Myspace – risky or revolutionary?

Myspace, and other similar sites – Xanga, Facebook, have stirred up controversy among educators as the sites’ popularity have increased with teenagers. Parents and teachers alike are concerned (and with good reason) with the personal information and sexual photographs posted by many teenagers on these sites. Parents and teachers are afraid that the suggestive pictures will entice Internet predators and pedophiles. So, as adults, what do we do about it?

Dateline NBC has launched a series of exposes entitled “To Catch a Predator” and has begun to draw attention to the topic of Internet predators. With the help of Perverted-Justice, an organization of volunteers who target on-line predators, Dateline lures sexual predators to a house under the guise of an encounter with an underage teen. The predators are then exposed on camera and arrested for intent. Although probably somewhat sensationalized by Dateline, the risk of sexual predators contacting unsuspecting teens on-line is quite high. So, as adults, what do we do about it?

A recent article in The Washington Post, “Teens Bold Blogs Alarm Area Schools,” discusses the actions some schools have taken or are considering in regards to information that students post on their blog.

Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that the sites pose new quandaries for educators, including cyberabuse. He cited a recent case in which three middle-school students in the Chicago area were suspended after posting obscene and threatening remarks about a teacher on a Web log. The school community was split over the action.

“It’s an open question, because students have been writing these sorts of things for years but have been doing it in their notebooks, where nobody would have ever stumbled across it,” he said. “With blogs, it’s a sign of things to come — we’re sort of testing the notions regarding free speech.”

So, as educators, what should our position be on this topic? Most educators seem to agree (or at least are okay with the idea) that sites such as Myspace should be “blocked” at school; however, how do we keep students safe when they leave school and is it even the educators job to do this? I certainly do not know the answer, but I tend to think that it is partly the educator’s responsibility. If students are using computers at school, then I think part of the educator’s job is to teach the student how to use the device properly. Students should be educated about the risks they are taking when they publish personal information and photos on-line. They need to be informed of what to do if someone approaches them on-line and solicits sexual favors and/or face-to-face meetings. WiredSafety and Netsmartz are just two organizations to help educate users on the potential dangers of the Internet; I think if we arm students with the knowledge they need, then they will be able to make informed decisions when confronted with a dangerous situation. Hopefully, informed students will also make better choices when posting information to their blogs.

I certainly don’t want to give the idea that I am against Myspace, Xanga, Facebook or the like, because I can understand the draw these sites have for students. Individuals are able to create an on-line community of friends, meet new people and keep in touch with friends who have moved away. The Washington Post quotes Aftab on the reasons teenagers enjoy blogs, “Aftab acknowledges that the sites have their good points: Kids get to show off an expertise or be creative. ‘A kid with a boring life can go on to MySpace and become a punk rocker in two minutes.'” Others describe the sites as therapeutic because they are able to share their thoughts and write their feelings with people who may not ever know them.

Will Richardson also brings up another positive use of the sites in “Grieving at Myspace” on his blog, Weblogg-ed. After a student and parent from his campus were killed in an automobile accident, students from the campus created a ring of support on Myspace to express their grief and cope with the loss. Certainly, this is a good use of the site.

So although I am also fearful of the information some students post on these sites and the potential risks that are involved, I tend to agree with Will Richardson, “Whether we like it or not, these are important and meaningful places to a large number of our kids. It’s not our role to control them because the reality is we can’t do that. It’s our role to educate them. And to do that, we have to be willing to learn from them first.”

So, as adults, it is our choice… what do we do about it?

Explore posts in the same categories: Internet Safety, Myspace, News

3 Comments on “Myspace – risky or revolutionary?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    If a student has posted something on Myspace or a personal blog that is derogatory about the school, administration, a teacher, another student – should they be forced to remove the posting? Some schools (usually private) are responding yes, but is this an infringement on their freedom of speech? It is a difficult situation and one that seems to be in the news more often lately.

  2. gloria Willingham Says:

    I watched the Dateline show and found it interesting that several of the predators saw people being arrested outside the “sting” house and went back anyway. Just as in elementary school we educate students about “stranger danger,” we now need to focus on educating our students about cyberspace predators. The opportunities for abuse are readily available, so our best hope is for students that can make wise decisions.

  3. LeftLaneEnds Says:

    In regards to the content kids post – I would venture that whether it is posted or not posted, that same content is rolling around in their heads. This isn’t to say that no new problems arise. There are new issues that come to the fore when kids start to network with others. I have an engineer (geeky) buddy who claims that all of this social stuff happening on the web is going to lead us back to clan-like living where we are in touch with only those that are similar to us – same interests, same way of thinking, etc. That is where the danger is, in my opinion, with sites like MySpace. One way thinking leads to poor decision making – but I’ve got a post for my blog that is rolling around in MY head to come out soon on that topic…

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