LYNN NEARY, host:
From NPR News in Washington, I'm Lynn Neary, and this is TALK OF THE NATION.
For teenagers these days, the place to be is not the mall. It isn't really even a place. It's Myspace.com, the social scene for a generation. Kids post their own pictures and stories on the site. They make friends there. They even find out about the hottest bands says Thomas Anderson, president of Myspace.com.
Mr. THOMAS ANDERSON (President, Myspace.com): It's very natural, I think. It's really not so much different than if you were at friend's house and you were hearing some music or your friend just tells you about it, but it's accelerated by the fact that people are online, and they're hearing bands that they just never would have heard of before.
NEARY: But parents and schools aren't sold on Myspace. They worry it makes kids vulnerable. Kids and Myspace.com, it's TALK OF THE NATION.
NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
Remember when you couldn't get your teenager off the phone? Well, try dragging them away from the computer, and these days it's all about Myspace.com, an online community that packs in personal information about more than 50 million people.
Myspace is a mammoth networking system where people can create their own community of friends. It's a meeting space where they publish bulletins, create journals, post pictures and comments, all to the soundtrack of their own choosing. But mostly Myspace is their own personal mall to cruise. They wonder from page to page in the complicated network that allows people to find more and more new friends, often complete strangers. It's a process called friending, and it's this process that has parents worried. Schools are banning the website from computers, and safety experts are concerned about teens posting risqué pictures and personal information in an arena that is too large to police properly.
Kids say it's an outlet for creativity and connectivity. Parents think it's a fertile ground for predators as well as school bullies. This hour we'll take a look at Myspace with researchers and advocates, why it's so popular, and what the real dangers are.
Later in the hour, we'll talk about Sandra Day O'Connor's low-key last day. But first, are you a teenager with a Myspace webpage? And why do you like to hangout there so much? Or are you a parent with concerns about who's looking into your child's Myspace webpage? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK, and our e-mail address is email@example.com.
Here to talk about the evolution of Myspace, and other social networking sites that teens are flocking to, is Amanda Lenhart. She is a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and she joins me here in studio 3A. Welcome to the program.
Ms. AMANDA LENHART (Senior Research Specialist, Pew Internet and American Life Project): Thanks for having me.
NEARY: So this may be a foreign idea to some of our listeners. So why don't you explain what these social networking sites, such as Myspace, what they are.
Ms. LENHART: Well, really what it is is it's a web page that allows you to construct and display your relationships to other people, on a very basic level. In the case of Myspace, it's a way to show your friends. In cases of other kinds of social networking websites, like, for instance, LinkedIn is one for showing and displaying business contacts.
So it's not necessarily just friends, but it's a way of showing your social network and displaying it in a visual way and in a way that you can travel around and see how everyone is interconnected.
NEARY: Why is Myspace getting so much attention? I mean, this is not the first social networking site. There have been many others, Friendster, for example. Why is Myspace getting so much scrutiny? Is there something essentially different about it?
Ms. LENHART: Well, Myspace is really bringing together a lot of different elements into one place. Myspace is, in fact, much more than just a social networking site. It's almost the perfect storm of a lot of things that are very appealing, particularly to teens and young adults.
Myspace allows you to connect with your friends, but it also, as you mentioned earlier, it allows you to discover new music, it allows you to instant message friends, send e-mails to people within the Myspace portal, it allows you to post photos of yourself, allows you to post videos. It can allow you to have a music soundtrack to your web page, and it even allows you to ask people to rate a photograph of yourself along the am-I-hot-or-not scheme.
NEARY: Which is the kind of thing that drives parents crazy.
Ms. LENHART: Sure. Absolutely, absolutely. But it really does bring together a lot of different elements in one place, and I think that's a really major part of its appeal.
NEARY: Now, also, a site like Friendster, as I understand it, also would only be open to a certain, to your own personal network. In other words, you would put a page up in Friendster, but only a certain number of your own personal friends could actually go to that page and talk to, they could talk to, your friends could talk to their friends, that sort of thing, but Myspace is more open than that? Is that correct?
Ms. LENHART: It really depends on how you set up your particular profile on the site.
NEARY: Mm hmm, mm hmm.
Ms. LENHART: But, yes, Myspace is, it's interesting because Tom, the founder of Myspace, is actually everybody's friend, and so in that way, almost everybody, he is the first person you're ever connected to when you logon to Myspace and when you create a profile. So in fact, everybody who is on Myspace is Tom's friend, and so everybody is actually connected through an extended network on Myspace, and so that's really, I think, how a lot of those connections between ostensible strangers happen through Myspace.
