One mom’s creepy journey through CyberspaceWritten by Marcia Chambers | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Online blogging is the latest craze, and it’s not about up let up anytime soon. It’s seductive! It’s addictive! It’s everything teenagers love! It allows the person behind the computer to not only present themselves to the world in the way they want to be seen, but allows then the freedom to glimpse into other people’s fake personas as well.
I’m a Myspace voyeur. What started as an online spying adventure turned into a full-time jaunt through a cyber world that both captivated and repulsed me.
I got involved with Myspace, Xanga, Facebook and other social networking sites in an attempt to see if my own teen had posted one. If she had, it’s unlikely she would have told me. At first I thought it would be a great way to gather information and insight into my teen and her friends. It was and it is.
I created an account on Myspace, (it’s free and anonymous). All you need is an email account. Online you can be anyone you want. I’m Mandy online and far younger than my 40+ years. Once I joined the community, I was free to start a modern day bonding experience with 80 million users from around the globe.
You’d think so many users from so many countries would make finding my own kid like finding a needle in a haystack. Not so. I quickly learned to use the search engine provided by Myspace to find anyone located with 5 miles of my zip code. I also quickly learned to navigate the group searches to find local school and community groups.
I was gratified to find my own child had not yet discovered the apparent joys of an online diary that is pretty much open to the whole world. I did, however, quickly find many of her classmates and was dismayed at the naivetÈ they displayed. And although the site is supposed to be open to those only aged 14 and older, I found many children from my local elementary school, some as young as nine, were active bloggers having lied about their ages.
It was disheartening to find that they shared very personal information about themselves. ”I’m Judy and I’m 12 and I go to Timberstone Jr. High in Sylvania, OH!” But users most often include photos of themselves, many of them provocative, and invite ”friends” to share their site by posting messages to them. Many also post their phone numbers, cell numbers, and IM addresses.
At first it amused me to go to PTO meetings and sit next to someone and think about how I knew her kid had sneaked out of the house last weekend to teepee a house, drink, or meet a boyfriend. I struggled with what to do with my newfound knowledge. It became sadly apparent that many of my friends, neighbors and acquaintances had no idea what their kids were doing in their spare time and who they were talking to online. I found that many didn’t want to know.
I talked to school administrators at the Elementary and Jr. High levels in my school district. I hoped they would work to help parents understand why it is important to learn to navigate cyberspace. I am sad to say that there was little follow through. The Jr. High coded the school computers so the students could not enter their Myspace accounts while at school, but simply reading one student’s blog assured me that the GATE (Gifted and Talented) students had cracked the school code and continued to blog on.
The thing is, the kids posting online have no idea or concept that people may not be who they say they are online. They have no idea that if I can read their private online diaries so can the pervert up the street. So clueless are these kids that one search for Sylvania groups that I ran turned up one group that call themselves ”the Sylvania bandits.” They are very proud of the fact that they ”steal random stuff” and post their bounty and adventures online. It doesn’t occur to them that the local law enforcement just might be cruising their blogs like I am.
As a parent, I am more concerned with the vast amount of pornography that can be found on Myspace. Run a search for S &M, necrophilia, threesomes, bondage, and you will find literally thousands of photos, video clips and vivid reading material.
Worse yet are the latest statistics about online blog users. If your child is blogging, there is a 1 in 5 chance they will receive sexual solicitations. A sexual predator will contact 1 in 4. Most users who are contacted will not tell their parents. Cyber bullying is rampant – it’s so much easier to beat up someone verbally hiding behind a computer screen.
When I was a teen in the late 70’s, the world was already dangerous, albeit smaller than it is today. Now that the world has shrunk, it is far more dangerous. People with perversions can easily find others who share their perversions and therefore make it more acceptable to acknowledge and act on those perversions. The world is far more dangerous today.
We live in a small, nice Midwest town. Suddenly, we can be seen, influenced and possibly hurt by anyone in the world.
Or at least 80 million of our newest best friends.