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MySpace, a place without MyParents

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Comment Like, ohmigod! Have you heard? About MySpace? LOL

MySpace is the second most popular web property in the world. Since appearing in January 2004, the site currently has 87m accounts, and it's adding around 270,000 new users a day. Of those 87m, about one-fourth are minors.

In fact, the site grew 752 per cent in one year, one of the largest - if not the largest - expansions on the web in history. That might explain why Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace for $580mn a year ago. Murdoch's no dummy, and it seems like it was a pretty smart decision, since the site pulls in around $13m each month from advertising sales.<br/>

But, like, have you heard? There are sexual predators, paedophiles, murderers, bullies, tramps, sharpies, and frauds on MySpace! The children are at risk! Just visit MyCrimeSpace or The Dead Kids Of MySpace and you'll find a bellyful of stories that will scare the willies out of you.

I spent around four hours last night reading many of them, and they collectively are portraits of the dregs - or at least the really stupid members - of society.

John R Wentworth, 27, of Illinois struck up a conversation with a 14-year-old girl on MySpace and tried to meet her for sex, but was arrested. (For similar stories, just see Jay D Coffield, 44, of Illinois; Mark Darragh, 21, also of Illinois; and a 25-year-old Steven Builta from Indiana. And there are lots more where those came from.

Two teenage girls near Toledo posted death threats targeting a 15-year-old fellow student on their MySpace pages.

Michael Ramos, 48, was arrested for trying to hook up with Jessica, a 15-year-old, for sex near Ontario after chatting with her on MySpace. Unfortunately for Ramos, there was no Jessica; several teenage boys had created a MySpace account for a fake girl in order to cheer up a buddy who had recently broken up with his girlfriend, and Ramos started chatting instead.

In Boulder, Colorado, seven men befriended a woman on MySpace, invited her to a party, and then sexually assaulted and beat her.

A 16-year-old girl met a guy on MySpace who claimed to be a 25-year-old living in Jericho. As in the Middle East. So she tricked her parents into getting her a passport and then hopped on a plane to Israel. US officials persuaded her to go back home.

A 14-year-old girl claims she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old she corresponded with on MySpace. She's suing her accused attacker and MySpace for $30m (for a good look at the likely success of those suits, see Anita Ramasastry's "A Fourteen-Year-Old Girl's Suit Against MySpace" at the always-excellent FindLaw).

Two girls - 14 and 15-years-old - chatted on MySpace with a man for two weeks, claiming to be an 18-year-old named "Natalia". When the man showed up for a tryst at Natalia's supposed apartment, the two girls robbed him at gunpoint!

Believe me, there are plenty more where those came from. It's gotten so bad that legislators are considering laws that would ban cyberbullying using sites like MySpace, parents can spy on their kids' MySpace pages for the low low low fee of just $6 a month, and various branches of the Boys and Girls Club of America are banning access to MySpace in computer labs, and certain high schools are instituting ridiculously overbearing punishments to students who create fake MySpace pages lampooning school administrators.

Folks, we are in the midst of a mass hysteria. The media has found the latest way to drive readers and ratings: the good ol' fashioned gumbo stew of children and teens, sexuality, murder and death, new technology, and fear. Lots and lots of fear. Fear that freaks out parents and those in authority and leads to bad decisions made in the name of security.

Look, I know there are really bad people using MySpace to do really bad things. If its criminal, they should be caught and punished. But I also know that there are really bad people in the grocery stores, at the movie theaters, in parks, and even on the other end of the phone.

When I was a high school English teacher many years ago, I had a 9th grade student who confided a terrible story to me one day. When she was in the 8th grade, she started prank calling people on weekends to break up her boredom. One Saturday night the guy on the other end of the phone didn't hang up like all the others. Instead, he talked to her. The phone talks continued, and soon they met. You can guess the rest. Months went by, during which she was molested by this man in his 40s; eventually she found herself pregnant at 14. It was a terrible ordeal that she overcame due to her inner strength and the support of her family.

So since that sicko used the telephone to meet his victim, we should ban phones? Or at least tightly control how kids use them, with age restrictions and credit card verifications? Of course not. The fact is, every new technology has been used by people to perform, or enable, illicit and illegal acts. MySpace, and the internet in general, simply expands the ability of people to communicate easily over distance more than any other tool that humanity has created. The fact that it's been adopted so wholeheartedly by teenagers freaks out adults who don't know how to control MySpace and its ilk.

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