It's a little bit harder on Friendster, but you can still have people e-mail you and ask to become your friend. You then have to approve whether or not they would be your friend.
So there's a lot of different ways that the different websites set it up, and you can decide and calibrate, yourself, what level you want to have strangers contacting you. So it really does depend.
NEARY: All right, let's put this in perspective. How many teens are online? What's the percentage of the online community that is made up by teens?
Ms. LENHART: Teens are, well, out of all teens 12 to 17, 87 percent of them are online. So a very significant percentage. In contrast, there's about 68 percent of adults who are online. So certainly teens are online in much greater numbers.
In terms of what we've looked at at Pew is we've actually looked at content creation. How many teens are online and putting up information about themselves or putting up things that they've created? And we found that of online teens more than half, 57 percent, have actually created some kind of content for the Internet.
NEARY: And generally, they've gone to a place like Myspace to do that? Or they're creating their own sites as well, their own individual sites as well?
Ms. LENHART: That content, we define content creation particularly broadly, so certainly Myspace falls into that category as a place where lots of different kinds of content can be posted very easily. But it also includes things like blogs or other kinds of websites as well.
NEARY: Now, one concern parents have, and this may not be the one that is their biggest concern, but one concern they have is that the fact that kids are spending this much time on a site like Myspace is not good because they're spending too much time on the computer. They're not spending enough time doing other things to begin with.
Ms. LENHART: Well, that certainly is a concern. I mean, from, you know, certainly from anecdotal evidence, we've heard that teens are very interested in Myspace. But we also heard, you know, maybe six months ago or a year ago, that teens were very interested in instant messaging and were spending hours on instant messaging. And then maybe in the past, we would have heard that teens were spending hours and hours on the telephone. So I'm not quite sure how different Myspace is in terms of time spent from other kinds of media that teens are using to connect themselves to other people.
Ms. LENHART: And so I think that this is a really a part and parcel of, it's the next step in the evolution of how teens are connecting with their friends.
NEARY: Have you done any research on how all this is affecting kids at school or at home?
Ms. LENHART: Not specifically. One thing we did look at in our last piece of research was whether or not teens were still spending time with their friends offline as well as online, and we found that, in fact, they're still spending more time offline, outside of school, with their friends than they are online. Not that much more, about two hours more a week. So they certainly are spending a lot of time online with their friends, but face-to-face time is still winning out.
NEARY: Yeah. And how are parents keeping up with this? I mean, one of the things is that what's interesting about this is that for kids, what I've read, is it's almost like the old diary in the sense that they put a lot of their personal thoughts and they put a lot of themselves onto this website, and they don't want their parents to see it, but they don't care if the rest of the world sees it. Just something parents have a hard time sort of, you know, coming to grips with.
Ms. LENHART: Well, you know, I think it's one of the interesting things about these online spaces of public presentation, as it were, like blogs and like Myspace. It's that you think, you know, when you create them, and I think this is the same for adults as well, is that you know that it's public, you feel that it's public, and yet at the same time, because it's you interacting with the screen, there's no other physical audience present, it feels very personal, it feels very private, and I think it's definitely created with the audience of teens and your peers in mind. It's not created for a parent audience.
And so I think, even though teens know that it is public, I think they have a sense that they're, it will be private from their parents.
NEARY: Can parents go see it? I mean, can, is there any way that kids could block their parents from seeing their...
Ms. LENHART: No. I mean, it's really sort of the safety in numbers. It's that there are so many pages on Myspace that unless your parents happen to know your URL or your username, that they would have to stumble upon it just like anyone else. Though presumably, if you're using the same computer, parents wouldn't have to dig too far to find your Myspace page.
NEARY: We are talking about Myspace.com, whether it's good or bad for kids, and the number if you'd like to join the conversation is 800-989-8255. Let's take a call from Steven and he is in Berkeley, California. Hi, Steven.
STEVEN (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to bring up something that happened with my daughter on Myspace.com. My wife discovers that she, I don't recall how she discovered it, but there's my daughter's picture on there, which I thought was, she's 12 but she feels older, was a rather revealing, you know, it just looked too much like a young woman picture, and she had, you know her name, her actual name there, and you know, anyone could contact her, and I'm concerned what prevents a predator who poses as a young kid, from trying to get a hold of my daughter and meeting up with her. We actually pulled her off for that reason.
