July 12, 2006
The biggest problem I see with MySpace is not something that the people who set it up have control over. We aren't teaching our kids how to deal with the Internet. When I was little, we all learned about why we don't talk to strangers. We talked about it, we read about it, it was on TV. But we don't do that anymore.
Maybe we think of the Internet as being this vast, anonymous place. We can talk to anyone we wnat to, because nobody really is who they are online. We're all strangers, and all friends, all at the same time. When something bad happens, it has to be because the people running the place let some bad people in -- it can't be our fault.
Bad things have happened because of MySpace. Myspace has some rules in place (though many would say not enough) to try to prevent bad things from happening, but they can't do it all themselves.
We tend to think of kids being so much more advanced than we are when it comes to computers. I've taught computer applications to high school students, and I can tell you that it isn't always true. Kids really think they can hide behind a screen name, or a blog page, and nobody can find anything out about them at all. That's not true, and we need to emphasise that to our kids.
Back in the old days, when I was 20-something, there was a big concern about privacy and identity theft. So the Washington Post conducted an experement. With the permission of Vice President Dan Quayle and the Secret Service, they decided to see how much information they could get on him. Not dirt -- just basic information.
They called the DMV of the state he was licensed in, and got his drivers license number with very little effort. With many states, that is your Social Security number, and we all know what kinds of things you can find out with THAT information. I think they had two more steps to get his SS number, but they got it pretty quickly. With very little effort, they were able to find out all kinds of indormation about the Vice President of the United States.
How hard do you really think it is to find out information about you? Or your kids?
Parents need to do their job -- protect and educate your kids. Make sure they know about the lack of real privacy on the Internet. Make sure they know how to be careful. Make sure they know better than to give personal information out to someone they've never seen before. And know what they're doing online.
If your kid has a MySpace page, you should, too. And you should be on your kid's "My Friends" list. Make that a condition of them having the account to begin with. You'll have access to their blogs. You'll know who they "hang out" with online. Don't act like the Secret Police, but make sure they know you're doing it out of conern for them -- not because you have to know everything they're doing at all times.
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