rzepka, senior vice president of public affairs for MTV. "Rather than us putting up a list of digitals do's and don'ts, it's more valuable to ask them to collectively draw the line between what's innocent and appropriate, and what's not." The evidence that MTV's approach speaks to its demographic comes from the time users spend with the app. They've posted more than 350,000 story ratings and spend seven minutes on Over the Line?, on average per visit, which on the Internet is enviable.

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