NEARY: Yeah, that actually goes to the heart of it. And I just have to ask a question. Did you say this was on Myspace and your daughter's 12?
NEARY: Because there are age, go ahead, Amanda.
Ms. LENHART: My Space does have, it actually asks that. It requires that you be 14 or older to be on the site.
STEVEN: Then how come she was there? That's the whole thing that got me.
Ms. LENHART: I'm guessing that she probably did not, was not truthful about her age when she signed up for the site because if you actually do give an age under the age of 14 you are not supposed to be allowed to register, and if they find out that you're under 14 they do promise to take you off. Of course, there are 50 million pages and so it's entirely possible that, you know, your daughter slipped through the cracks or she said she was 14 or 15 in order to get on the site.
NEARY: So, how do they determine whether a child is 14 or not?
LENHART: They ask you to verify your age, and if you give a false age you can certainly easily register for the site. So, it's not a perfect solution. They have this information on the site, but clearly it is possible for younger people to register for the site.
NEARY: What was your daughter's reaction when you took her off the site?
STEVEN: She was angry and she was embarrassed, both, because every 12-year-old thinks of themselves as a 15 or 16 year old and probably you can push that age limit up. In a way, I wouldn't mind her being there if I had some way of knowing, you know, just anything that looked like a warning sign that this is not good so I could, you know, any conversation or something that would promote my just kind of checking it out, but we found out by accident, and it is a little unnerving after reading about some odd contacts that have gone on with young, you know, preteen kids, or tweens, as I call them.
Ms. LENHART: I think this is the perfect example. You happened to stumble across it and it's good that you did, but this is why I think, unfortunately it's another thing parents need to be thinking about is staying vigilant, particularly for the middle school years where I think teens are, frankly, exploring sexuality, exploring themselves, as your daughter put up a picture of herself where she looked older. It's this time when they want to try to play with the big kids, and yet at the same time don't quite understand the consequences. It's right for you to be vigilant.
STEVEN: Yeah, and I think you hit the nail on the head. They don't quite understand how they're perceived, but they want to be perceived older, but they don't know the consequences of that at all, and I don't want to jump in there and be so in her face, but then I'm not trusted, you know. It's a difficult dance.
NEARY: Steven would you be upset if she went into MySpace and did the same thing two years form now when she's 14, or would you feel the same way?
STEVEN: I would qualify that with I'd like to see, engage her..
NEARY: All right. We're going to have to take a break.
STEVEN: So, anyway thanks.
NEARY: Thank you very much for the call. We're talking about the Web site www.Myspace.com. We're taking your calls. I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR NEWS.
(Soundbite of music)
NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.
We're talking about the very popular Web site, MySpace.com and how it's changing the social life of teenagers. With me still in the studio is Amanda Lenhart, and I just want to ask you one last question before I let you go Amanda. What does the research say about whether or not this phenomenon is going to continue? Is it going to become uncool at some point or is it going to explode? Is it going to become even more popular than it is now?
Ms. LENHART: Well, it's pretty popular right now, certainly. You know, I think it's really hard to know what's going to happen with MySpace. In many things we've seen that have been very popular with teens in the past it sort of reaches this apex, and then it drops, and it becomes uncool, or known, and teens often move on to the next big thing. MySpace has a lot going for it though. It has a lot of elements that I think are very appealing to this demographic and this age group. So, I expect it will continue to be popular for quite some time.
NEARY: Well, thanks so much for joining us today, Amanda.
Ms. LENHART: Thank you for having me.
NEARY: Amanda Lenhart is Senior Research Specialist at the Pugh Internet and American Life Project. Dana Boyce is a researcher at Yahoo! Research Berkeley and is working on her PhD in emergent social technologies. That means she's paying a lot of attention to MySpace.com and she joins us now from the studios at the University of Berkeley. Thanks so much for being with us.
Ms. DANA BOYCE (Researcher, Yahoo! Research Berkeley): Thank you.
NEARY: Dana, you studied this from an academic perspective. So, give us a sense of where MySpace fits in as a new media form.
Ms. BOYD: Sure. Over the last couple of years, as Amanda mentioned, there've been this different social network sites, and what they've become is an opportunity to create a public online. We've seen this in different forms, first with all of the blogs that have come out in the last couple of years, and then next with these social networking sites, and again they're just opportunities for groups to gather now that most people are online. So, in a sense this is a next generation from things like news groups, and chat rooms, and bulletin boards, and this is the new version.
