This is an article of interest we found on another site that deals with a very contraversial topic.
Dear diary, dear world
by Ken Mueller
Editor’s note: This article includes actual quotes from online journals. The names of the writers have been changed throughout. We have retained their personal style of writing, complete with spelling and grammatical errors, as this is an important part of the online experience.
Lauren is a typical Christian teen. Or at least it seems that way. She grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian school for awhile, is active in church and youth group, and has been involved in a variety of missions projects. But what most people don’t recognize about Lauren is that she is hurting. Deeply. Unless of course they happen to know about her Xanga site. In fact those who read her journal entries at Xanga.com would get an entirely different picture, and might not even pick up on the fact that she is a Christian. Consider the following entries:
tonights been hell dads mad at [my brother] moms mad at dad [my brother is] mad at dad and im in the middle … endupcalling [my friend] several times shaking a lot and cutting myself to try and calm down man i hate my life sometimes. People should not be afraid of their parents
[my brother is] leaving. I hate myself I hate everyone. DAMMM THE WHOLE F-ING WORLD.
did I ever mention that I hate myself and I want to die. And im not worth the dirt that others walk on. Well incase I havnt I have said it now.
Meanwhile there’s Danielle. A 17-year-old student at a Christian school, Danielle apparently got in trouble at school for things she posted on her MySpace.com site. Her Web page features some in-your-face commentary as well as some rather provocative pictures of her in bathing suits, underwear and even posing seductively in her school uniform. Included is an open letter to her school and one particular teacher, criticizing them for their reactions to her site and those of her friends.
I am not sorry for who i am. Because who I am is beautiful and i have no apologies. It makes me sad that you feel you can shame people into being christians. I fear that it is because of people like you that people often despise christians.
I’ve heard the saying many times and now I’m starting to agree it’s not God I have a problem with it’s his fan club I can’t stand.
So if my page has offended you that is unfortunate. You have my permission to click the little green back button and leave my world.
Spilling it all online
These kids are just a few of the millions of teens worldwide who are sharing their lives with strangers online as part of one of the fastest-growing segments of the Internet: online diaries and journals. These diaries are a segment of the overall phenomenon known as “blogging” (short for “Weblog”), in which Internet users write online commentaries about anything and everything from politics and religion to the most mundane aspects of life. There was a time when girls would write their innermost thoughts and feelings in a diary, lock it up and hide it in their room. Now, kids take those same thoughts and post them on the Internet for all the world to see.
So how big is this phenomenon? While there aren’t any hard and fast numbers, it is estimated that MySpace hosts around 20 million user accounts (and as of May was the fifth-ranked domain with more page views than either Google or Hotmail!). Xanga has nearly 8 million users, while LiveJournal hosts over 7 million. And those numbers are growing. Then there are the smaller sites such as MSN Spaces (4.5 million users), Bolt.com (4.5 million users), as well as newer sites like Blurty.com, Hi5.com, the college-based Facebook.com and Canada’s Nexopia.com. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but this is where teens are going to make friends, find significant others and pretty much spill their guts. About two-thirds of the teen users are female.
When teens sign up for their own site they generally post some generic information about themselves and their interests. They might include photos, artwork and creative writing, as well as answers to the numerous quizzes that tend to propagate on the Web. Each of these sites has its own personality. Xanga, for instance, is heavy on “blogging” or diary entries. Teens will write very openly about what is going on in their lives, which might include problems with friends, parents, teachers or others, as well as discussing their sexual activities or use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. While MySpace does have a “blog” feature, most of what goes on is “networking” or making friends. Once they establish friendships with other kids (whether they actually know them in person or not) they begin to comment on each others’ sites or about each others photos. A brief look at MySpace might lead you to believe that it is a “hook-up” service. Many of the comments kids leave for each other run into the “you’re so hott!” vein, and many of those end up being rather explicit. Users often take pride in customizing their sites in a variety of ways, from adding photos and pictures, to altering the color scheme. In fact, many of these kids will admit to be addicted or obsessed with their site, spending several hours each day adding and changing things, as well as commenting on their friends’ sites. Once they make “friends” online, they often exchange screen names for instant messaging, or even give out their phone numbers, and these online friendships can become rather intense.
Signing up is relatively easy as these sites offer free registration, though you can also opt to pay a small monthly or annual fee in order to have a “premium version” of the site with added features. Most of the sites also have minimum age requirements (13 for Xanga, 16 for MySpace), which are easy to skirt since there is no verification. It is not uncommon to find someone listing their age “officially” as anywhere from 16 to 99, only to have them boldly reveal elsewhere on their page that they are only 13 or 14. Some of the sites don’t even require a valid e-mail address. These are things that can contribute to some of the safety issues involved with these sites, as we will discuss later. Once you start looking you will be surprised how many of your kids actually have one or more online journals. In fact, I know very few kids who DON’T have such a site. These sites also have plenty of rules and guidelines as to what is appropriate or not, such as prohibitions on sexually explicit or offensive material. But this is hard to police.
Needless to say there are some real safety concerns of which to be aware. More often than not, kids reveal a lot of personal information about themselves. At minimum they usually give out their first name, age and city location. Some even go as far as to offer their last name, school, birth date, and even their e-mail address or instant messenger screen name. These sites offer great opportunities for online predators. That 18-year-old boy might actually be a much older man looking for young girls. And with very little information culled from one of these personal Web pages, they can actually find these kids. But it’s not just the older online predators they have to worry about. Online relationships with peers can often become very intense to the point of considering those they have met as their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” This can lead to inappropriate relationships based solely on emotion and outward appearance, often manifesting itself in online or “cyber” sex. While these sites usually have policies prohibiting sexually explicit language or pictures, there is plenty of indecent material to be found. Many young teen girls will post pictures of themselves in their underwear or in suggestive poses.
In addition, these sites can also be fertile soil for “cyber-bullying.” I am often amazed at how open kids are as they name names and complain about how they have been treated by other kids, knowing full well that those same kids may be reading what they have written. It is not uncommon to read very specific information about how so-and-so is cheating on his girlfriend, or something else of that sort. As kids read what their peers have written they can easily feel picked on and may use their own sites to retaliate “verbally.” Small arguments can easily escalate into threats and actual physical harm.
MySpace, in cooperation with www.wiredsafety.org, actually has a very good section addressing the many safety issues related to the Internet.
Many kids create these sites assuming that only their friends and other teens will be seeing them. They do not see the potential dangers and therefore often lack discretion when interacting with others online or putting information on their site.
You can find more of this article at the CPYU website (www.cpyu.org).