MySpace safety

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on 03/23/06.

A while ago I wrote a feature story on the website MySpace.com, an extremely popular place for teens to meet others, chat with their friends and keep a web journal of their life.  Since the article ran, though one suspects not because the article ran, MySpace has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and then all of the major news networks questioning the safety of the site.

Josie Phyllis Brown a single mother in Baltimore was murdered by a man she met on MySpace, and the media has been freaking out over the site since then, labeling it as the most dangerous thing since the Killer Bees and Elvis’ hip gyrations.  Parents lock up your children, throw their computers into the garbage and send them to Amish camp.

Joking aside MySpace can be as dangerous as any other way to meet people, but it can also be safe if used properly.  My brother met his current girlfriend on MySpace and they’ve been dating for over a year now and neither of them has been murdered.  I met my girlfriend on the internet as well and no murder there either.  So then how do you make sure your kids, or you if you are that young adult, while using MySpace?  Well you’ve come to the right place, for some tips.

- Kids keep your personal information private:

One of the nice things about MySpace is that you can provide levels of access to different people.  Save private things like what school you go to or your address to your friends that you know in real life, your school friends and people that you met in church.

- Parents talk to your kids:

Parents talk to your sons and daughters about their usage of MySpace.  Most likely you’ve raised them right and they’ve got a good head on their shoulders and won’t be engaging in any dangerous activity.  Remember that MySpace has at last count over 58 million users and the press worthy tragedies that have occurred have been a handful.  If you keep that in mind, and talk to your kids honestly and reasonably you’re more likely to be told if they are planning on meeting people who they met online, and thus will be safer than if they feel they can’t be honest with you about it because you’ll forbid it or worry.

- Young people of Kelowna bring friends:

As much as you might feel like you “know” people that you’ve met online, try meeting them in person in a public place with your friends around the first few times.  When I first went out with my girlfriend who I had met online she made sure we met in a public place and three of her friends were present.

- MySpace users, be honest with your parents:

When I was young my parents were a bit over protective and prone to over reacting anytime they saw a news story about a new danger for children or teens.  If you’re honest and up front with how you use MySpace they’re more likely to trust that you are being safe online and allow you to use MySpace and similar sites.  Tell them when you’re meeting a new person, who that person is and how you met them.  It’s a fact the more people who know what you’re up to online the safer you will be.

At the end of the day safety on the internet is important, but so is safety at school, at the mall and anywhere.  MySpace is an exciting new way to get in touch with people and communicate while online, and it’s no more inherently dangerous than any old fashioned way of meeting new people.

Honesty and openness is the best way to stay safe, and to keep your kids safe.  Parents talk to your kids and be understanding when you do.  And you youngins’ try to be honest with your parents.  At the end of the day they’re worried about your safety more than anything else.