Web site stirs schools, parents, students
MySpace.com draws ire, teen devotion, crackdowns
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
But for a while there, it seemed like everyone was on MySpace in computer labs during class, says Gaithersburg High School sophomore Brittany Duff, browsing through classmates’ profiles, posting photos, just generally mongering gossip and teenage folly — school administrators for months without the slightest notion of what was going on.
‘‘No idea,” the 15-year-old said recently, shaking her head as she smiled at the ceiling of her Montgomery Village home. ‘‘No idea.”
MySpace was not on the county’s list of blocked sites at the beginning of the year but was by the holidays because of its ‘‘pornographic” content, said schools’ spokesman Brian Edwards.
The county’s reasoning echoes a growing cry from school systems across the country scrambling to respond.
No one argues against barring MySpace from school computers during school hours. Where nerves get frayed is in the lengths to which some school systems are going to punish students for what they put on their profiles — suspending and expelling students, some even barring students from having a MySpace profile at all.
‘‘It’s important that schools recognize the dividing line. I don’t really see this as being a significant difference from the school going to the local library and seeing what books they check out,” he said.
Though Gaithersburg, Quince Orchard and Watkins Mill high schools have yet to suspend or expel students for MySpace, the school system suggested that computer administrators at each school go onto MySpace to see what students have on their profiles, says Paul Dance, Watkins Mill’s user support specialist. He says he has not done so.
And despite county schools’ best efforts in filtering out MySpace, Dance says, it has by no means kept the more tech-savvy students from finding ways around the blocks.
Launched more than two years ago, MySpace’s no-cost, all-in-one model is nothing new.
Answer questions about music, movies and books. Post photos. Connect your profile to your friends’. Sound off on the blog feature — shorthand for Web log, like an online diary.
What separates MySpace is that a few clicks of the mouse links its members up to the intimate, if not explicit, lives of 61 million MySpace users.
One hundred ninety-two of them are friends linked directly to the profile of Gaithersburg high sophomore Kelly Holleran.
The 16-year-old scores a resounding understatement when she describes how MySpace has become more than a fad.
‘‘MySpace is almost like a virtual popularity contest, almost to see how elite you can be... to see how many comments you can get, who can post the funniest pictures, the sexiest pictures,” she says.
Which, she adds, can get more than racy.
‘‘It can be really gross. There’ll be pictures of kids standing around kegs, doing drugs or smoking pot... girls dress in their bra and take pictures... They may as well be in Playboy.”
By exercising a little common sense, Holleran and Duff have learned to navigate their way around fears of sexual harassment and online predators. One, don’t accept messages from strangers. Two, don’t post too-personal information — these days, Duff’s profile says she lives in Canada.
But not all teens, they said, are as conscious of the dangers as they could be.
‘‘I don’t think they’re that aware at all. They don’t care; they figure it won’t happen to them,” Duff says.
Anita Stonebraker warns as many fellow parents in the Gaithersburg Parent Teacher Student Association about MySpace as she can. The problem is that, besides the one friend who equates it to ‘‘a catalog for pedophiles,” very few parents have even an inkling of what’s going on.
Which leaves keeping as much dialogue going as possible the best a parent can do, says Deanna Duff, Brittany’s mother.
‘‘I trust my kids that they’re not going to put anything on their grandmother wouldn’t approve of,” she says. ‘‘It comes back down to core family values and parents being parents. You can’t put it on the school system to monitor the kids.”
For all the bluster and to-do, Brittany Duff still thinks this whole MySpace thing has been blown wildly out of proportion, she says.
‘‘It’s just a Web site,” she says. ‘‘It’s not like it can ruin the world or anything.”
Now if only she and her friends weren’t having such a hard time quitting MySpace, she says, laughing — or at least just curbing it a bit.
Comments from readers
Writer from Rockville
I have a sister in high school that has a profile on myspace and she only uses it at home.
I do think that the school administrators should block the usage while at school, however, the school has no right to discipline a student for what they posted or did on the website. That is up to the parents to handle.
Writer from Silver Spring
Another site to consider for the block list is Xanga. When I discovered my niece and daughter used this site for their blog, I was so surprised to see one of their friends used racial slurs on their page. My niece and daughter discontinued and their blog. They may have told their friend as well because his page disappeared.