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MySpace: What the Heck Happened to Diaries?

To give some background: I'm recently 25, male, a lifetime geek, with a family (both immediate and extended) chock full of girls currently ages 12 through 27. I work at an all-girls K-12. I've poked around all the social networking sites, egged on by friends, since the concept was birthed onto the web. The below is my opinion, and just one take on the subject.

Ah, MySpace. If you haven't run into it yet, you will. It's the new Friendster, much like orange is the new pink. To quote their About page:

Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals and interests with your growing network of mutual friends! See who knows who, or how you are connected. Find out if you really are six people away from Kevin Bacon.

Innocent enough, right? But much like a curious kid with a newly-minted AOL account, it can be a lot more than that. Of course there are positives - it gives people as easy way to blog with no setup time, aside from creating an account, along with sharing pictures, keeping in touch with friends (or allowing friends that you've lost contact with to find you), and so forth.

But like many other social networking sites (a great example is MiGente) there are plenty of other uses. One could even say that whatever positives come with a social network site, it is very easy to get sucked into the 'darker side' of them, depending on the user's personality. Overall the aspects of this are much like chat rooms or even instant messaging - having the opportunity to act out and pretend with seemingly few consequences can be pretty enticing. You could even say that it is an enabler for people to dissasociate from who they really are - with positive or negative results.

Knowing both students and friends with MySpace accounts, a few observations that come to mind are:

  • The ability to be whoever you want to be, without anyone knowing differently. Kids often have a desire to be someone else, act older or more mature than they are, one-up each other, and so forth. MySpace enables you to say whatever you want about yourself, post any pictures (within reason) you'd like others to see, and network with very specific demographics.
  • One could, (and IME, is) in reality a 14 year old girl, that thanks to stating she is 19 suddenly has invites to all manner of clubs, older guys making approaches (themselves in reality being potentially much older, or dangerous, than they seem), publicly stating things that due to their age could get them into serious trouble, and so forth.
  • All it takes is adding someone to your Friends list (3, maybe 5 clicks) to get in touch with them. I've found that younger girls are often all too eager to get the attention of a cute guy - almost regardless of age - and I've done plenty of worrying in my lifetime to back that up. Because anyone can become anyone else on MySpace, there's no sure way at all to tell if that 20 year-old guy you're going to meet isn't a 50 year-old predator - or a 15 year-old nerd.
  • Addiction. A friend of mine is nearly addicted to MySpace. She's got something like 500 'friends.' Why? Perhaps it is an achievement or something - but with that many people that are connected to you somehow, it results in tons of messages and a lot of 'work' to keep up with. This then sucks time from schoolwork and real-life relationships.
  • Security and safety. What happens when a student say, has a drug problem, and writes about it on MySpace. Can you use that as proof? What if they do not have a drug problem, but in acting out, write that they do. Can you use that against them? Issues of privacy and speech come up all over. That being said I'm sure that should a school happen to face an issue such as the above, they have prior procedures to follow - I'm just thinking out loud.
  • Predators. Should a student be ignorant enough to put what school they attend on their public MySpace page, it becomes a predator's dream - and it gives me chills. A system with good-enough intentions, that can be utilized in this manner should be enough to make any educator sit up straight and pay very close attention. Should a student be a member of a high-profile (read: rich) family, and the situation can get worse.

Whew. So what can someone do to crystalize safety concerns to students, while at the same time respecting their want/need to 'let loose' and have fun (a delicate balance, to be sure)?

  • You can set MySpace pages to be private, so that only those in your 'network' can see your full page. Highly recommended, as it prevents poking around.
  • Block MySpace using a filter. It doesn't prevent them from using it at home, but does help with any potential liabilities. Plus the time-suck I've seen from kids using it during school could be avoided.
  • Inform parents of the positives and negatives. The kids won't like their parents knowing, but in this case it really is for their own good.
  • Narc. Not recommended unless there's an absolute need. Sign up for an account, do a search by school name (or e-mail address, or full name). Once you've found one student you can check their Friend list to find other kids, and eventually the one you are looking for. I can almost guarantee that the picture painted on their MySpace page will be a shocker - or at least surprising.

So if you didn't know too much about MySpace, I hope this was helpful. Like many other web trends, it has both positives and negatives - I've found some great indie bands on it, but at the same time I've run across plenty of pages that make me cringe.

For now, be glad that MySpace isn't MiGente - that site has a much more nefarious underbelly. And unfortunately, chances are at least a few students know why. (I of course won't post why, should students come across this page, but feel free to e-mail me.)

Hope this was eye-opening!

*justin d 17:22, 13 Dec 2005 (UTC)


An added piece of information. I am the technology director at St. John's Prep in Danvers, MA. We are an all-boys high school (approximately 1200 boys). We had some issues this fall with MySpace postings by our students and we took a multi-pronged approach. Below is the content of an email to the Wizards-l listserv describing what we did.

1 - We block access to MySpace.com and facebook.com (along with lots of other sites) from computers on campus. No students have made any argument that access to MySpace.com fits into the framework of our acceptable use policy ("educational use"). That's not to say that there aren't arguments to be made, the students just haven't made it in issue since they can access it as much as they want to from home.

2 - We sent a letter to all parents talking about the good and bad aspects of myspace.com and facebook.com. We didn't get a great deal of feedback, but the few parents who did reply thanked us for opening their eyes and helping them understand what their sons had access to.

3 - We had a speaker from the Essex County District Attorney's Office come speak to our parents (about 30-40 parents showed up) about internet safety. She didn't talk much about MySpace.com and Facebook.com, but she did talk a great deal about chat rooms, instant messaging, and the ease in which children and adolescents can get wrapped up in more than what they can handle.

Our approach has been education, not punishment. When we find students posting inappropriate material to MySpace (inappropriate = comments about bong hits in the same paragraph as a mention of our school name, references to binge drinking, etc) our Dean of Students talks with them and their parents. No punishments are handed out and the inappropriate material is usually removed within 24 hours.

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