MySpace isn't a cyber place for everyone
By Michael M. Bates
MySpace.com is described as an Internet site devoted to social networking. Any rational adult who's spent more than a few minutes on MySpace might well conclude that it, like much of cyberspace, appeals to the lowest common denominator. I won't bore - or repulse - you with specifics. Let's just say that you probably wouldn't feel comfortable with your mother, unless mumsie is Madonna, visiting many MySpace pages.
Tasteless photos and cartoons and deviant thoughts litter the website. Catchphrases rule. Banal ideas are expressed in crude English.
There are folks, often women, seen in shopping malls carrying on lengthy cell phone conversations. You might ask, as I have, is there really another person on the other end of that long, mind-numbing conversation? Hearing snippets of chatter along the lines of "I just had a taco, I like tacos, do you like tacos?, what are you eating?," I've sometimes wondered where in the world the callers find anyone willing to put up with such extended blather.
Now I think I know. My guess is that they get their phone buddies on MySpace. There are some very lonely people there.
The biggest problem is that MySpace, which claims to be "a place for friends," has become a playground for sexual predators. To register, a user only has to be at least 14 years of age. That restriction is easily ignored. There have been numerous reports of crimes and attempted crimes against children in which the site has played a role.
MySpace may be a victim of its own success. With a reported user base in the tens of millions and a quarter of a million people signing up daily, the three-year old site may not have been prepared for the abuses it's experienced.
In April, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Advertising Council, and News Corporation, which owns MySpace, started running public service advertisements intended to raise awareness of Internet safety. In May, a law targeting "social networks" and Internet chat rooms was proposed in Congress. The legislation would block access to those sites in federally funded schools and libraries.
Many schools have already decided on their own to limit access on their computers. In a move that was guaranteed to fan the flames of teen outrage, a school district in Illinois recently took action to hold students accountable for what they post on websites such as MySpace. Actions like that are usually condemned as censorship. To which the appropriate response may well be, so what? Children don't have the same rights as adults. And acting goofy online at taxpayer expense isn't constitutionally protected, no matter what the ACLU may claim.
On the other hand, regulating access to social networking sites is much easier said than done. One need not have the technological prowess of Internet inventor Al Gore to circumvent many blocking measures. Add to that the government's general clumsiness in securing whatever results it intends and there realistically isn't much reason to think that legislation will have a great impact.
If there's going to be anything close to a resolution of the problems inherent to MySpace and similar sites, it'll have to be initiated by parents. Knowing where children go on the Internet, what they do there, and with whom they communicate are essential. There is monitoring software that can help.
Kids might scream about their privacy being violated, but families aren't democracies. They're dictatorships and part of a parent's responsibility is to protect their children as best they can for as long as they can.
Last month a reporter wrote in the Los Angeles Times that she'd covered many disquieting events in her career, "But in nearly two decades of journalism, nothing has made my insides churn like seeing what my 13-year-old daughter and her friends are up to on MySpace.com."
MySpace isn't for everyone. We can only hope enough parents realize that in time.
Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This appeared in the June 1, 2006 Oak Lawn Reporter.
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