Last week we saw a plethora of New Zealand headlines bemoaning the poor behaviour of ‘kids today’ – this time in how they handle their sensitive information online.
The punchline was that one in two students had posted sensitive information about themselves online in the past year.
TVNZ went with Half of NZ teens post sensitive info online while NZHerald went with Nearly half of Kiwi teens post sensitive info online – both remarkably similar to the original press release.
Some went further though – and the three best articles that I read were from:
- The venerable ODT – with Teens lax over online security a very well written article that included a local angle and even a call to a local academic.
- The Dominion Post with Internet’s effects may be taught – an interesting angle, and with only passing reference to the survey. Well done to the Dom Post and Greer McDonald.
- TV3, with some new news Policing unit to monitor internet for criminal activity which probably means bald 50 year old men masquerading as 15 year old girls are going to start flirting with me online.
The articles all stemmed from preliminary findings published by PhD student, and research manager at Netsafe – John Fenaughty.
Colour me skeptical. Indeed I am frighteningly skeptical about any headlines that say “the youth of today are….” as I remember all too well that the youth of my day were actually pretty on to it.
I suspect (and from what I see, know) that the youth of today are much better at figuring out what they can and cannot put online than their older peers. In particular I see that horribly inept early Bebo pages and youthful utterances are increasingly becoming the norm, and employers and voters of the future will accept it as such.
But I was also concerned that the survey itself was a bit of a half baked scaremongering exercise. So I decided to dig into it a little. The Netsafe website was useless – but I did find the press release after a fellow twitterer shared the link.
So I called (there was no email address) John Fenaughty and left a message. He got back to me very quickly on email, and I posed him 12 questions – cunningly displaying them as 10:
1: How was the final respondent group selected, including response rates etc? How did you avoid bias across the multiple dimensions?
2: What were the exact dates of data collection?
3: What were the actual survey questions used to derive these answers? especially the “wouldn’t want to find” part.
4: How were the questions asked? – e.g interviews, filled out by students etc.
5: What was the age (or school class) distribution of the responding students?
6: What percentage of students didn’t use the internet? were they included in the survey?
7: How was the “one out of two” figure derived? – can you provide a break down (crosstab) that shows the combination of sensitive information provided?
6: What is the breakdown of age (or school class) versus provision of the four sensitive informations identified in the press release?
7: What other questions were in the survey?
8: will you be making all of the coded source data available?
9: How do you define cyber bullying?
10: What convictions for cyber bullying have there been in NZ?
Quietly readying myself for a nice evisceration of the study, I noted that his reply wasn’t instant – and perhaps wasn’t ever going to come. I mulled on the state of research these days, but eventually I did get a reply almost a day later.*
It was rigorous. In fact it was an excellent reply, and I am posting it in full beneath the fold.
John sent me back complete answers to all of my questions, and satisfied my greater concerns about the study. Simply put – he is doing the best he can within the constraints he has been dealt.
I noted to myself that this is just the sort of evidence that you would want to see from a PhD student, especially as a PHD needs to be defended in front of a committee. Having sat on one of those committees before (we had to say no in the end) it is a grueling exercise for the student, but with the quality of this response John is demonstrating that he will be ready.
If you read the reply, ask yourself whether any research that you conduct or read about can be answered just as well. Are your questions tested? Are all ethical grounds covered off? Are the samples truly statistical and non-biased? and so on.
So well done John – Not only have I deleted most of the blog post I’d drafted, but you’ve even managed to turn it into a “how to respond to questioning bloggers” lesson.