New web site in Colorado

A new site, “Teen Clinic,” was set up to provide a safe space for teens to ask questions about sex and sexuality. They have a Twitter account, a means for youth to text in questions, a web platform for question asking and, of course, MySpace and Facebook pages. Question: How is this site going to be any different than all the others out there (of which Teen Wire and Sex Etc seem to be the most popular)? Is anyone going to start keeping track of how many youth use these sites to get their specific questions answered? And, if they already do that, will they let the rest of us know how useful these sites are?


Reminding Youth about Public Access to Information

I thought this study, featured in the New York Daily News, was quite clever. The beginning of the research is simple enough: Author Dr. Megan Moreno analyzed 190 public profiles of young persons aged 18-20. Not too surprisingly, she found that all of their pages included three or more references to sex, drinking, drug use or smoking. Ho-hum. Most research stops there and sounds out the alarm.

What happened next was simple, neat, and full of useful implications. After seeing the profiles, “Dr. Meg” sent each of the MySpace subscribers an email which read “You seemed to be quite open about sexual issues or other behaviors such as drinking or smoking. Are you sure that’s a good idea? … You might consider revising your page to better protect your privacy.” And guess what? After three months, 42% of those receiving the message either removed the material or changed their profile setting to “private” so that only their friends could see their information.

Neat, huh? This just shows that with a little nudge, young people can understand how their private information posted in a public forum can and is seen by unwanted parties. And a simple reminder, they will change their behavior.

What’s in a Name?

In a classic example of communication breakdown, a new study reports that over half (58%) of those surveyed do not know what “social networking” is. The international study did note that 70% of Americans did recognize the term. However, that means that close to 1 in 3 persons in this country have somehow not been exposed to the phrase, or simply don’t remember what it means. Implications? We need to be careful about the terms we use when talking about the phenomenon of interacting with others in these types of online spaces. I know I am guilty of talking about “social networking,” as I do not want to call out certain sites and brands when talking about the concept as a whole. Too often, MySpace is scapegoated because people talk about the dangers associated with social networking in general, but end up picking on the best-known of the bunch (too bad that survey didn’t ask the percentage of persons who have heard of MySpace specifically). But if using the term “social networking” alienates too many people, then we fail to get our message across. While I have no answers, I do believe this issue is important; much like my last post on cyberbulling vs. electronic aggression, I want to stress the need to come to some semblance of consensus on terms so that we educate the public, not confuse them. And given the Ivory Tower’s bad reputation for trying to claim expertise at the expense of being useful or collaborative, there is ample reason to prioritize clear communication about issues without using all those fancy and/or new words.

A Game of Dress-up

Whether it be as a Disney princess in grade school, or as a naughty nurse in college, girls have always enjoyed playing “dress-up.” However, what happens when a 13-year-old “dresses-up” as an 1p-year-old and initiates a sexual encounter with a man 15 years her senior? Trouble.

In early July, Scott Knight, an Aurora, Oregon man was arrested on charges of statutory rape after a 13-year-old girl talked to authorities. After the two allegedly met on Flirt and supposedly talked through MySpace, they then met in person. Knight claims he asked for ID from the girl and then the rest of the details become muddy.

I came across a MyCrimeSpace blog summary of the incident that stuck to the released information, but the comments on the blog prompted me to start thinking, what makes teenage girls seeks out men like this? According to Justine Cassell & Meg Cramer from Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior (who I quoted in a previous entry) most likely this girl has “a greater tendency for conflict or lack of communication with their parents; high levels of delinquency, including committing assault, vandalism or theft; have a troubled personality due to depression, peer victimization, or [has experienced] a distressing life event.” The very first comment asked “what would she gain from setting him up?” A few answers – public attention, “fame” on the news, a book deal, a Lifetime movie even!

