Sunday, February 26, 2006

Is a safespace?

On CNN a child psychologist warned that NO child should have a "web page", and that, a social networking site popular mostly among teens, was a dangerous environment that could be used by predators to "profile" potential victims.

It sure seemed to be an exaggeration, and since I actively encourage my own 16 year old to develop websites I thought I better find out a bit more. The buzz in the industry is that Myspace and friendster are getting replaced by facebook, which I understand is more popular for college students looking for dates. Partly for this reason I hadn't been paying ... enough ... attention to myspace.

But indeed my son had a page and so did many of his friends. Nothing too provocative from that group, but the psychologists concerns were justified in other respects as I learned browsing the listings and content and by signing up for my own Myspace account. Here are the interesting features that I guarantee few parents are aware of and would concern many greatly:

* Extensive personal information, often including pictures and names of friends, crushes, school and city specifics.
* Discription of sexual orientation. This includes the term "swinger".
* Easy picture upload.
* Crappy age verification. Easy to make up things to "get in", so many of the age listings are almost certainly false. This fact or ALONE raises many serious legal issues as minors are posting volumes of suggestive material with no oversight.
* Advertising for adult sites. I didn't see any ads (yet) for x rated material, but prominent were ads for "intimate dating" which is euphemistic for sex match services. I don't object to these ads in the adult space, but actively advertising sex dating to teens and preteens should be of concern to any clear thinking parent.

There's more but I'd urge any parent to browse the site. An upside to the detail is that you can learn about your own kid's friends and other aspects of their life they might not share at the dinner table. I'd argue that the most important factor is whether this environment is getting abused rather than whether it *could* be abused. For that I'll need to research a bit.

JoeDuck's Blog


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