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Webwise Internet Safety

Last month, our Newsbrief featured a short expose' on the dangers that youth face from adult strangers on social networking websites such as MySpace.com. This month, we will focus briefly on the dangers that youth can inflict on themselves and their peers when using social networking websites.

A. Teens can use online blogs to bully and harass their peers and teachers.

Teenagers can be opinionated and it is no wonder that teen blogs on social networking sites are full of expressed opinions. Some blogs contain praise for a favorite band or video game, but a large number of blogs also contain discourteous and even threatening comments about classmates, teachers, or parents. MySpace in particular has a feature which allows members to rate each other (from Cold to Hot) based on their photos and profiles. The ratings given and received can be a strong catalyst for gossip, bullying, name-calling, and harassment both on and offline.

Even kids who would never bully someone in person can get seduced by the anonymity of the Internet and the feeling of power they may get when they put someone down. Kids need to know that it is never acceptable to discredit someone else. Even if they think they are being funny, they are crossing a line whenever they jeopardize someone else’s reputation or safety by posting inappropriate material about that person in their blog.

Megan, an 11th-grade student, said friends posted a picture of someone that looked like her, lying face down on the floor. The caption on the photo said that she was passed out drunk at a party. Even though the girl in the picture was not Megan, Megan's reputation was compromised and rumors of her “drunkenness” spread across the school campus for weeks. If your teen has been a victim of online bullying, they should report the incident to the network's webmaster for investigation.

B. Teens may overlook the possibility that the content of their blogs may get them into trouble now or in the future.

When teens put something down in writing, even if it is exaggerated, the police or school authorities may decide it is no joke and take punitive action against them. Furthermore, students need to realize that the information they post on social networking websites occupies a permanent, archived place on the web and may resurface months or even years after they created it. As colleges and employers increasingly “Google” prospective applicants during the interview process, some teens may even find their college applications denied or their chances at a job shattered because of offensive, deviant, or inflammatory material they have posted in their blogs. Recently a man in Delaware lost his job after his boss found that he had posted racially offensive comments in a MySpace blog.

Though teens claim that teachers and parents are invading their privacy whenever they read their blogs, teens need to realize that information posted in a public forum (such as a blog or a chat room) ceases to be private the minute it is posted.

This month, two boys at a private school in Pennsylvania were both suspended for three days following the discovery that they had created and posted a crude and threatening rap song about several classmates at their school. The teens who authored the song lyrics later insisted that the rap song was never intended to be taken seriously. Regardless of the author’s intentions, the content of the song was offensive and objectionable and could have gotten the boys into even more trouble had their victims chosen to press charges.

C. Teens can endanger themselves with suggestive screen names, photos, and blog content.

It goes almost without saying that teens who choose suggestive (Sexy Suzie) or needy (Lonely Laurence) screen names may attract the wrong type of people to their sites. Teens that blog about sexual escapades (true or fabricated) or post suggestive photos may unwittingly compromise their own safety. By now, most teens have heard lectures against posting their personal information, but many still do. It is common for cell phone numbers to appear in member profiles. The bottom line is that teens must be careful about every single bit of information that they post and even more careful in the formation of online friendships.

Next Steps: We recommend that all parents and teachers conduct at least a basic exploration of MySpace.com. For those of you who have never ventured onto the MySpace website, here is what you can expect:


  1. Go to MySpace.com and click Sign Up. You will be asked to enter your first and last name, email address, a password containing at least one number, and your zip code.
  2. Your membership will be approved and you will be redirected to a screen where you can upload a photo of yourself.
  3. If you skip the photo section, you will be routed to a new screen where you have the option to list all your friends.
  4. If you bypass the friend section, you will be redirected (finally) to your homepage on MySpace.


On your homepage, you will find that your first name, age, city, state, and sign of the Zodiac are automatically displayed. You have the option to send an email or instant message, add friends to your site, rank a friend’s appearance, block a user, get your messages automatically sent to your cell phone, add your school name to your profile, listen to music, watch videos, and more. Don't be surprised if your homepage includes the photo and profile of a guy named Tom. This is Tom Anderson, President and Co-Founder of MySpace. He wants to be your first friend on MySpace.

Hopefully, your exploration of MySpace will give you a glimpse into the amazing and sometimes alarming world of social networking sites. Your involvement and your teen's level of maturity and self-control will play a big part in their success at using a social networking site safely.


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