Questions for all
The collection of images and news stories, published on March 9, describing participation by some Vineyard young people in the online phenomenon known as Myspace.com has inspired conversations, Letters to the Editor, and three pages of postings on the Readers Forum on The Times' web site. More than 800 visitors have visited to read the postings.
We hope it's also led to straight talk between parents and children at the family dinner table.
Many of the comments have come from young people, some of them Myspace posters, almost all of them indignant at the attention given Myspace by The Times and particularly the images of Vineyard young people, disguised by the newspaper but recognizable with a little effort by friends and family. The critics have complained variously that the news coverage focused unfairly on the deplorable aspects of some postings on Myspace, when in fact lots of posters have only innocent communication in mind. Another criticism has been that exposing Vineyard teens who are Myspace posters is an invasion of the posters' privacy, and that it may harm them. Others complain that the coverage was sensational and voyeuristic.
None of these criticisms is persuasive. There are many innocent postings on Myspace, true enough, but a broad review reveals that postings such as were discussed in The Times coverage and reflected in the images we published are common across the site, and many of them, including postings by Vineyard youngsters, are more revealing, more tasteless, and more foolish than any we illustrated two weeks ago. The notion that the Vineyard posters were participating in an activity to which some assurance of bulletproof privacy adheres, or that, because the largest share of the Myspace audience is global, not Vineyard, there is some license to post provocative and personal information without worrying that friends and family will encounter it defies common sense. If the posting is foolish and tasteless and worse, that's what it is, even if a parent or neighbor or teacher or employer never comes across it.
But really, the young people who've reacted so strongly to the Myspace stories are only a small segment of the audience for this information. The questions the coverage raises require consideration, answers, and action by not only teenage posters - many of whom took immediate action to remove their questionable posts before parents found them - but by those parents, educators, and counselors who work with young people. What are the questions?
Shocked parents who were unfamiliar with Myspace - or with other, similar sites that their children probably know very well - will certainly ask, is my Jill or John a Myspace poster? And, what do their postings look like? And, should I monitor my child's online activities? Most important, if Pete or Jane is posing partly clothed, or worse, and writing about drinking and drugging, are they really doing that stuff? If not, why are they imagining themselves doing it? And, what should I, the parent, do about it?
Educators will ask, Have we considered with our students the inviting nature of the web and the false impression that online participation is somehow anonymous and private? Have we discussed with parents as well as students the strategies that might help young people to evaluate and make judgments about the daily media influences - in the music they listen to, on television, on the radio, in movie, TV, and celebrity magazines - that affect their everyday decision-making about what's right and what's not? Have we trained students to evaluate in a critical and informed way the information available on the diverse, indispensable, but often weird and wacky web?
But these are just a few of the questions for students, parents, and educators. You will certainly think of others.