The collection of images and news stories, published by The Times on March 9, describing participation by some Vineyard young people in the online phenomenon known as Myspace.com, inspired conversations, Letters to the Editor, and three pages of postings on the Readers Forum on the newspaper's web site. This week, in a series of presentations for adults and students in kindergarten through grade 12, sponsored jointly by the Island schools and the newspaper, Katelyn M. LeClerc, the Internet Crimes Against Children Internet Safety Program Coordinator in the Corruption, Fraud and Computer Crime Division of the Office of Attorney General Thomas Reilly, will discuss the risks attached to such communication tools as sites such as MySpace offer. She will also discuss strategies for navigating safely across the wild, wild web. Miss LeClerc delivers her message directly, as the one hundred or so adults who attended Tuesday evening's session discovered.
In March, the Times coverage of MySpace set out to understand how it and other sites like it worked. We wanted to learn how Island kids used MySpace. Above all, we wanted to put the issues raised by the coverage in front of Islanders generally and Island teens, parents, and educators in particular. Ms. LeClerc's presentations do just that.
The reaction to the March news coverage was vigorous and often critical. Young people, some of them Myspace posters, were often 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 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 common complaint was that that exposing Vineyard teens who are Myspace posters was an invasion of the posters' privacy, and that doing so might harm them. Others complained that the coverage was sensational and voyeuristic.
All of the criticisms missed the important point. What we learned and shared with the community of Island readers is that few of the members of these important groups, including parents and teachers but also the young people using such sites, thoroughly understood MySpace or sites like it, with all the associated risks and commercial exploitation. And, few knew much about the critical use of the web generally. That's why Ms. LeClerc's programs are so welcome.
The questions the web raises require thoughtful consideration, answers, and action not just by teenage posters but by parents, educators, and counselors who work with young people. Ms. LeClerc will help identify those answers.
For educators in particular, the question is whether students, faced with the inviting nature of the web and the false impression that online participation is somehow anonymous and private, have been taught the strategies that might help them to evaluate in a critical and informed way the information and opportunities available on the diverse, indispensable, but often weird, wacky, and even dangerous web.