by: danah boyd
Things on MySpace have taken a funny twist. At first, the media was all about the harm predators on MySpace could do. Yet, in the last month, the media has taken a new angle and is now reporting stories about how law enforcement has used MySpace to lure out predators and take a bite out of all sorts of other crimes.
While Dateline's perverted justice reports poorly convey the likelihood that teens will respond to predators, they do show just how stupid predators are about believing that they are talking to teens. Following this same model, LAPD and other police groups have been logging on, pretending to be sexy 14 and 15 year olds and happily responding to all sexual predators who approach them, without making their profiles private. I've lost count of how many predators have been lured out by these raids. Of course, my favorite is Brian Doyle, a high-ranking homeland security official.
I find this turn of events really cool because no cop could pretend to be a 14-year old and go see a priest or turn up in a school to see if they'd get molested. Online, they can! Cops: 1, Predators: 0. People often tell me that online worlds make it easier for predators to find kids, that they couldn't lure kids in otherwise. Sadly, the arrests have showed us that this too isn't true. So many of the people who have been arrested have been pediatricians, teachers, rabbis, etc. :-( They have access to kids and i don't even wanna think about how many they've fondled.) Luckily, the online arrests are stopping them both online and offline! I hope that the cops keep it up.
While predators have been arrested, i've stopped hearing about teens getting themselves into trouble. At this point, MySpace is safer for teens than for predators! This makes me smile. If anything positive can come out of all of this moral panic predator hype, it will be an increase in predator arrests and a decrease in the frequency in which predators reach out to youngins for fear that they might be cops. Predator arrests are making the world safer for teens everywhere. Tis a much better approach than asking teens to go further underground. MySpace is so much safer than the AOL/Usenet/BBS world of my day. I'm super glad to see both law enforcement and the folks at MySpace work to rid the world of predators rather than trying to stop online interaction. I really really hope that parents and legislators follow suit.
Of course, teens still do stupid stuff on the site. They bully each other, put up risque photos of themselves without realizing that teachers are watching, spread gossip, etc. There are also quite a few teens who are trying to get dates with folks in their early 20s, even when that's illegal. But, for all of the fear of predators, things don't seem to be getting worse.
Unfortunately, though, lying also appears to be on the rise. The problem isn't the predators. With parents banning participation or stalking their kids' profiles, teens are being smart. They're creating new profiles and lying through their teeth. ::sigh:: An entire generation adept at lying to cope with super publics and fear of mom. (Of course, this is precisely what has saved my ass from the ghosts of Usenet past - mommy fear stopped me from using my own name and now you can't find those old posts!)
On a related note, i want to take a moment to discuss Justin Berry. For those who don't know who he is, read the NYTimes article. Make sure you read the ENTIRE article. Seriously. I'm really stoked that he's been standing up to Congress for how bad law enforcement is around child porn. That said, i'm a bit concerned that folks think that what happened to him can happen to anyone. There's no doubt that he got himself way in over his head and that people took advantage of him. But the worst part is that his own father took the worst advantage of him, really pushing it over the edge to pimp him out, drug him up and make certain that the cash kept flowing. Prior to his father's involvement, he wasn't having sex on camera, he wasn't doing cocaine, he wasn't having sex with the men who paid for his cams. He went to his father when he realized that he had gotten in over his head. Rather than helping him get out, his father pushed him down further. This sickens me beyond any of the webcam stuff. While we're going after predators, can we please please please go after the sick parents who are molesting and taking advantage of their children too? This part of the story gets too little attention, but most molested children in this country are abused by the hands of their own family members.