MySpace & Parental Responsibility

Over the last year or so, I have been hearing stories of parents sueing MySpace for not protecting their children adequately from predators, the latest one coming from four families from different parts of the United States. When I read articles like this one, I have a tendency to get quite irate. Like so many other issues in our ‘civilized’ world, when bad things happen, we need someone to blame.

Interestingly, Law & Order did a show on a crime that occured that was linked to a “BFriendz” social networking site. I was impressed with how they doled out responsibility on the show – citing that the company did have to be more legally responsible; especially when complaints are filed, but when the parents were crying that they couldnt have done anything, good ‘ole McCoy stated that indeed, they could have, seeing as their daughter’s internet activity happened in their home, on their computer. That as parents, they have a responsibility to know what their children are doing on the very public World Wide Web. Again, to be fair to the differences of the actual cases and the television show, the daughter in the show was not the victim.

I don’t want to be someone who said that the victims involved in the crimes detailed in this article were asking for what happened to them, no one deserves to be harmed. But what I don’t understand, is why the onus lies on the company and not the parents for these bad things. I don’t want to be mean-spirited towards those involved but as a mother two web using daughters, I understand that it is my responsibility to make sure that I know what my children are up to when on the internet. For partly this reason, our ‘family’ computer is in our living room, in plain view of our everyday activities.

There is no parental control on the internet – believing (sadly perhaps) in a panoptic type of surveillance. My children know that I may not ask what they are doing on every click, but I reserve the right to read over their shoulder at my discretion. Sure, they don’t like it – but they understand that its better than the alternative. It allows them to make decisions on their own, and we talk regularly about what is acceptable behavior online and what is not. I check their favorites, and google my children’s name from time to time as well – they know this and usually behave accordingly.

To be fair, it has not always been a perfect rose colored journey, I have caught my daughter pretending to be a year or two older than she actually is. And in those cases, we have talked about the consequences of doing so. As well as the golden rule of not sharing our personal information such as last names, addresses, the city we live in or the school they go to. I have been told, by friends, that it is different because I study social issues in technology, am technologically advanced, am open minded, have a close relationship with my children. Shouldn’t this be the norm and not the exception??

The question that I have is, if this were to happen in a coffee shop – where a teenage girl met a man who she befriended (because you cannot be ‘friends’ or meet people on MySpace without having some communication with them – especially if the user is underage). If they were to meet in a coffee shop – a public, social place where networking happens, and something bad happened to the girl as a result would the owner of the coffee shop be liable? As an extreme example, they have already dismissed gun manufacturors as responsible if one of their guns were used in a crime – is this any different?

Do the parents feel that they had any part in what happened? Did the predators hack their computers and find out where they lived? I don’t know – to me, there are just so many other questions and places to point the finger – maybe we just have to point more than one finger … I don’t know, but when I read things like this, it makes me sad.

/rant off

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