Modern Mating

When Technology and the Sexes Collide

Thursday, February 23, 2006

MySpace - is it possessed?




Poor Rupert Murdoch. In July of 2005 he spends $580 million to acquire MySpace.com (and the other Intermix sites), which heralds his company's first substantial foray into social networking and which represents an obvious strategy (ploy?) to appeal to a crowd a fraction of Murdoch's age (he's 74).

MySpace began in 2003 as a place where musicians could advertise and interact with their fan base. However, it quickly outgrew its initial mandate, quickly surpassing Friendster as the top social networking site. It is a frisky environment that holds particular appeal to the kind of person who is past puberty but not ready to settle down. Say, for adolescents between the ages of 14 and 40.

So far so good for Rupert....It was an investment that was heralded as genius, that is, when it wasn't accused of being an expensive indulgence. Unfortunately, a slew of bizarre and lurid tales began to emerge where MySpace played a starring role.

Zach Stark, a gay teen from a devout Christian household in Tennessee, garnered considerable attention when he wrote on his MySpace blog regarding his concerns about going to an eight week long summer camp that would try to change his sexual preference. In June, Zach blogged about coming out to his family and about how he was not eager to attend a branch of Love in Action, where his honosexuality would be "cured". Soon, activists formed the Queer Action Coalition and began demonstrating at the offices of Love in Action on behalf of Zach and other teens who might be confronting similar issues.
Zach Stark update

When two young college students in New York, Maria Pesantez and Mellie Carballo, were found dead of a cocaine and heroin overdose, rumors abounded. Were these girls regular drug users who just happened to score some unusually pure stuff, or were they victims of predators who coerced them to take the drugs or somehow took advantage of their naivete? Both of the young women had MySpace profiles which contained references to drugs, suggesting that neither woman was an inexperienced drug-user, and that their deaths, though tragic, were accidental. They took heroin and it killed them.
Maria and Mellie Get Lost, New York Magazine - Sept 2005

When the parents of Kara Borden, a Pennsylvania teenager, were found dead, it didn't take long for investigators to discover that the missing girl and David Ludwig, her missing boyfriend, each had profiles on MySpace. While their pages were reported by to very innocent, after the murders, the pages took on a whole new specter. People prowled the sites, leaving comments about the murder and messages for the teens. There was so much voyeuristic rubber-necking that access to the blogs was restricted.
When Murder Hits the Blogosphere

In December 2005, John Gaumer, a biochemistry major at the University of Maryland, beat a woman to death. Where did they first meet? MySpace.
Former Student Admits to Killing Internet Date

And where do pedophiles go to find young men and women to exploit? MySpace, of course. There have been a multitude of sting operations where police or volunteers (or TV producers) pretended to be children who engaged in online and phone conversations with men. And whenever the men suggested a sexual encounter, the "child" would acquiesce and a meeting would be arranged. In the most recent sting operation, thirteen men were lured to a Laguna Beach apartment, each hoping to seduce a teenage girl. The men arrived at the apartment with flowers, cameras and alcohol, and left in custody.
Laguna Sting, LA Times - Feb 23, 2006

Is MySpace responsible for these incidents? No. It's simply the preferred forum for teenagers and twenty-somethings, an age group not known for maturity and self-restraint. MySpace has age restrictions in place, and though they can be easily circumvented, simple supervision of Internet usage can address the most outrageous problems that arise when children go online.

These virtual environments are incredibly popular because they are far more liberating than the physical environments available to most kids. Online, it is possible to explore, engage and reinvent yourself often. Daily, even. And this flexibility and pacing is harmonized with the needs of a population still figuring itself out. The demonization of MySpace (and Xanga and other youth-oriented social networking sites) is mostly about the media doing what it always does....Piling onto an issue and perpetuating fear. Youth culture has always been terrifying to adults. From Elvis Presley, to Woodstock, to Marilyn Manson, to MySpace. Unfortunately, these stories only serve to highlight rare events and make them seem far more commonplace than they really are.

Do some dreadful acts have a connection to MySpace? Sure. But with over 40 million members, it would be astonishing if the site weren't linked to current events.