NEARY: Yeah. Now, we just heard a parent. Did you hear the call from the parent?
Ms. BOYD: Mm hmmm.
NEARY: We just heard a parent who I that we're right, he just hit the nail on the head of what people are really concerned about with sites like MySpace, and particularly with MySpace, and that is his 12-year-old got on, was posing in a way that really made her look older than she is, but you feel there's also some good things about it. What are they?
Ms. BOYD: Well, first to talk about what Steven was referencing. Yes, kids are going online and they're putting up pictures of themselves as much older. Part of it is to figure out who they are as a way of testing out the social norms, the social boundaries, and this is the type of thing they're actually doing in school. They were doing it in the malls. They're doing in any sort of public space, but what MySpace and these different sites do is let parents, let adults, come in and look, and they're mixing different teen groups of all different ages, you know, in one setting. So, it's a mixture of these different populations, the opportunity for surveillance that makes it feel much stranger, even though the practices and behaviors that you've seen with teens have continued for a long time.
NEARY: It makes it seem much stranger, and also could be more dangerous in the sense that in the same way that there's no way of knowing the 12-year-old is on even though the age limit is 14, There's really no way of knowing if a 50-year old man is on looking for a 12-year-old girl.
BOYD: Of course, the thing to know though is, I kind of joke around that there have been more articles about predators online than any record of any predators online. Most of the predators, you know the type of behaviors that we think of, the violence, the kidnapping, you know, the seducing of young children; actually happens in the physical world. It happens in your neighborhood. It happens in the schoolyards. It happens in those spaces far more than it happens online. Part of it is that there is a distance, right. These youths may be online, but they're actually not going out and meeting people.
They're mostly concerned with hanging out with their friends; and yeah, they may be visible to adults in the same way that they're visible in the mall; but they're not actually interacting with them. They're not even really interacting with strangers. Ninety percent of the behaviors online are talking to your friends or the people you sort of know from school, the friends of the friends. The people that are somewhat familiar to you; and the people that you know you will talk to online because they share an interest; but it's just an online relationship. It's not something that moves to the off-line in most cases.
NEARY: Well, let's talk about what we might call the generational disconnect happening here. It's a real phenomenon for kids. They all want to be there apparently. It is the place to be. It is a cool place to be; and parents, apparently many parents are really don't understand, don't get it really; and are very concerned about it.
BOYD: Right, and the key for parents is actually to create a relationship of trust. You know, most of the parents that I've talked to that know about their kids' My Space or their kids blogs; they'll have a conversation with them rather than going in and trying to lurk and stare at what their kids are doing without their permission. In the same way that, you know, yes a parent can actually go into a teenagers room and read their diary; but it's not meant for them, or the school letters, or the notes that get passed back and forth. These are social spaces that, you know, youth really want to have; and the thing to also realize is that youth's life has actually changed dramatically in the last couple of years.
Teenagers used to actually have public spaces that they could go and hang out, the malls, the roller rinks, the cafes. These type of places no longer exist; and most teens go from school, which they have three-minute passing times, they're rushed over and over again to activity, to activity, to home; and so what they're doing online is trying to actually have that kind of a public social gathering space that has been, in many ways, removed from the physical world; and it's one of the tensions that people say, why are these kids spending so much time online? It's because they're not actually allowed to go out. There is no place for them in the physical world. So, they're finding a place to hang out, you know, in an unstructured environment online.
NEARY: And yet in these public spaces that are being created online they are posting frequently very private ideas, and thoughts, and pictures.
BOYD: And this again is something that is historically part of teen culture. One of the tricks, you know, you used to see it around fashion. It became really visible. To wear something so inappropriate your parents hated what you were wearing; and you would go in order to see the reactions, right, get peer validation; then find the sort of frustration point with adults. It's like testing out where you fit into sort of the social structure. And so, they're doing this online and what they're providing in terms of personal materials isn't necessarily that truthful. It's not necessarily like the fact. It's just a matter of throwing things out there just to see some of those social reactions.
You know, the types of things that used to be passed around in notes that people would write on lockers, you know, all of this material that's just about testing out the social ability of every day space; and a lot of it disappears. You know people update their profiles on My Space on a weekly basis. They get to create their environment. I think one of the big shifts that we're dealing with, more so in the blogging aspect of My Space, is that this material is persistent; and we're not used to having that kind of performative material be persistent and be available in future years.
