It’s difficult to know what to say to the Daily Mail’s usual reaction to anything that could indicate change or newness (the “OMG WE MUST STOP IT” reaction). So mostly, I’m just going to go through some of the article and comment on it.
The experiences of Alice and Lucy should send a chill down the spines of parents across Britain. Got a teenage child? Then it’s more than likely that over the weekend they will be using one of these so-called social networking sites, be it MySpace, Bebo, Friendster or one of many others.
Probably MySpace actually. The rest of them haven’t taken off in the same way as MySpace, which has also been embraced by various corporations, media outlets and musicians as a way to pimp themselves out.
In the space of the past 12 months their popularity has exploded, with 61 per cent of British 13 to 17-year-olds now logging on to them. Without paying a penny, users are able to create their own web pages on which they can write anything they like and post pictures of themselves for just about anyone in the world to see.
Inevitably, through a combination of their parents’ ignorance and the teenage desire to appear cool and streetwise, photos are often more soft-porn than school portrait while the profiles are littered with references to drink, drugs and sexual boasts.
The danger for young people mostly comes from parents’ ignorance, denial that their child is maturing (and becoming interested in drink, drugs and sex) and possibly also a lack of openness in the relationship between parents and child. Not that I’m any kind of an expert. It’s no surprise that there are references to drugs and sex – when I was at school most of the 14 and 15 year old girls were regularly getting drunk and taking part in sexual activities. And this is in a school the Daily Mail would be proud of. During either GCSEs or A-levels, one of my friends, a smart, intelligent girl, was drinking orange juice and vodka at school, during school hours – partly I guess from the slow pace of the lessons and the mindnumbing stupidity of some of our fellow classmates.
With such rich pickings on offer, it’s perhaps hardly surprising to learn that experts fear they are becoming a paedophiles’ paradise. At any one time, say police, as many as 50,000 sexual predators are online.
Of course, they’re not all on MySpace. Some of them lurk in other places. At least MySpace tries to do something to protect their younger users.
Consider, by way of example, the following statistic: one in 12 of the eight million children with internet access in this country has gone on to meet someone after they first made contact online. Frightening.
OMGOMGOMG Time to PANIC OMG.
How many of those children met their online friends whilst with their parents or whilst with a group of their own friends? I certainly would never have dreamed of meeting anyone on my own. Perhaps it’s just an indication of the good relationship I have with my parents, but they always knew what I was doing. I accepted that my parents wanted to protect me and so invited them along to meet my new friends. In fact, some fellow fans of a band I like are envious that my dad has seen this band more times than they have! Parents should be aware that their children will want to meet people that they met online. It’s like wanting to spend time with friends they meet at school. And parents should take responsibility for their children and make sure that they don’t go hanging out with thugs, murderers and rapist. Oh wait, kids today are the thugs, murderers and rapists. I guess I’m getting cynical in my “old” age.
Equally worrying is the fact that even if they do not want to meet, so free are children with their personal information that a determined individual could find their school, e-mail address, phone numbers and home address within a matter of minutes.
Only if the child is stupid enough to put that information online. And the child stupid enough to do that, has not been properly educated by their parents. It’s not that hard to find anyone’s address and phone number, and with a little digging even more information about them – providing they’re registered to vote, only there doesn’t seem to be any outcry about that (although I do admit that your average adult isn’t in the same vunerable group as a teenager).
Joining this online community takes a matter of minutes and requires little more than an e-mail address and the minimum of personal details. Once set up, users are encouraged to download photographs of themselves, to create their own profile and to customise their site with music and video.
UPLOAD. Not download. It’s stuff like this that annoys me and tends to damage the credibility of the author, especially when it’s something so basic as the difference between uploading and downloading.
Only last month the reality of the situation was highlighted when Lee Costi, 21, a student from Haslemere, Surrey, was jailed for nine years for having sex with girls of 13 and 14 whom he had ‘groomed’ on online internet chatlines.
I would have thought that the 14 and 13 year old girls who mugged a man they had groomed on MySpace would have been mentioned, but of course the Mail is only interested in sex and preying on children. I am truely surprise at the lack of mention of the story about the 16 year old american girl who tricked her parents into getting her a passport and then tried to run off to Israel to marry the 20 year old man that she met on MySpace – getting as far as Jordan before she was caught. Oh, but that’s neglect on the part of the parents and not the dangers of the big bad internet.
At much the same time, the headmistress of Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School in Kent hit the headlines after banning her pupils from using the website Bebo.
Linda Wybar spoke out after discovering that 700 pupils had signed up to the website and that many had put revealing pictures and personal details on their pages.
I doubt they all signed up from school. In fact, they probably mostly signed up from home. Nevertheless, the headmistress (as the name suggests) was in charge of a school. What was she thinking, not having measures in place to keep most of the internet out of the reach of her students? I remember being at school and we had a SchoolsNet service providing out internet connection as well as filtering out any sites which weren’t appropriate.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, created two months ago, said it would be examining community websites.
A spokesman said: “Young people have been putting information there which could easily identify them. We don’t want them to do that because where young people go online, so do paedophiles.
“We will be seeking new safety features from the operators. It’s not a question of closing them down. We’re trying to stay ahead of those who go online to exploit children.”
It’s not just the operators who should be targetted though. The main victim of this group’s campaign should be the obviously negligent parents of today’s youth. If it didn’t cause harm to the teenagers, I would say that parents who fail to keep up with their child’s interests and don’t take the time to be fully appraised of these things actually deserve something bad to happen to them. Would you let your 14 year old loose on the roads with your car? NO! Then why let them loose on the internet without some kind of supervision? Of course, for anyone over the age of 14 now, it’s probably too late – ideally, a parent should be the one introducing their child to the internet, pointing out the dangers, using appropriate measures to block sites that they shouldn’t be looking at and sharing the good experiences that can also come with using the internet.
Back on MySpace and a quick search of the site shows there is much work to be done. Take, for instance, the profile of one 15-year-old girl. She is pictured wearing a low-cut black top and minuscule shorts.
In another shot she is on all fours; in another, taken from above, she shows off her cleavage. Not only does her profile give the city where she is from, but the name of the school she attends.
The “taken from above” shot is a typical MySpace style photo because it hides the fact that you might be a bit tubby and generally ends up overexposed to hide your spots. I’m not surprised that they found this kind of picture… 15 year olds today aren’t the innocent angels that they may or may not have been in the past. Partially a result of maturing younger, being spoilt and being given more freedom to do, say and wear what they please, girls this age are interested in getting attention and use sex as a way to do it. And when the examples of “successful” women include people like Victoria Beckham, Jordan and Lindsey Lohan, as well as a harem of other celebrity women who use their “sex appeal” and bodies to draw attention to themselves, are plastered all over magazines and newspapers…then how can we really be surprised?
I know that I was and still am careful about what information about me finds it’s way online. Well before these social networking sites appeared there were still newsgroups, chat rooms and message boards where young people congregated to chat to each other, and I met friends there that I am still in regular contact with nearly 8 years later. The best thing to do is make sure that teenagers are properly educated about the dangers out there and all their clothes replaced with burquas. Seriously. I’m sick of being able to see 14 year old girl’s underwear being flashed out of the low-riding hotpants that their mothers have probably bought them. But you know, I’m getting old and out of touch with what’s acceptable for kids today.
I think that should I have kids, I’ll be the one that introduces them to the internet and hopefully I’ll have a good relationship with them that would allow me to share their online experiences.
Of course… I’ll be monitoring their internet use via sneaky hidden technological means anyway and snooping on their email – but that’s because parents are supposed to be doing, keeping tabs on exactly what their kids are doing.