Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MySpace Under Fire

Interesting article from CNet:

Politicians on Tuesday accused and other social-networking sites of failing to protect minors from sexual predators and other malign influences and said a legislative crackdown may be necessary.

During a hearing before a House of Representatives subcommittee, politicians argued over the merits of compelling schools and libraries to cordon off access to social-networking sites, requiring some form of an Internet ID that would prove a person's age, or doing nothing at the moment.

" has been a center of drug activity, of gang activity, and of Internet predators," said Rep. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican. "Isn't it entirely appropriate that the state get involved?"

One bill introduced in May would cordon off access from schools and libraries to commercial Web sites that let users create public "Web pages or profiles" and also offer a discussion board, chat room or e-mail service.

"If we could save one child, then it's worth it--that one child, that innocent child who may fall prey during the school hours because the legislation wasn't enacted," said David Zellis, an assistant district attorney in Bucks County, Penn., who testified at the hearing.

MySpace and other social-networking sites like and Facebook have come under increasing pressure from members of Congress hoping to appeal to voters before the November elections. The school and library filtering bill--called the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA--is a centerpiece of a poll-driven Republican effort called the "Suburban Agenda."

DOPA defines a broad category that covers far more than social-networking sites such as Friendster and Google's It would also sweep in a wide range of interactive Web sites and services that allow "users to create Web pages or profiles," including, AOL and Yahoo's instant-messaging features, and Microsoft's Xbox 360, which permits in-game chat. (CNET Networks, publisher of CNET, might also be covered because of its member profile feature.)

Another idea that surfaced on Tuesday was to slap some form of age verification on social-networking sites.

"Putting restrictions on children's access to this, such as age verification, will all be steps in the right direction," said Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, who also testified.

Rep. John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican, suggested that Web sites find "a third-party age verification out there that can do that."

But some Democrats, joined by the American Library Association, said the proposals are flawed.

"If the goal is protecting children and combating child exploitation, why should these requirements apply only to schools receiving e-rate funding--the poorer schools?" said Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat who represents part of Silicon Valley, also said that DOPA was "really not the prescription to handle this" problem.

For its part, MySpace--now owned by Rupert Murdock's News Corp.--has taken steps this year to assuage concerns among parents and politicians. It has assigned some 100 employees, about one-third of its workforce, to deal with security and customer care, and hired Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam, a former Justice Department prosecutor, as chief security officer.

But MySpace declined to send a representative to Tuesday's hearing, a slight that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton called "unfortunate." Barton added that if Internet sites aren't taking adequate precautions, Congress should enact DOPA, "at the very least."

CNET's Anne Broache contributed to this report.

I have serious misgivings about the government stepping into this fray. When has the US government been known to "get it right?" This is yet another case of the government wanting to step in because American parents aren't really doing their jobs.

I'm not saying shouldn't be more proactive in policing themselves. They certainly should. I just think that much like heavy metal music in the 80s "causing" suicide, this is another case where parents who are too lazy, preoccuppied, or more concerned with being a friend than a parent is leading to their kids finding mischief. I'm not saying all parents fit that mold, they don't. But sadly I think enough parents are too quick to ask the government to come in and do their job for them and too lazy to take the time to do the job themselves.

This is not an issue for the Feds, although I do think the Department of Education should take SOME measures to encourage schools to block some of these social networking sites. Not necessarily because of sexual predators or gang warfare (how violent can "digital" gang warfare be?-- I'm genuinely curious here)-- although those certainly are factors. But because school is an environment for learning. Social networking websites encourage a lack of face-to-face social interaction. There's a time and place for sites like Myspace (heck, I have an account and I'm sure some of the rest of you do too). But I really believe schools should be encouraging students to interact with one another face to face and developing stronger social skills as opposed to IMing their friends sitting at the desks next to them.


Curare_Z said...

