I’ve been slowly getting into MySpace and am finding that it’s cool, but every so often I get a friend request from some weirdo or jerk who I not only don’t want to be friends with, but would prefer didn’t know I even existed. Are there some tips on how to avoid the oddballs on MySpace?
I asked my colleague Kevin Farnham about this, as he’s just recently published the book MySpace Safety: 51 Tips for Teens and Parents. Here are some great tips and thoughts he offers:
Interacting with friends using the MySpace.com site is a part of normal life for millions of teens today. There are many benefits to the site, including sharing original music with peers, meeting new people from far away who share similar interests, learning some web technology, and just plain having fun.
However, it is unquestionably true that, despite recent safety-related improvements, people with malicious intent who would prey on teens still lurk on MySpace.com. The question for MySpace teens and parents is: what actions can be taken to prevent unwanted contact from these people?
In our MySpace Safety book we identify five key safety practices that parents can teach to their teens to protect them from unwanted contact by a potentially malicious adult. Many teens will not think about safety practices on their own — they’re too busy having fun online with their friends. For this reason, we strongly recommend that parents share the MySpace experience with their teens by getting a MySpace account and becoming their teen’s MySpace friend. It’s much easier to get safety-related points across to your teen if you can talk using specifics and examples, rather than generalities.
Five Important MySpace Safety Practices
- “Don’t talk to strangers.” Every teen remembers being told “Don’t talk to strangers” and “Never get into a car with a stranger” when they were young. If the rules you were taught about strangers are applied on MySpace whenever someone you don’t know contacts you, the possibility of something bad happening is minimal.
- Don’t be provocative. Your risk will be much further reduced if you do not post provocative content (pictures, comments, blog entries). If you post such content, you’re sending a message to people you don’t know, who may interpret it in ways you don’t expect. If you post such content, you may find yourself contacted by someone who’s pretending to be 18 when they are really 43. This is what happened in several of the most publicized incidents where contact on MySpace led to meetings that turned very bad.
- Don’t post location information. A third level of safety comes from not posting information in your profile or elsewhere that identifies where you live, where you go to school, where you go for fun, what your daily schedule is, what upcoming events you plan to attend, etc. Internet safety experts have recommended against posting this kind of information on public sites for a very long time.
- Configure your MySpace account settings for safety. MySpace provides its own software-embedded safety through account settings, blog settings, picture settings, etc. These settings can be applied to limit who can view your information and posts. The recommended settings for teens and parents concerned about safety and privacy are available at MySpaceSafetyTips.com.
- Think about future consequences. When you’re online, consciously think about the possible impact of what you’re typing into the computer and onto the net. Think about who has the ability to see what you’re typing, not just about the friend or friends for whom you’re specifically writing your post. If it’s something that really only a particular friend or friends should see, then send it in an email message. Yes, email is boring, but if the information is private then safety requires private communication. Think before you publicly post!
If you’re really jumping into MySpace, or are trying to protect a child from the bad influences on MySpace, I would recommend that you check out Kevin’s book MySpace Safety: 51 Tips for Teens and Parents.