NEARY: We're talking about www.Myspace.com. If you'd like to join the conversation, the number is 800-9880-8255. Let's take a call from David and he is in Arizona.
DAVID (Caller): Hi. One thing I'd like to say is the way that My Space is set up, the structure of it, on the personal page a person lists all of their friends, or many of their friends, and their contact information; and also My Space gives information, if possible, to know who among the friends is online. So, if there's a, I'm not talking about predators now. I'm really talking about bullies and this is a carry over bullying from school; but it's giving them a new technology.
So they know the contact information of a person's friends; whether or not they're online at the same time. They don't know for sure they're talking, but they can guess; and it's possible to pass very outrageous rumors around to all of the friends, and make outrageous statements about behaviors, or feelings, and things about a child.
NEARY: David, thanks so much for that call. Dana, I think David is raising the other big concern parents have; and that is the problem of bullying and that it's extended on www.Myspace.com.
BOYD: Most definitely. Again an unfortunate thing that happens given any technology, given any social gathering with youth; and it's one of the reasons that there has been such a pressure to not have the middle school population on this, you know, in connection with the high school population because bullying, in many ways, is much more of a middle school behavior than a high school behavior. It's not something that's really warranted. It doesn't make people feel comfortable.
As far as whether or not you can find out if someone's online, if you look at most teens they're online from 8:00 p.m. on consistently; and it's more odd when they're off-line; but they're actually using, you know, things like instant messenger to track, you know, whether or not somebody's online much more affectively than sites like My Space; and it is unfortunate, you know, people are gathering. One of the things I remember from my teenage years was, you know, people would use the three-way calling on the phone as an opportunity to have somebody come and listen in on a fight that people would pick, you know, on the telephone; and yes it has unfortunately moved to My Space. It is an embarrassment and it's frustrating.
NEARY: And that's not something that can be controlled?
BOYD: No, it's not something, because it's part of that youth culture; and again it's about working with youth, not banning the site; but working with youth to sort of deal with those issues. In many ways it makes it more visible so that people, parents, school administrators, people that are trying to actually work out some of the youth dynamics can actually be more helpful. So, my advice is actually to use it as an opportunity to try and work with your kids instead of try to ban them from the site.
NEARY: All right, let's see if we can take one more call with you. Alma in Phoenix, Arizona. Hi Alma.
ALMA (Caller): Hi Lynn. I just want to make a comment about Myspace. So that your, you know, the kids all want to be in all these conversations and everything. What I did is I set up the Myspace account and also the messenger for my daughter. That way I have access to her passwords and all that. But I did it, me and her did talk about that and I advised her that the only reason why I would have a password for her account was so I can just filter through her items and make sure there's like no threat or predators that are trying to get a hold of her.
And also on the Yahoo! Messenger there is this thing that they have on there where it has archives where you can just look at all past conversations and I pretty much go through those just to make sure that there's nobody trying to harm her or do her any harm in that nature or anything, so.
And another thing is that we do have our computer in our family room, so she doesn't have private time like alone in her room or anything. And she doesn't have any pictures posted either.
NEARY: All right. Thanks very much for your call. Interesting points, Alma. Makes you basically in control of it and has the computer in a public place. Dana?
Ms. BOYCE: And one of the concerns that I have is that while I understand where parents are coming from when they want to have some level of control it is the desire to have private space that's motivating so much of this behavior. And so there's this question of trust. Hopefully Alma and her daughter have been able to sort of work out ways in which they can sort of respect each other in those spaces.
I do like the fact that parents are sort of bringing the computer more into public spaces, not to sit and lurk over them but to have the conversations. You know, to be able to say oh, you know, what are you doing. Talk me through it. walk me through the different things that you're actually finding on the internet. But the danger is when there's so much surveillance this is a big change. We did not have surveillance between parents and youth fifteen years ago and that's what's moving so many of these behaviors more and more underground. And the dangers is the further they go underground the more dangerous they can become. The worse the behaviors that can emerge from them.
NEARY: All right. Dana thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. BOYCE: Thank you.
NEARY: Dana Boyce is a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a researcher at Yahoo! Research Berkeley. Joining us now is Parry Aftab, and she's privacy lawyer and children's advocate specializing in cyber crime. She's also the executive director of the world's largest online safety advocate group, wiredsafety.com. And her safety tips appear on the Myspace.com website. And she joins us from her office. Thanks so much for being with us.