I remember being 13 and wanting to be 23, wanting to have an older boyfriend, wanting to be a grown-up; I don’t remember ever thinking that the Internet could be used like this, though. A little part of me is surprised at the lengths this girl would go to in order to make a connection with Knight (finding an internet dating site, getting a fake ID to lie about her age, working to draw in a man who would “fall” for her act) and then a bigger part of me isn’t so taken aback. This girl, rather than turning to her parents (who aren’t mentioned in any story that I can find), she turned to the internet and found adults there.

Is social networking to blame for incidents like this? Probably not. Frivolous Electrical Conversation explains that people blamed promiscuity on the telegraph, the telephone, and even the automobile.

“The telegraph provided users with faster responses to their communication with others, more frequent interactions, and more access to others around the world. It improved access to goods and services, and to knowledge of all sorts. And yet, even while the telegraph (and the internet) led to a revolution in business practices, it also gave rise to new ways to commit crimes, and it was quickly adopted beyond business to the communication needs of everyday people. In the techie magazines of the times (such as Electrical World, the historical parallel to PC Magazine) many authors alluded to a possible loss of a world they idealized, a world threatened by new modes of electrical communication. Media critics of the times described the telegraph as used by ‘talkative women’ who had ‘frivolous electrical conversations’ about ‘inconsequential personal subjects.’ Novels, like the 1879 Wired Love, and other popular culture texts expanded on this theme. The women portrayed in these narratives were näıve and incapable in the face of technical advances, and when they made forays into the world of the telegraph they ended up needing to be rescued, to be protected from technology, in sum. … technical ignorance was a virtue of ‘good’ women. The moral was that women’s use of men’s technology would come to no good end.” Justine Cassel & Meg Cramer in High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online

Sound familiar?

Then we must ask “Who is responsible?” Another commenter later in the list of postings had a very good point; “they are both responsible for their behavior.” When does a person become “of age” for their own personal responsibility? Minors are held responsible for murders, being tried as adults in courts when faced with such serious charges, but incidents such as these are brushed off as solely the adult’s fault. Whether the adult blamed is the minor’s parent or the adult in the sexual relationship, it’s rarely the minor’s fault. Should parents be punished for the behavior of their teenagers? “At what point do the girls have to take some responsibility about what happened?” So, I ask you, “Where do we draw the line when playing dress-up?”

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What girls do online

Texting on a keyboard phoneImage via WikipediaThis post is a continuation of yesterday’s post, moving through Justine Cassel & Meg Cramer’s article “High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online”.

We’ll first look at some general teens & the internet facts:

– Today’s teens spend over six hours a day in front of some form of media … at least one of those hours is spent in front of a computer.

– 87% of teens are online

– the activity takes place primarily in the home or school

– 50% of US families are connected with broadband

– girls between 12 and 16 are the fastest growing internet users

– boys are more likely to play games online while girls are more likely to send email, use text messaging, read websites about movie stars, get health or dieting information

– 25% of girls online have a blog (go us!)

Then, some more interesting reading:

– “Teenage blog and social networking site users describe their writing s as read only by their peer network, express surprise that the writings are easily findable by others, and comment on the blogs that they feel are comfortable exposing their innermost feelings in these contexts because of their anonymity (even though the same author may give identifying information in a neighboring post).

– “Teens‘ use of instant messaging, e-mailing, game playing and website creation are key ways by which they grow into adults who manage, produce, and consume technology intelligently on an everyday basis.”

– “… the current panic over girls being online is not new … the result of moral panic has been a restriction on girls’ use of technology.”

– “Girls in particular may thrive online where they may be more likely to rise to positions of authority than in the physical world, more likely to be able to explore alternate identities without the dangers associated with venturing outside of their homes alone, more likely to be able to safely explore their budding sexuality, and more likely to openly demonstrate technological prowess, without the social dangers associated with the term “geek.” (I’m a geek. I embrace it.)

– “With luck, there will be a single difference between the moral panic surrounding the telegraph and the telephone, and that surrounding the internet: that we will come to recognize young women as more likely to be empowered by technology than damaged by it.”

