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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Another Parent Spouts Off About MySpace… Or Maybe Not...

Poor MySpace, these guys are getting held responsible for every pervert and dirty old man that is on the net today. They are getting assaulted daily on the nightly national news and even the morning newspapers. The media is presenting MySpace as ‘The Place For Perverts!’ This media property, was developed surreptitiously for all perverts to go online and hook up with little innocent kids. The media has taken this so far it is almost being presented as the new official site of Nambla. You would think that Rupert Murdoch bought the property because he wanted to find a marketplace to connect young boys with old men. What a joke.

So, I am watching this whole thing on the news. It is the topic of discussions in my circle of peers who have kids. It is the ‘Buzz’ in the neighborhood for parents and kids alike. It is fucking ridiculous! Excuse my exclamation.

You know what… this media hype reminds me of the whole so called credit card theft ‘problems’ online that played in the media years ago. The villain was Amazon in this story and how if you used your credit card online it would end up in the pocket of some Russian teenager who was laundering money for a Brazilian drug cartel. It also reminds me of the annual flu epidemic and vaccine shortage that runs in the media every November or so. It reminds me of the weeks of coverage about The Sniper in DC. Don’t get me wrong, these are all terrible things. But let’s look at these things in perspective.

Perspective is very important these days when dealing with the media (esp Fox News). So you are more willing to give your credit card to a teenage waiter in a restaurant in downtown Atlanta, than give it to a reputable retailer?

In regards to the sniper, the Washington Post did a story when the lunatic was out shooting at people, and they calculated the probability of you being killed by the nut. You had a better chance of having 13 ½ heart attacks, being hit by 24 cars, blowing up in an airplane, being kidnapped for ransom by a foreign country, and being struck by lightning four times, all before being even shot at by Mr. Snipe and his protégé.

Why do I bring this up? Because this same story is at play with MySpace, and we are falling into the media trap once again. The report I saw tonight on Fox was talking about how MySpace has turned into a cesspool of child molesters, where most of the users are 50 year old men posing as 16 year old boys or girls. Come on folks, come down to reality here.

This whole thing would be funny if it wasn’t so predictable. Let’s look at it this way, there were 50MM active US users of MySpace in May of 2006 (based on Media Metrix data). Of those users about 11MM of them are under 18 years old. About 9MM were between 12 and 17 years old. Almost 26MM were less than 25 years old. So, yes, the site does skew towards younger kids, just like Nick, MTV, and even AOL.

In 2006 so far there have been 52 reported sex crimes on MySpace (according to LexisNexis). These were reported crimes, but did not necessarily mean there was an actual crime committed. Some other common places for kids to hang out? Well, in city parks/playgrounds across the US, there were 3,385 reported sex crimes to kids. At beaches/waterfront there were 1,859 reported sex crimes. At Wal*Mart even, there were 484 reported sex crimes this year. But get this, on school busses and in schools, there were 173 reported sex crimes in the US. So the so called safest place for kids in America is less safe than MySpace.

One important note: These numbers all come from LexisNexis queries against keywords and types of documents. The actual number of unique stories based on date and source was used to identify unique sex crimes. The error is based on the search terms that were used to find the reports. But even with the error, you get the point; MySpace is not a front for the Sexual Predators Club of America.

The biggest part of this whole story is if you do the same queries in MySpace and look at the total mentions of the terms MySpace and Sex Crime or Child Molester versus the other terms (parks, beaches, schools, Wal*Mart, etc..). MySpace is mentioned 120x more often than all of the others combined. So every time there is a negative story about MySpace that relates to a child and someone breaking the law, the pick-up is 120x any other similar case or situation in the news.

Again, don’t get me wrong. The internet is a scary place to send your kids out trolling for friends. It is such a great tool, but with it comes responsibility. Man, I sound like my Dad. But it is not MySpace that is the core issue here, it is the whole internet and how you use it.

I am not going to lecture you on how to raise you kids. I actually don’t think I am qualified for that anyway. I do know I will keep on top of my kids usage of the net, and will have an advantage because of my background. But it all comes down to communication and education and trust with your kids.

The best post I have found on this same subject is from a blog I read every week or so. Check out this entry, as it is from a smart and sane mother of teenage kids. She has got it right on this one.

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