Ms. PARRY AFTAB (Executive Director, Wiredsafety.com): I appreciate being invited.
NEARY: Now what is your relationship with Myspace.com? What is your history with it?
Ms. AFTAB: Well, I run a charity. We're WiredSafety is the world's largest charity that helps and protects people on the internet. And wired safety is working with Myspace and the other leading social networking sites on providing our safety tips and some pointers to them. I'm trying to make it a little safer environment for all of their users, but especially their teens.
NEARY: Now, I don't know if you were listening, but earlier we had a caller who said that his daughter is twelve and the age is supposed to be fourteen, it seems like it's pretty hard to monitor that.
Ms. AFTAB: Well, the problem Myspace is encountering, it's a free site, it's anonymous so you don't have to use a credit card and the kids have learned very quickly that all they have to do is lie about their age. And all of the big, anonymous, free services from AIM to MSN Spaces to the rest of them on down have this problem where the kids have learned to lie and it makes it a problem for any of the site administrators. In Myspace case they're actually looking for kids who're under the age of thirteen. They've got some software to try to spot them and when they find them they shut them down.
NEARY: All right. I just want to remind our listeners that you are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And we are talking about Myspace.com. If you'd like to join the conversation the number is 1-800-989-8255. and we're going to take a call from Spencer and he's calling from Colorado. Hi Spencer.
SPENCER (Caller): Hi, I'd like to take a different perspective on this issue and that is from the teenager perspective where most of us actually don't like Myspace and the only reason we joined is because many of our friends also have joined. And Myspace now has become more of like a circulation of massive chain letters where everyday people would post up the same post, the same surveys and it would be really pointless. So from one perspective of the teenage society many believe that Myspace is just pointless and very boring and in fact many of us would like to not use it again because of what it has become.
NEARY: Well can't you just stop using it?
SPENCER: Excuse me?
NEARY: You said many of you would like to stop using it. Can't you just stop using it?
SPENCER: Well, that's the thing. It's because many of our friends are still on it and we're still connected in this sort of network web society it's very hard to get rid of it because we...
NEARY: Oh, so there's like a peer pressure to use it. Is that what you're saying?
SPENCER: Yes. It's almost like an addiction if you can call it that.
NEARY: Huh, that's interesting. Thanks for calling Spencer.
SPENCER: Yes. No problem.
NEARY: Parry, I don't know if you have a reaction to that, but it goes back a little bit I think also to what we were talking about earlier and that is cyber bullying. This idea that there's peer pressure to be on it and that when you're on it you can be a victim of negative peer pressure as well.
Ms. AFTAB: Well, you can. At our stopcyberbullying.org page we do a great deal in the area of cyber bullying and cyber harassment. But I think the point that was made by that last caller is that when you post information for all of your friends to see, because teens use it to talk to their friends, your friends have to be there to see it which means they have to be users. So if you've got to check in Myspace to see what your friends are saying you're going to keep your page up there anyways. So it's not even that there's pressure to be there, it's that's where the information is that your friends are posting that you now need to read.
NEARY: Well, we heard Dana Boyce talk earlier about the fact that this can be an issue where it can be a breakdown of trust between parents and kids if parents become too overbearing about this. How do you tell parents to talk to their kids about these kinds of websites, Myspace in particular? How to use them safely and how to understand how they're vulnerable when they go onto these?
Ms. AFTAB: Well, before I even get to there what I'd like to tell parents...
NEARY: We just have a minute to go so go ahead.
Ms. AFTAB: Ok. I want parents to recognize that reading a child's diary that's locked in their bedroom that's between their child and the written page is very different from reading something that's publicly viewable to potentially 700 million people online. So it's not spying if a parent sees what's publicly available on the Myspace page. I think parents should do that. It's like viewing a billboard on a super highway. Now, talk to your kids. I think Dana was right. You should sit down and get a surfing lesson from them. I always tell parents to say if you have a page I want to see it tomorrow. Give them a day to clean it up for the first time and thereafter you're not going to give them warning. Let them know you're going to check back.
NEARY: All right Parry, I'm afraid I'm going to have to interrupt you right there. We're out of time. Thanks so much for being with us. Parry Aftab is a privacy lawyer and children's advocate specializing in cyber crime. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
(Soundbite of music)
NEARY: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.
Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated column 'Ask Amy' for the Chicago Tribune and she's been hearing a lot about Myspace.com and not just from teenagers. She's in our Chicago bureau. Thanks for being with us today Amy.
Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Reporter, Chicago Tribune): Hey Lynn.
NEARY: So Amy when did you start getting letters about Myspace and especially from those adults.
Ms. DICKINSON: I think I started hearing about Myspace about six months ago. And I recently ran a letter in my column from a young woman whose boyfriend was basically cheating on her online and, you know, guess what lying about himself, lying about her and posting very embarrassing information, very personal information about himself, about her. So that started the ball rolling. And then the mail started to fly into my email box. And judging from my mail half of the Myspace users are teenagers and the other half are old, elderly people. I've heard from a lot of older people who love Myspace.
NEARY: Wait. What are these older, elderly people doing on Myspace? I mean are these lurking predators or are they innocent bystanders?
Ms. DICKINSON: No. Here's what they're doing Lynn. They're sharing recipes. They're talking about their pets.
NEARY: On Myspace?
Ms. DICKINSON: And they're reconnecting, a lot of people mentioned, reconnecting with friends from high school. Now, I don't know about your high school experience, but mine was such that I sort of already have all the friends from high school that I want to have and like I don't know if I want to hear from anybody from my 7th grade History class. But...
NEARY: Wait are these people posting picture or are they pretending to be teenagers, I'm confused.
Ms. DICKINSON: Oh, no, no, no. these are people who have their page and they post their photographs of themselves and their dogs and their kids and grandkids and they basically keep a diary on their page. And their friends, you know, it's a huge community so people come onto Myspace and they're like whatever happened to Lynn Neary, let me just check her out. And there you are. And they could read about your recipe for cranberry stuffing. They can read about your dog showing, your ice skating. You know, all these different interests that you have.
NEARY: Well, what advice do you give to, we've been talking here a lot about parents being concerned about this. What kind of advice do you find yourself giving to people about Myspace.com?
Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I mean, as your guests have been saying, I guess I'm a little uncomfortable with the surveillance aspect of it, but I do think it's a really good idea a computer in a public space, you know. I know a lot of kids are wireless. They have laptops. They're walking around the house. They're in their rooms. I think it's a really good idea to do everything you can to be aware of what your kids are doing.
Safety. Safety, safety, safety. You have to talk to your kids about how to comport themselves. How to not share personal information. And I know, I felt that some of your earlier guests were kind of pooh-poohing online predators, but let me tell you. A study recently showed that I thought an alarming high percentage of kids online reported being approached sexually. Now, I'm not saying that they went anywhere or did anything, but they did report contacts from strangers making inappropriate comments or saying things that they felt uncomfortable.
NEARY: All right. Let's see if we can get a call in her now. Laura in Cincinnati.
LAURA (Caller): Hi. Thank you for having me.
NEARY: Go ahead.
LAURA: Well, I just wanted to say that at least at certain high schools like mine Myspace has pretty much become uncool already. I believe my friend used the term sniveling to describe the people on it. It's just mainly people who are complaining about their lives and...
NEARY: Ok, Myspace is uncool. We've heard it here first.
Ms. DICKINSON: And Lynn I want to...
NEARY: Wait, can I ask Laura something? Have they moved on to something else, are people moving on to something else from Myspace, Laura?
LAURA: Not particularly. Some people are staying in Myspace. And, I knew that some people are sticking around and looking at what their friends are posting, just to make sure that nobody posts something bad about them. But, they're pretty much just waiting for something new to turn up.
NEARY: Okay, and I would guess it will, Laura. You probably will not have to wait too long for something new to turn up. But thank you very much for that perspective, I'm glad to hear it.
LAURA: You're welcome.
NEARY: So, just as we get to talking about it, Amy...
DICKINSON: It's so un-cool. I knew it. I knew it would happen. I knew it! I had just embraced it. No, and it's funny Lynn, because I have a 17-year-old daughter who I think is, she's so dorky she's cool. Because she actually is not doing any of this, and has taken, you're not going to believe this, to writing letters. Remember those? Pens, paper, stamps, yeah.
NEARY: Well, that must be your influence.
DICKINSON: I guess, I guess. But you know, here, let me read a little bit from a letter here. This woman wrote to me and she said, I think people like Myspace for the same reason we enjoy reading the diaries and journals of people who lived in generations past. People like to try and imagine what other people's lives are like, even if those people are contemporaries.