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Back to that dirty bedroom

I have a Facebook account, and I have a cre8Buzz account, and neither of these make me feel as dirty as my MySpace account does. I don’t know why – they are all essentially copies of one another. Dr. Kris sent me a fantastic Venture Beat article about Why Facebook is now the number one social network in the world, and why this matters that absolutely validates my feelings.

Eric Eldon is able to sum my feelings up in half a sentence “MySpace is more of a place for people to live out their fantasy lives online …” while Facebook is more a site where you’re required to share “factual information” because otherwise, your friends from across the hallway Freshman year are going to call you out. Eldon writes about the lack of networks creating opportunity for you to create a whole new you unlinke the networking connections created through Facebook.

Reading through the comments on Eldon’s article made me think about words, too. How long ago did “friend” become an actual verb? Do you think that usage will ever be integrated into the dictionary? If you wanna friend The Virtual Mystery Tour’s dirty MySpace profile* head over here and add us!

While Eldon’s article then goes into specific numbers of hits, global growth and advertising dollars, the rest of the article doesn’t do much for me; however, it’s so very nice to hear yet another blogger vent about how dirty MySpace can really be.

*Dear Perverts who found The Virtual Mystery Tour’s blog but were actually searching for a “dirty MySpace profile,”
I apologize. We actually have a very clean MySpace profile.
Trying not to laugh at your Google-fu,

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The dangers of MySpace

Last weekend, I traveled four hours in a mom-van to Wildhorse Canyon, to participate in a young adult church retreat. Over lunch on Saturday, the table of eight talked about what we were doing in school (most of the 320 people that went were students), and what we eventually wanted to do. Since I am in school, am an intern (Hi Dr. Kris!) and am working part-time, I had a lot to say. As I mentioned that I work with how the internet is affecting teens’ sexuality, faces around the table began to turn inside out. As a member of one of the many left-leaning Christian churches in our gorgeous Pacific Northwest city, I was surprised by the reaction of a girl directly across the table from me.

Breathlessly, she almost shouted “the church doesn’t approve of the use of MySpace … by anyone!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. I played devil’s advocate (while at church camp! Oh no!) and asked her to show me in the Bible where that was mentioned “we are a Bible-based church, aren’t we?” I didn’t really mean to embarrass her, but I did, and she didn’t say too much to me the rest of lunch. Oops! Not the way to get conversations going, Sarah.

Another girl eventually started talking to me (while no one was watching … she couldn’t be associated with one of those* girls) about why she believed MySpace was dangerous. “You have a profile on there, and then perverts can find you and stalk you!” I was a little more tactful in explaining to her that you can have a private account; set up controls, keep strangers out (know my last name? only then can we be friends) and that you don’t have to branch out from your main circle of friends if you don’t want to. I think I know 95% of my friends list from in-person relationships.

I was able to talk to another guy at the table about how MySpace is creating positive opportunities for non-profit outreaches. He didn’t realize the positivity that could come from responsible MySpace use, and I felt really great being able to explain this stuff to these kids**. I offered not only the Virtual Mystery Tour’s MySpace address to them, but also my personal address as starting points if any of them ever got over their fear of “all the perverts”. And we’ll see if they ever make eye contact with me at church again.

Really though, I was surprised to see such a different reaction to MySpace from people somewhat near my age group. Rather than experimenting with the internet, these 18- and 19-year-old students were acting like my mom; afraid that a misspelled word in Google would yield such wild pornography she’d never be the same. It makes me wonder whether the media is being “effective” in their campaign to scare the younger generation away from the internet. Time will tell. Until then I’ll be searching Leviticus for “If thine daughter maketh a MySpace account, sell her to the Canaanites.”

*aka – one who not only has a personal MySpace account, but also accesses another for school credit
**I later found out my table was mostly college Freshmen … almost a decade younger than me.