“Can I get a myspace account? All my friends have one.”
It was only a matter of time before my grandchildren, girls ages 16 and 17, and a boy, 14, asked this question. “MySpace” has 67 million members posting photos, making mini-videos, browsing chat sites, posting poems or art, and connecting with friends.
My introduction to MySpace came through the MSNBC TV series on child predators who surf this highly popular site looking for vulnerable or curious teens. I watched the series with great interest, while asking the question “where were the parents when their teens were online?” “Did they ever check out where their kids are going online?”
With my teenage grandchildren begging for access, I decided to spend one hour randomly surfing MySpace and exploring its content. First, I looked over the posted pictures. While many were snapshots of ordinary people, many others showed young women in low cut tops or young men bare-chested, quite a few with suggestive names or provocative posing.
Browsing at random, I moved into the “Film” section, where I found Dancing Shakira shaking her bare midriff a la Christina Aquilera, Drop ‘em Girl (a teen) gyrating until her denim shorts fell down revealing her underwear, jump on it!:) with four teenage girls in bikinis wiggling around in the surf on a beach, Duchess the Teaser with blood-splattered bodies around a house on Christmas Day, and other sites called a little too drunk…, vibrator recall, and stupid and funny drunk. Okay, enough. Those were just a few of the first 100 film listings, and took me less than five minutes to find. There were thousands more.
I paused to browse the “Clubs” section, where in the midst of the innocuous I tripped over the MySpace Drinking Club, the Full Body Inspectors Club (with its Playboy-style crotch shot and strategic red thong), A Tribute to Those in Uniform with it semi nude girls on display, Dance Naked Party (self explanatory), Gansta Bitches, Trampfight and Retards. How offensive can this get?
Okay, time to move on.
Enter the “Groups” section. How nice. Habitat for Humanity, food services programs, international volunteers …aha… Non-Profits and Philanthropic, a special interest of mine … I clicked and up popped Barbara in bra and panties: click her icon and up pops an adult X-rated porn site. What kind of “philanthropy” does she offer? Out I went. No my kind of community service.
How about a peek at “Activities” and “Culture and Community Groups?” There I was greeted by the I Sleep Naked group, the Melissa Leslie site of semi nude shots, Elite Mates (again, skin magazine caliber photos), and titles including Skull F—-r, EyeC@ndy, Foreplay, StarF—s, and a Pro Marijuana site that mixed bags of pot with semi-nude models.
For me, though, the scariest site, was the “DDR”, Dance Dance Revolution, section. DDR is the hottest thing in arcade and video land for teens like my grandchildren, who dance and stomp to its patterned, pre-programmed music using a floor mat to track the accuracy of their moves. DDR would be a magnet for teens online. How bad could it be? Randomly clicking, I found Dancing Braless, a lengthy blog type piece on the merits of playing this game braless. That was followed by Practice Naked, a discussion board by young men and women about the discomforts of bouncing body parts in the nude. Add to that Playing DDR Stoned, and a really frightening title: Pull the Trigger and the Nightmare Stops. What that had to do with DDR — or anything — was beyond me. Four minutes of surfing DDR land and I was, again, more than ready to move on.
All of this was uncovered in one hour – sixty minutes – of site surfing at random.
My understanding is that individuals belonging to MySpace can “hide” their sites from others, can substitute avatars (alternate images) for their photos, and set up an “approved friends” list, all of which are supposed to reassure parents, ensure safety, and perhaps provide some shred of decency for young people using the site. Teens can punch in a name and zip code, and zero in on their friends fairly closely. So can a predator.
Adults can do whatever they want online and anywhere else, but the rules and the responsibilities are different when it comes to minors. Our children and their upbringing are our responsibility. Parents were once asked, in public service TV commercials, “do you know where your children are?” Parents need to ask that same questions even when their children are sitting in their rooms traveling through cyberspace. “Do you know where your kids are?”
Once online, the unsupervised curious can browse anything, anywhere on this site and many others in the cyber/social networks. While some MySpace sites clearly target older age and interest groups, and anyone over 18 is free to seek out and view whatever they want, there are no boundaries keeping young people, adolescents or teens, out of inappropriate or adult sites.
While I found many, many videos of pets, babies, family picnics and other harmless viewing, these innocuous features lay side by side with an equal amount of things I’d rather my grandchildren did not see. Browse MySpace and you will find, whether you want to or not.
The fact remains that once I logged onto MySpace, questionable and potentially dangerous sites were just a mouse-click away. I knew nothing about surfing the site, other than its popular reputation and the desire of my grandchildren to join their friends online there. I entered for the first time and left after my scheduled hour of exploration, appalled at what I found there. I can only imagine what curious teens might venture into.
In the wake of the MSNBC predator sting, MySpace has increased its security presence and has a lengthy list of “how to’s” for reporting and solving problems on its site. It also refers interested parents to a wealth of safety information on computer use for teens and children at safeteens.com or netsmartz.org. I explored both of these sites as well, and found practical information on internet contracts between parents and their children, safety tips for young internet users, and guidelines for parents about computer use.
Nonetheless, my computer remains in an office open to the living room in our home, where it is easy torandomly peek over a shoulder and see what’s being viewed online. If my grandchildren don’t want to have me looking over their shoulder from time to time, or even spot checking their e-mail, then they don’t really need to be online. My computer, like most, also has a setting allowing “blocking” of sites. MySpace was added to the list. And I will continue to be vigilant.
_____________Tips for MySpace (and other sites) Visitors____________
- Don’t forget that your profile and MySpace forums are public spaces. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want the world to know (e.g., your phone number, address, IM screens name, pictures with identifying landmarks, or specific whereabouts). Avoid posting anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find you, such as where you hang out every day after school.
- People aren’t always who they say they are. Be careful about adding strangers to your friends list. It’s fun to connect with new MySpace friends from all over the world, but avoid meeting people in person whom you do not know. If you must meet someone, do it in a public place and bring a friend or trusted adult.
- Harassment, hate speech and inappropriate content should be reported. If you feel someone’s behavior is inappropriate, react. Talk with a trusted adult, or report it to MySpace or the authorities.
- Don’t post anything that would embarrass you later. Think twice before posting a photo or info you wouldn’t want your parents, your friends, your teachers or boss to see!
- Don’t mislead people into thinking that you’re older or younger. If you lie about your age, you are heading for trouble. MySpace will delete your profile if you lie about your age.