Myspace - a safe internet venue for teens?

June 25, 2008
By Sarah-Jayne Kipling, County Durham, ZZ

Speaking as a teenager and former Myspace member, I am well acquainted with the problems and dangers Myspace presents.

The concept of a site on which teenagers are encouraged make 'friends' with other users at the click of a button in order to augment their friend counter (over 80 and you're a social butterfly; below and you're a social leper), without the bothersome, obligatory talking that would have normally facilitated mum and dad's relationships, back in the day, is a shallow and childish one at best.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Myspace is a popular area for children. And, while Myspace has rules that prohibits under-14 year-olds, and automatically makes profiles of 14 and 15 year-olds private, the amount of children that I know in person that bypass these rules is innumerable. Even those that are old enough to create profiles resent having the social retardation of the 'under-16' ball-and-chain, resulting in too many '17 year-olds' flaunting pushed-up, underdeveloped breasts and heavily made-up, doe-like eyes.

The allure for both young girls and boys - although, in my experience, this is largely a female vice - of casting off a perceived nerdy/unattractive/unpopular skin and metamorphosing into whatever they want to be is a huge one. Almost every pre-adolescent to adolescent female I know that has a Myspace account makes a point of taking barely recognisable pictures of themselves that change on a day-to-day basis. Commonly, these involve images taken by the girl with the camera pointing down on her, banishing any trace of double chins and swelling the appearance of the bust, put through Photoshop to further disguise 'imperfections' or featuring part of a girl's face and body. A forehead and a nipple. Fantastic.

Is is any wonder that Myspace is such a hotbed for paedophiles and sex offenders?

And, when it is the young girls selling themselves, the onus shifts not onto the sex offender, but onto the girl herself, rendering child protection laws quite useless. As was the case with a family in Texas last year, who attempted to sue Myspace for negligence, fraud and misrepresentation when their 13 year-old daughter was sexually assaulted by a man she had met via Myspace. The judge dismissed the case. Why? Because she had entered her age on Myspace as 18. Children are making adult decisions and, consequently, are being held responsible.

The judge in the case was reported to have said "If anyone had a duty to protect Julie Doe, it was her parents, not MySpace." This presents another problem. A parent's control over their child's Internet activity is limited as it is, as many parents will testify; add to that the issue of many parents' lack of concern over self-styled 'child-friendly' sites such as Myspace, and the problem is compounded.

It does not help matters that the Myspace authorities are lazy, insensitive and money-grubbing. Why else would a site allow people from ages 14 to God-knows-what communicate?

Luckily, I have not had any such experiences with sexually-deprived, balding, 40 year-old men, but then again, I always made sure I only accepted people I knew and made my profile private. While I am sure many others do similarly, the format of Myspace is quite at odds with this minimalistic approach, with its aforementioned 'friend counter' impetus.

I have, however, found the rules and 'safeguards' on Myspace to be grossly inadequate. Despite being a responsible, rule-abiding member, on one occasion I was actually racially harassed by a number of girls on my school forum on the site. I showed it to the school authorities and they deemed it unacceptable, advised me to call the police if it continued and even talked to the girls involved. However, when I reported it to Myspace, despite the site's alleged 'prohibition of anything offensive that promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or harm', I was sent a machine automated message that read that Myspace could not find the incident. When I sent the url (location) of the incident, I never heard back from them. Similarly, when I complained that the forum moderator, whose job it is to oversee such issues, does not even check the forums (having left the school years ago), I was sent another automated massage that read 'it is unclear as to the reason why you are contacting MySpace support'. So much for Myspace support!

Myspace is not going to take responsibility or help you if you are bullied, interfered with or assaulted. That's not how they became successful. If the too easily manipulated 'rules' are broken, which, in my opinion, the whole set-up of Myspace encourages, it is, ultimately, the children that will pay the price.

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