The Myspace Menace

March 15, 2008
Life is a crazy ride. There are always those days, and everyone has had one, when you don’t even feel like getting up out of bed, knowing your schedule is packed and not wanting to deal with it. ‘I need four more hours in the day,’ I’ve heard my mom say after a particularly unhappy day leaves her in the dust. At the rate one has to run to keep up with this high-tech world, there’s hardly any time left over. In our modern society, it seems we have become thoroughly disconnected from one another. Strength in a community, a family, or any group comes through connectedness, through communication, and as we lose contact with others, that strength is lost.

Busyness is not the only thing that drives people apart. The list of dangers out there in the world these days only seems to grow. School shootings, homicides, and other brutal crimes glorified in the media makes us look over our shoulder every once in a while and watch our neighbors closely. The ongoing ‘War On Terror’ plants doubt in our minds so that anyone vaguely Middle-Eastern is suddenly a terrorist. Identity theft and internet scams have us questioning strangers daily. Trust is a rare beast indeed in this zoo we call the world.

And yet, in the middle of it all sits our one great attempt at this much-needed communication: online communities like Facebook and MySpace. The intent is benevolent; connect people in a vaguely anonymous way by allowing them to meet new people, regardless of where they live, and, if chosen, without being able to judge by looks. Personal pages and profiles seek to uncover similarities that may never have been realized if you were to simply see them in the line at the grocery store. Friendships are forged, personality becomes more important than physical appearance and the world becomes more interconnected. Oh, happy times.

No one can deny that these online organizations started out with admirable goals. However, of late, they have become playgrounds for all manner of unsavory characters, like cyber stalkers and other online predators. A 15-year-old California girl was abducted in December and found murdered in January. Her MySpace page included personal contact information that helped the predator find her. In February, a 14-year-old New Jersey girl was found dead in a dumpster after arranging a meeting with a stranger on MySpace. In Lafayette, Louisiana, four teenage girls were sexually assaulted by a local pervert who found them on MySpace. In another Louisiana case, a predator lay in wait for a teen girl in the parking lot of her place of employment, which he had found, not on her profile page, but in the course of a conversation between her and her friends. I don’t need to keep listing them -- just go on the internet and Google the worlds ‘MySpace AND rape’ -- one turns up with almost three million hits. ‘MySpace AND abduction’ also turns up a healthy two million hits. And ‘MySpace AND murder?’ Almost five million hits.

The most intriguing part of all of this is that in many of the cases I found, victims had not actually given out their name and address, or phone number. In fact, they probably never mentioned this at all. But through sickeningly sophisticated methods, cyber stalkers have learned to pull out information even from just a chat between two friends. If Sarah has posted on her profile that she lives in Chicago, an innocent and safe enough claim with over seventy-five thousand kids living there, and then just happens to tell her friend that she will be at the local mall at two and she’ll se her there, it might not just be her friend that Sarah meets up with. Suddenly, the cyber stalker, who may not even know her real name, knows where she’ll be at two o’clock the next day. This compilation of information, that alone is harmless but together may be deadly, is virtually impossible to monitor.

In the society we live in, there are already enough problems and worries to be burdened with. The dangers presented in even just having a casual conversation via the Internet with your ‘buddies’ far outweigh the social value presented by online chat services. While the interconnectedness of the world is a nice goal to strive for, being abducted, sexually assaulted, or even murdered by someone you met -- or unknowingly provided your information to -- on an online community like Facebook or Myspace shouldn’t have to be a byproduct.

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