The September 20th article in USA Today, “Meet my 5000 new best pals,” is an interesting look at “friending” in digital social networks like MySpace that is especially popular with young digital natives. Issues with “friends” in virtual spaces mirror those with face-to-face friends in many cases, but questions also arise about whether “bad social skills” are reinforced in online environments where friends can be readily “deleted” with the click of a mouse.

My own experiences with MySpace have been instructive– one thing I have learned is not to use my actual birth year in my profile, because marketers and other MySpace users are able to do search queries and send unsolicited invitations for “friendship” apparently based on my age demographic. The solution I have observed other people using (and have adopted) is to report my birth year as “1901.” Many of the unsolicited “friend invitations” I received have been from individuals owning or promoting adult/mature/inappropriate/offensive websites that I don’t want to visit, much less establish “friendship” with.

This USA Today article also discusses some of the issues with the “Top 8” friends in MySpace, which are user-specified and show up on a person’s homepage whenever someone views it. Feelings are hurt when some are included on the “Top 8” list and others are not. When we are talking to students about social networking, I think it is important we discuss the potential implications of “friending.” We have heard the saying “you are judged by the company you keep.” I have recently heard stories of fraternity and sorority rush procedures including analyses of the Facebook and MySpace pages of prospective members. The public record young people have written and continue to write about themselves on public DSN sites may undergo future scrutiny the kids themselves didn’t anticipate. This can also include college admissions reps and prospective employers reading their pages and profiles, and using that information to make admissions or hiring decisions.

I think one of the biggest challenges when working with teenagers is to help them think about future consequences rather than just making decisions based on the emotions of the moment. That is why encouraging students to dream, set goals, and write down their dreams and goals is so important. I also think these issues with social networking highlight the importance of providing fenced, moderated digital social networking environments like Imbee.com and Think.com for students to use. Blocking social networking sites is an insufficient response!

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2 Responses to Friending on social networks

  1. I had been using the strategy of setting my age to be 99+ for the MySpace account I use for our MySpace book (MySpace.com/MySpaceSafetyTips) — and a couple weeks ago I received a notice that appeared to be geniune, warning me to set my age to a correct value.

    Since I received this same message on a second account, I thought it might be an actual message from MySpace — but of course, it may have come from a playful (or malicious) hacker. If you didn’t receive such a message, then probably this wasn’t from MySpace.

    Our book ends with an attempt to warn teens about the potential future consequences of what they enter into MySpace today. I think that’s a point that really does need to come from educators. Digital life is part of everyday life today for most teens, and digital interaction will be a central part of their adult lives.

    The consequences of what is posted must be made clear to teens, since to post is actually to publish for all the world to see. Unfortunately, many teens still seem to think their posts are seen only by their immediate peer group…

  2. […] Problem is, I DON’T WANT to list my correct birth year, not because I am under 18, but because I don’t want to receive “friend requests” from people targeting males in my age range. […]

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