MySpace: dangerous games or harmless fun? (Coloroso says danger)

By By Christina Coloroso

By Christina Coloroso

MySpace.com, for those few of you who aren’t in the know, is an online social network of about 55 million people that hosts “community-building” activities such as chats, forums, blogs and music and photo sharing. The site is particularly popular among our age group-teens and 20-somethings-which is exactly why it has come under fire recently.

Law enforcement officials, teachers and parents allege the site is a “virtual hunting ground” for predators and that the nature of MySpace.com encourages risqu behavior. In combination with weak security measures and a lack of parental supervision, it’s easy to see how the site can pose significant danger to users.

One of the primary reasons MySpace.com has enjoyed more popularity than its competitors is that registration and security procedures are much less stringent, allowing for less restricted social interaction.

Even though the site requires members be 14 years or older, children can easily forge their age to participate in the popular community.

Users also frequently post personal contact information, such as their zip code or school or work address, making it easier for potential predators to search them out according to the details of their profile. And those wishing to conceal their identity-such as pedophiles, stalkers and school bullies-can easily do so. Members have no way to tell if the person with whom they are chatting is really who they say they are.

The nature of the site may be at fault, as well. In this highly competitive social environment, those who receive the most attention are often those who post the most outrageous material. Such is particularly true for young women, who are encouraged to post sexually suggestive photos and write on “inviting” subjects like their love lives.

And since the site is so impersonal, there is room for individuals to brag about their sexual exploits, extensive drug and alcohol use and violent actions. At MySpace.com, pornography, threats of violence, racial epithets and harassing nicknames are all too common. It’s too easy for people’s personal information to be used against them in a harmful manner, and it is even easier for that harm to go beyond the virtual world to the real world.

Here is another scary fact to consider-many college admissions specialists and employers are beginning to search MySpace.com for more information about their applicants, and law enforcement officials are using the site, too.

So while people’s right to post illicit material on their space may be conditionally protected, the maturity of their decision-making may soon be called into question in a potentially devastating fashion.

MySpace.com can be a dangerous Web site, for sure, but harm can be minimized with the knowledge of common-sense safety measures. Much responsibility must lie with the site owners to ensure that their setting is appropriate for its members, but at the same time participants in the trend must understand how to maintain their own integrity and well being while online. Parents, teachers and guardians must also get involved to make sure impressionable children are not unfairly targeted and exploited.

MySpace.com users: Please be careful out there.

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