The Facts About MySpace: What You Need to Know Before Your Kids Sign On
Even if your children don’t have an account, they’ve certainly heard enough about it through word of mouth. The latest hangout for tweens and teens isn’t the mall in downtown or any particular club, but rather the chaotic world of cyberspace, at a website called MySpace.com. As the hottest social networking site on the web, MySpace has accumulated an estimated 54 million users in just three years of existence, with many users falling within the teen and twenty-something crowds and approximately 19% under the age of 17. MySpace is a wonderful place to meet others of like mind and interest, but with this sharing of interests come other dangers that are heightened by the unregulated nature of the Internet and the ready availability of personal information online.
Teens are constantly looking for places to hang out, away from parents and school. MySpace gives them just that – a place to socialize with others of similar interests and tastes. The biggest attraction in using MySpace is its ease of use and the number of friends one can meet online.
Setting up an account in MySpace is free and easy. The only requirements are that users must be at least 14 years of age. The information needed to start an account includes:
• Valid e-mail address
• First and last name
• Password for the account
• Zip code
• Date of birth
• Whether or not to make the date of birth public
• Agree to Terms of Service and Privacy Policies
Once users agree and provide the requested information, they are invited to create personalized profiles. Profiles can include pictures, videos, or music. Members can link their profiles with other “friends” on MySpace. They can create shareable blogs (journals). Friends or strangers can post comments to these profiles, with users doing likewise on other profiles. Members can form buddy lists with groupings of friends and interesting people.
Kids who otherwise have trouble socializing with their peers on a school campus will like the appeal of MySpace, where there is no face-to-face interaction required, no popularity contests, no need to hide behind a mask. You are who you are, or who you think you are.
The Dangers of MySpace
While MySpace is great for making new friends and promoting oneself, there are several drawbacks in allowing your children to roam freely online within the MySpace framework.
First and foremost, MySpace profiles are public. Anything posted on a public profile can be read by other members, and anybody in the outside world can get to a MySpace profile. Children often disclose too much personal information (i.e. – name and addresses, school names, classmates, teachers, birthdates, favorite hobbies) on profiles, which attract child predators lurking on the site. These predators seize upon details left in blogs, comments, and personal profiles to take advantage of these kids when parents aren’t home, or when kids are at school.
Secondly, teens love to gossip. The same problems that torment kids at school are magnified tenfold on MySpace. Gossip, malicious rumors, bullying and racial slurs are posted on a public forum to an audience of millions. This can seriously lead to problems in the future where there is a possibility that a college denies admission or an employer looks elsewhere in recruitment. Saying anything now can hurt later on.
Thirdly, people aren’t who they say they are. A valid e-mail is the only requirement for membership on MySpace and any other identifying information can be faked. There are no controls in place within the MySpace system to actively check the validity of current members. The only time somebody is caught is when MySpace explicitly catches someone violating its policies. Thus, child predators can masquerade as teens, gain their trust, and use it to their advantage. Likewise, teens lie about their ages and get access to materials otherwise denied to them.
The lack of parental controls and the relatively easy access to inappropriate materials have prompted some parents and schools to entirely remove access to the site from home and school computers.