Allowing the use of social networking sites at school doesn't just hinder social interaction between students -- it inhibits LEARNING. These kids should be doing work or research, not chatting someone up online.

That being said, I also have severe misgivings about the gov't stepping in to form ANY regulation on this type of website. If the parents are concerned, then (1) they should pay more attention to what their kid is doing, and (2) they should talk to the school about limiting or eliminating usage of such sites on school property.

BarBarA said...

Darrin - I am with you 100% on this. Did you hear about the mother/daughter suing Myspace for 30 million because her 14 year old daughter went on a date with a guy she met on Myspace who said he was 18 but was really 19 and he molested her? WTF? Why did this mother let her 14 year old daughter go out with a guy that was 18 (like one year really matters) in the first place! It's her responsibility and a 14 year old girl is not old enough to go out on dates wiht 18 year old boys - trust me I know!


I was actually on the air on a call in radio show on this very topic a few weeks ago....hey, I need to blog about that!

Perplexio said...

curare_z: I agree wholeheartedly! As Ronald Reagan once said, "Government isn't the solution to the problem... it IS the problem."

Barbara: If I were a judge I'd:
a) Throw her case out of court to send a message to any other potential litigation hungry parents that the courts aren't going to allow them to use the US Judicial system as their personal lottery.
b) Charge the mother with negligence for not keeping better track of her own daughter.

Sadly, the new American way seems to be: "It's always someone else's fault, Find out who that is and sue them for all they're worth!"

What gets my goat the most about that is that there are plenty of cases waiting to stand trial-- people with legitimate claims and complaints... and these frivolous finger-pointing/blame everyone-but-me suits just clog up the courts, cost the taxpayers money (judges are paid by the government right?) that could be better spent on judges seeing cases which actually DO matter.

Jeff said...

I don't support MySpace in any way, I think it is ridiculous but to each his own I guess. As you said this is not a job for the government but instead a job for parents. Being a college student I realize that some people spend hours upon hours on their MySpace a day, and the majority of people using it just try to become "friends" with whoever they can find just because they want to appear as popular or whatever it may be. I really hope that this MySpace fad dies away but regardless of my feelings towards it, it is not a job for the government but instead a job for parents and not only the parents but the users themselves should take up greater responsibility. Also MySpace could certainly use greater restrictions to become a member. Great post, by any chance did you catch that special "How To Catch a Predator" where the use MySpace to lure in sexual predators? It is certainly scary the amount of pedophiles that use MySpace.

Snooze said...

I think blogging and sites like MySpace are a marvellous way of interacting. Most sites are frivolous, but some contain very vital information, and if I had been a gay teen in my home town (mining town), I would love to have had the Internet just to know there were other gay teens out there. That said, I totally agree with your position that it's up to parents and we don't need the government involved in this. I also see your point that schools should limit access to social networking sites and force kids to sit and learn face to face!

:P fuzzbox said...

If they weren't IM'ing they would have a cell phone glued to their ear. It is a different generation out there.

Perplexio said...

jeff: I think with Myspace you get out of it what you put into it. I only really use it to reconnect with old college, high school friends as well as a handful of my blogfriends. To that end I enjoy it. But I have also gotten friends requests from total strangers. I've noticed when checking their profiles they list their friends in the hundreds or thousands-- when I see that I automatically decline. Those people make me sad. Their just trying to rack up friends to give them an over-inflated sense of self-worth. And to that end I wholeheartedly agree with your criticisms of the service.

Snooze: I wish had been around when I was in high school. I came from an incredibly small town and never really felt like I fit in. I was thrilled to "escape" to college. I would have liked to have corresponded with like minded small-town folk who felt claustrophobic in that small town atmosphere and were looking for something bigger and better than what they'd been raised in.

fuzzbox: I know what you mean, it's rather sad. I do believe that when I have kids, I'll have a "cell phone drawer", sure they can have their cell phones after school and on the weekends, but during meals and while they're at school those cell phones will remain locked up.