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The love-to-hate social networking site MySpace has been increasingly under fire lately.
First, people freaked (for good reason) about the site's sale to Rupert Murdoch. Now, rather belatedly, adults are starting to realize the real reason kids are obsessed with MS: because it makes chatting and flirting and "hooking up" so damned easy. Especially if you're young and female. Indeed -- young women get fawned over like they're in short supply on MySpace, and unsurprisingly, some ill-intentioned older men are taking advantage of this.
The mayhem is a-brewing, especially in Danbury, Connecticut, since two men were arrested yesterday for allegedly sexually abusing two young (11 and 14 years old) girls they "met" on MySpace.
And this is just a few weeks after police in Middletown, CT began investigating reports that up to seven girls were sexually assaulted by men who had contacted them via the website (apparently the men lied, pretending to be teenagers, in their online interactions with the girls).
According to the CT News Times:
MySpace officials issued this statement: "While we cannot comment on specific investigations, MySpace works with law enforcement at every level and fully supports the arrest and prosecution of those individuals found guilty of criminal offenses."
"To the degree we can pass legislation regulating the Internet in the state, we should, but I'm not sure how far we can go or what we can do," said Sen. John McKinney, a Fairfield Republican whose district includes Newtown. "I would hope we could talk to and teach more parents about the Internet and how to protect their children."
McKinney does support a proposal by Gov. M. Jodi Rell that would allow parents to place their children's e-mail address on a state registry. That would block children from receiving adult-only content, but it wouldn't directly address their access to social networking sites.
The thing is, parents can't control what their children are doing online. It's just beyond their reach, not to mention privacy-invasive, to do anything as dramatic as submitting their kids' email addresses to some "no-adult-content!!!" registry. And I doubt that would change anything, anyway.
Kids are attracted to sites like MySpace and Friendster because of the ease by which it allows them to meet new people. They can form new identities, in a way, and pretend to be whomever they want under that fragile guise of internet anonymity.
Of course it's horrible that some jerkoids are abusing the free expression fostered by sites like MySpace; it's a tragedy any time a child (or anyone else) is manipulated and abused. But when youth are lying about their ages -- and they're doing that all the time -- to present themselves as more mature and sexually attractive, there's just not much we can do to stop it from, um, working, even if it attracts the wrong people.
In some ways, this sort of youth posturing strikes me as a rite of passage; I mean, didn't most of us lie about our ages when we were teenagers, to get into shows, bars, and to seem sexier and more mature to potential lovahs? Kids doing this online is the same old dog, slightly newer trick.
Laura Barcella is AlterNet's front page editor.