Now that, I think, is interesting. Apparently there are people who troll through Myspace looking for really good content. I've heard from several people, you know, there's some really good writers on Myspace.
NEARY: Okay, let's take another call from John (ph), and he is in Minneapolis. Hi, John.
JOHN (Caller): Hi. You know, I thank you so much for taking my call. I can't believe that I actually just heard somebody saying something positive about Myspace.com. I, me and my friends, I'm 23, and me and my friends, the two biggest things we use Myspace for are, number one to find new music. I mean there are thousands of fantastic bands on Myspace, just putting their stuff up for free trying to get audiences. And the other thing that we do all the time is just kind of share political theories, you know? Who's going to run in 2008, how bad the speech was last night, blah, blah, blah.
NEARY: So it's not used, we're, you think we've been giving the impression that it's used only for posting private thoughts and inappropriate pictures and that's not what it's about at all?
JOHN: You know, I, in the last week, I've probably heard about a hundred news reports about Myspace.com, like, nobody knew about it for the first year I was on it, and then all of sudden in the last week it's exploded. And, no, I don't, I think you're definitely giving the wrong impression of it. I mean, you can find some great stuff on Myspace.
NEARY: Well, and I know some bands have gotten records made, gotten big hits made as a result of Myspace, of being heard first on Myspace, or spaces like that.
JOHN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
NEARY: Okay. All right, the power of the internet. Thanks so much for calling in John, and setting us straight. I appreciate that.
And that is one thing that I should have, and meant to bring up, which is that it, one of the reasons that it's such a huge site with young people is, and one of the reasons it's cool, is because they can hear music there that they can't hear elsewhere.
DICKINSON: Right. And Lynn, let me read you another email I got from a reader of mine who said, I've read some amazing poetry and wonderful stories from someone's life that's vastly different from my own. I've read blogs written by doctors and construction workers, professional writers and students.
Several people contacted me and told me that I was whining about Myspace being so boring, because it's, like, people whining about their problems. Several people wrote to me and said, Excuse me, what is an advice column anyway? Except a space where people can whine about their problems?
NEARY: You are the original Myspace, I guess.
DICKINSON: Yeah, I guess so.
NEARY: Let's see if we can get one more call in. Eric, from Flint, Michigan. Hi Eric.
ERIC (Caller): Hi. How're you doing?
NEARY: Good. Go ahead.
ERIC: I just wanted to say, earlier, someone was, the lady from, the graduate student was talking about how that people don't actually meet each other on Myspace, which, I think that is completely false. I know of many people that are on Myspace that have gone to different states and even into Canada just to meet people that they've met on Myspace. And, everybody says, well, you should talk to your kids about safety and everything like that. That's all well and good, but kids in our generation will not listen. And, not only that, but we are, we don't have a place to go where we can just go hang out, which that is true. But, we don't do anything to make a difference about that, we only just go for the quick fix, which is the Myspace and the friendster and the facebook and things like that. And I think that's our main problem as a generation of people, is that we are, we're lazy. We don't want to talk to people face to face anymore, we just want to be able to hide behind our computer screen, put whatever picture we want online and make people think whatever they want to about us.
NEARY: Yes, so it's kind of your, you're playing, is that how you feel? I mean, would you rather meet and talk to people online than face to face?
ERIC: Personally, I wouldn't. I've never been on Myspace, I don't ever plan on joining. But, it, I think we're losing the basis of human interaction between one another. Like, with the cell phones and our, and all, everyone has a computer, and everyone talks online. No one wants to meet somewhere and talk face to face, have an actual conversation with someone else.
NEARY: All right.
ERIC: They just want to say, Hey, you have a nice shirt on, on our Myspace, and this is a nice comment you made, and blah, blah, blah.
NEARY: Okay, thanks so much for your call Eric.
ERIC: Yep, thank you.
NEARY: Amy, I'm going to give you the last word on Myspace. And maybe you're reacting to what Eric was just saying about the fact that a lot of kids in his generation don't want to have that face to face contact, it's kind of easier to go online.
DICKINSON: Well, you know, we parents cart them around doing very structured activities, and then once they get home what do we do? We neglect them. And I think that's not helping at all.
NEARY: All right. Amy, thanks so much for joining us today.
DICKINSON: Thanks, Lynn. L-O-L
NEARY: Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated column Ask Amy, for the Chicago Tribune, and she joined us from our Chicago bureau.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.