March 29, 2006

resisting the moral panic over myspace

MySpace has become a hot topic among parents and staff at our school; presumably this is true at most middle and high schools these days, given the heavy media coverage and the predictable hand-wringing about online predators, salacious content etc. Even those uber-bigots at the Family Research Council are piling on:

"Parents need to realize that games people play on computers have changed significantly since they were kids. The harmless games of PacMan and Space Invaders have been replaced by child predators that will invade and destroy the lives of their children."

As danah has been saying, it's a moral panic. One based in parents' fears of poorly defined Internet bogeymen and fueled by a few sensational headlines that create 'truth' by repeated assertion.

Moral panics are a common reaction to teenagers when they engage in practices not understood by adult culture. There were moral panics over rock&roll, television, jazz and even reading novels in the early 1800s... The media, typically run by the parent generation, capitalizes on and spreads the fear with little regard for data or actual implications. Examples are made out of delinquent youth, showing how the object of fear ruined them in some way or other. The message is clear - if you don't protect your kids from this evil, they too will suffer great harm to their minds, bodies or morals.

Some of danah's recent writings on myspace are excellent antidotes to this moral panic. I have been passing these along to our faculty and parent groups, as a thoughtful and credible counterpoint to some of the more strident voices. If you are a parent of a young person, you should definitely read them and then go explore myspace for yourself. If you are a kid, you might like to share them with the authority figures in your life.

"Identity Production in a Networked Culture" (danah's panel talk at the AAAS, yes, that AAAS ;-)
"Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?"

Posted by Gene at March 29, 2006 12:03 PM