Don’t Point The Finger at MySpace: We are all to blame

A recent Berkman Center report sheds new light on the actual effect of the internet on child safety. What is refreshing is its attempt to put the often demonized risk of internet use into perspective. The Task Force found that these risks are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those offline. In addition, although urging for stricter protection for minors on the internet, the following findings were made:

Illegal Content – Although the internet increases the availability of harmful, problematic and illegal content, it does not necessarily increase minors’ exposure. Although unwanted exposure does occur online, those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out. In addition, as minors get older, they themselves contribute to some of these problems. 

Risk – Minors are not equally at risk online.  The risk depends on the common uses of social media by minors and the psychological makeup of minors who use them. Therefore, the most at risk are those that engage in risky behaviour, and already have difficulties in other parts of their lives. A 13-year old who lied about her age, met someone on and then was assaulted by him in a Texas parking lot provides an example of this, in that by lying about her age, she put herself at risk.

Social Networking Sites –  Surprisingly social networking sites are not the most common space for solicitation and unwanted exposure to problematic content, but are frequently used in peer-to-peer harassment, most likely because they are broadly adopted by minors and are used primarily to reinforce pre-existing social relations. The recent Drew case is an example of this. What occurred was a result of a pre-existing bullying situation and the use made of MySpace was simply a continuation of it. MySpace did not create the situation, but was rather used as a means to propagate it.

Finally, the Report highlights the need for collaborative effort and that protecting minors is not just one stakeholder’s responsibility. This is reasonable. For even when one stakeholder (say MySpace) has safeguards in place, it is still not enough. The Drew case demonstrates this as MySpace’s efforts to prevent internet abuse was futile. Lori Drew acted in violation of the MySpace guidelines, registering herself as a member to obtain a fictitious account. This was done despite the fact that MySpace required prospective users to provide truthful and accurate registration, refrain from using any information obtained from Myspace services to harass, abuse or harm other people, and to refrain from promoting info that they knew was misleading.

  1. I agree with Gargi. With the increasing use of the internet, minors are potentially more vulnerable to being exposed to more and more information that is inappropriate for their age. However, to completely blame the internet and relieve parents of any responsibility would be irresponsible. No matter how technologically advanced our society becomes, parents are responsible for instilling important values in their children and for educating their kids about the proper use of this virtual space. There is an argument to be made that media is not good or bad. It is neutral and it is we who decide to use it in a good or bad manner. How a minor uses the internet could be shaped by how parents decide to educate their children about it.

  2. “The Media is neither good nor bad”

    Anna’s argument is very cogent. It is true, as much as we try and give life to the media (& arguably at times, rightly so), it still remains a medium. It is the users (collectively) that decide to use it in a good or bad manner.

    The difference (& I have argued this before) between the internet and other forms of media and hence all the negativity associated with it is that it is the most powerful. What is surprising is that quite often the other side of this argument is missed. We forget to be thankful that we have such an effective medium for the gains realized by its use are more beneficial than detrimental. Never before in our history have we been so connected as a people; the internet is largely to thank for this.

  3. In addition, often the social network is also a victim. For example in the Drew case, MySpace’s guidelines and voluntary security measures were violated. Without additional safeguards (for example, increased parental control as Anna pointed out) all these safety efforts by internet sites really will be futile.

    This discussion also sheds light on the practical problem which is prevalent here; how on earth can we reasonably expect internet sites to do all the monitoring? & when did they take on the role of policing?

    Finally, why don’t we require other media outlets to bear such a heavy burden?

  4. Those growing up in the digital age shouldn’t have their online activities too restricted just because they’re doing these activities on a different medium. The stereotypical anti-social teen who plays computer games every hour of the day and has no friends, is just that: a stereotype. I really believe that kids today are learning how to adapt to the future, a future they’ll be a part of. It’s not just about being tech-savvy, it’s about developing “virtual smarts”, just as we all had to develop street smarts. I’d bet that a few decades ago, the concept of students trekking across Europe was not very common (but someone please correct me if I’m wrong), but there is now much less intimidation about this in our globalized world. I think it’s the norm for previous generations to be over-cautious and to assume that newer generations are just as shocked and unsure about a new changing world as they are. But we have to remember that it’s not new to them, it’s the norm. Whether we like it or not, the internet isn’t going anywhere, and the traditional ways of socializing and communicating are being partially replaced. Of course there are risks inherent when children go online, but I’d argue that curbing use will put these same children at a disadvantage either now or in their futures. There’s an interesting PBS documentary about this issue here:

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