by Stephanie Partridge
What is Your Teen being Exposed To? This is the first in a series on social networking sites. These sites have become so popular, so prevalent with teens flocking to them that this is very relevant – and it is going to take more than just one post to address all that needs to be addressed on this subject.
Social Networks are really hot right now. Teens are spending a great deal of time on sites like MySpace, Facebook and others. But just what are your teens being exposed to when they log onto their Facebook profile or MySpace profile?
The answers are alarming.
While social network sites do have merit, they allow people from all over the world to connect. Kids can connect with friends and family who live far away. They can socialize and keep in touch with friends, share pictures, music and videos and play fun games.
They can connect with the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discovery Channel and many other wholesome organizations, businesses and individuals. They have access to great, educational material. They can learn, they can grow, they can see parts of the world and other cultures that they may never have a chance to see otherwise.
But there is a dark side to social networks. This is something that every parent with a social network surfing teen should know.
Before we venture down this dark path, I want to make one thing clear. I am talking about Facebook a lot here, pointing out some of the dangers that exist there. I do this for two reasons. 1. Facebook is the largest, most popular social networking site, and 2. Facebook is the site that I belong to.
The things I discuss here are things that I found doing very simple searches on the site. You can see the same things (and I encourage parents to search the social network sites – and other websites – that their children are visiting) if you log onto the site and use the search engine within the site. For instance, if you log onto Facebook, type a keyword in the search box in the upper right hand corner and click the button next to the box to begin the search. Use keywords like sex, drugs, murder and any other word that would be something that you don’t want your child to see. The things that come up will surprise you.
Here is what I have found.
Not long ago I was reading the “Express,” a publication put out by the Washington Post, handed out to morning commuters on the subway here in DC. There was a story in there about a poll that was published online about assassinating President Obama. The website that this poll was found on? Facebook. Now, as soon as they found out about it, Facebook administrators removed the poll, but, wow, it was up there for all the world to see for at least a while, meaning that my kids (or yours) could stumble upon it at any time – or any other questionable content that the administrators haven’t yet caught.
MySpace has become inundated with “profiles” that lead to porn sites. But I have moved away from this site, mainly because of the large amount of spam that is circulated on there that leads to scammer profiles and profiles that lead to porn sites. Facebook has become my social network of choice. My kids are on there and they encouraged me to join as well. It also allows me to keep an eye on what my kids do, what they post and what they have access to on there.
What I have found is terrifying.
A week or so ago I was looking at the quizzes on Facebook and ran across one that had a sexually explicit title – and accompanying photograph to match. There is also an application on Facebook, Sex Games. Its description: “Sex Games is a tongue-in-cheek multiplayer game where you work with an Entourage to prove your skills in the Club. Complete sexual conquests and pick up all the hottest players on Facebook. See how sexy you really are…” Also, “What’s Your Sex Style?” “Daily Sex Chance,” “Today’s Sex Partner” (description: “Share the love among your friends! Pick a random friend to be your “Sex partner of the day”. Grab a new friend every day, and spread the love.”) and even “Do You Want to Have Sex?” These applications have no controls or filters to keep underage children out so your kids have full access to the application content, the graphic, sexually explicit language that I found posted to the application profile and the graphic photos, bordering on pornographic, that I saw on members’ profiles.
Another application, names “Sex or Murder” shows users a series of photos and their quest is to decide if the photos show someone in a sexual act or someone being murdered. Also a “fun” quiz about finding out if you have the ability to take another person’s life is called, “Are You Capable of Murder?” I also found several pages of applications that allow users to send virtual drugs to their friends. One application, titled “Drugs,” sports the tag line, “All kinds of fun drugs to do with your friends!”
In all fairness, Facebook does have terms of service that prohibit this type of activity, photos and content, but the problem is that the network is so large it is nearly impossible to police the site. There are links on each profile that allow visitors to block or report the profile for TOS violations, but even that is dependent upon the diligence of Facebook users to actually find the offensive content and make the reports.
This has just been a report, my personal essay of sorts to tell you what I found. I urge you to look for yourself. In another installation I will tell you what experts say we, as parents, should do to protect our children.
My next installment will tell parents what they can do to protect their children. How do you know when your child is mature enough to handle being on the internet without supervision? I will interview several experts on the subject and give you some answers.
Stephanie Partridge is a freelance writer and photographer as well as a FOIA analyst for a federal agency in Washington, D.C. She is a single mom to Jeffery, 19; Micah Elizabeth, 17 and Benjamin, 15. She is also the author of the ebook, “Diet is a Dirty Word.”
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