Parallels
9:14 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Israeli Startup Offers Kids Social Media Training Wheels

Originally published on Sun December 22, 2013 6:14 am

Two years ago, Itay Eshet's daughter told him she wanted a Facebook account. She was 10 years old.

Facebook's great, Eshet told her, but it's not for kids. So instead they built a new social network for preteens called Nipagesh, which means "let's meet" in Hebrew.

Facebook and most other social networks require users to be at least 13 years old, but lots of kids want to join sooner. That leaves many parents struggling with how to manage their kids' socializing online, not just because of legal barriers, but also concerns over possible inappropriate interactions with strangers and bullying.

Eshet says his network trains future Facebook users to be smart. "Nipagesh is for young kids in elementary school," he says. "Because we want to build them and to prepare them for using social networks when ... they're old enough to use Facebook, WhatsApp or whatever social network they want to use."

Trying To Build Something Both Safe And Fun

Eshet knew the network had to be safe. His daughter said it had to be fun. What evolved was a network that signs up schools, not individuals. Once a school is on, every student is a member. Eshet says this makes it easy to learn how to socialize online.

"First of all, all the kid's friends are inside [the network], which makes it much more interesting for the kid, and he doesn't have to look for friends outside," Eshet explains. "Second, every member of the network is authenticated."

So far, 100 schools in Israel are participating. Users have to use their real names, and kids can chat with and friend any other kid on the network — even strangers at other schools.

"They are strangers, but we know for sure that they are kids," Eshet says. "And we know what age they are. And we know what are their interests."

Fifth-graders at Reut Regional Elementary School in central Israel like it. One student says she plays lots of games on Nipagesh and makes new friends there, while another says any bullying is quickly stopped.

Teachers and parents are automatically members too, and on every page there is a "report" button for kids to flag posts that make them feel uncomfortable. Algorithms also help detect inappropriate content and alert administrators.

One fifth-grader using Nipagesh says she used the reporting feature to flag a poll a classmate had posted, asking which girl, of several named, was prettiest.

"Kids like to report," says Eshet, adding that sometimes teachers have used such alerts to start classroom discussions. "It's a great way to learn what to report and what not to report. We are here to teach them."

'A Very Protected Network'

"I prefer that she will be in this instead of the Facebook. Because in the Facebook I have no control," says Michal Zaiden, a mother of two. Her 10-year-old is on Nipagesh now, but her 12-year-old lied about her age to open a Facebook account.

"I'm a friend [of hers] on Facebook so I can see what she's putting on [and] what her friends tell her. But it's not the same" as the protections Nipagesh offers, Zaiden says.

For example, Zaiden had no idea her 12-year-old had a big fight with her best friend on Facebook. On Nipagesh, Zaiden can't read her 10-year-old daughter's private chats, but the system does tell her who the fifth-grader is chatting with and what else she does or posts.

Some of that activity is homework. Teacher Nitza Gerber uses the network to start discussions, create assignments and connect with her students outside class.

"There are two parts," Gerber explains. "First, it's a social network — a very protected network. The other thing is the academic possibilities. When there is this combination, I think the sky's the limit."

In this early stage, Nipagesh is free for schools in Israel and their students. The company hopes that eventually schools will pay to subscribe. Zaiden isn't sure she'd personally want to pay for the service, but she adds that if all the other kids are there and are learning something, it might be worth the cost.

Nipagesh's founder is exploring other ways to make money in addition to school subscriptions. He says the company will never advertise to children, but says there may be financial potential in all those adult eyeballs that are also on the network.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Many parents believe that Facebook and children should not mix. With cyber-bulling and easy access to strangers, it's for good reason. Well, in Israel, a parent has started a new social network, one just for pre-teens.

NPR's Emily Harris reports its goal is to teach future Facebook users to be smarter online.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Two years ago, Itay Eshet's daughter told him she wanted a Facebook account. She was 10 years old. He told her Facebook is great but it is not for kids.

So they built a new social network, Nipagesh. In Hebrew, that means let's meet. Itay Eshet.

ITAY ESHET: Nipagesh is for young kids in elementary school because we want to build them and to prepare them to using social networks when they're older - Facebook, WhatsApp or whatever social network they want to use.

HARRIS: His daughter said it had to be fun. He knew it had to be safe. What evolved was a network that signs up schools, not individuals. Once a school is on, every student is a member. Eshet says this makes it easy to learn how to socialize online.

ESHET: First of all, all the kids' friends are inside, which makes it much more interesting for the kid, he doesn't have to look for friends outside. And, second, every member of the network is authenticated.

HARRIS: Everyone has to use their real name. One hundred schools in Israel are participating so far. Kids can chat with and friend any other kid on the network, even strangers at other schools.

ESHET: They are strangers but we know for sure that they are kids and we know what age they are and we know what are their interests.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: Fifth graders at Reut School in central Israel like it. One student says she plays lots of games on Nipagesh and makes new friends. Another says any bullying is quickly stopped. Algorithms help detect inappropriate content. Teachers and parents are automatically members, too, and on every page, there is a report button for kids to flag posts that make them feel uncomfortable.

MICHAL ZAIDEN: I prefer that she will be in this instead of the Facebook. Because in the Facebook, I have no control.

HARRIS: Michal Zaiden's 10-year-old is on Nipagesh. Her 12-year-old lied about her age to get a Facebook account.

ZAIDEN: I'm a friend in the Facebook, so I can see what she's putting on, what the friends are - tell her, but it's not the same.

HARRIS: Zaiden had no idea her 12-year-old had a big fight with her best friend on Facebook. On Nipagesh, Zaiden can't read her 10-year-old daughter's private chats, but the system tells her who the fifth grader is chatting with and what else she does or posts. Some of that is homework. Teacher Nitza Gerber uses the network to start discussions, create assignments, and connect with her students outside class.

NITZA GERBER: (Through Translator) There are two parts. First, it's a social network, a very protected network. The other thing is the academic possibilities. When there is this combination, I think the sky is the limit.

HARRIS: In this early stage, Nipagesh is free for schools in Israel and their students. The company hopes that eventually schools will subscribe. Mother Michal Zaiden isn't sure she'd personally want to pay.

ZAIDEN: I guess if everyone will be there and will be...

HARRIS: And if the kids are learning something, she adds in Hebrew, it might be worth paying for. Nipagesh's founder is exploring other ways to make money in addition to school subscriptions. He says the company will never advertise to children but thinks there may be financial potential in all those adult eyeballs on this children's social network. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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