Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kids Do The Darndest Things

Nothing sets the hearts of millions aflutter than the words “teen” and “sex” in the same sentence. Throw in the words “MySpace” and you might as well call in the fire department.

The proof is in the pudding on this one. A recent study on the MySpace profiles of teenagers obviously got picked up by the Free Press and well… that shit spread like wildfire. The terms “study on teenage risky behaviour” drew at last count, 279 different news articles from Google news. I’m telling you; people love this stuff.

So these US researchers conducted 2 different studies where they looked at the online profiles of young people aged 18-20 and out of a given sample, they counted how many mentioned or had pictures of them indulging in sex (or sexual behaviour, which yes… probably included those pictures of you pretending to lick your friend’s boob), alcohol, drug or violence.

They found to their surprise that a large majority of them did in fact make reference to some or all of those things. To see what it would take for them to no longer do this, they created a bogus account from a Dr and e-mailed them a warning about the risks of STDs, alcohol poisoning and “future embarrassment” of said content.

They went back 3 months later to find that most had removed the content. This could be, as the researchers believed, be due to some sort of “awakening” where they thought “Holy smokes, this stuff is killing me slowly!” or, as I’m more apt to believe, they got freaked out that some stranger was creeping on their MySpace and took it down.

This study is a giant pile. The researchers even know it, saying that there was not enough “data to draw any major conclusion”. Duh. But people still picked up the story and spread it like wildfire, with parents and boring folks across the world (There’s a newspaper in India running this story) up in arms about the illicit behaviour their kids demonstrate online.

Which, if you are surprised by this, you’re clearly out of the loop. Generation Y kids have grown up under a microscope. Literally in the sense of Big Brother constant monitoring, but then there's cellphone cameras (*ahem*), “reality” television and every “social networking” site imaginable. These people, myself included, live their lives online and so it’s no surprise that if you go to a party where you pretend to hump a guy from behind, you wouldn’t hesitate to add it to your online profile.

I think that if they really want to deter people from posting stuff online, they should include a session during Career Day about online profiles and future employment opportunities. I know that personally, I’m not afraid of any predators or the like because let’s face it, those folks exist everywhere and some freak would get off on a picture of you in a graduation grown if they really wanted to. The real deterrence is the implication it will have on your future job.

So on Career Day, have the usual people talking about what they do, how they hire, what you need to work there, etc. and then emphasize that “We do Facebook and MySpace searches so keep your sexy Bob Marley bong pictures and road kill photos to yourself”. THAT would be a deterrent. Especially in a recession! (Although apparently Obama will still hire you if you've got some of those).

Is it bad that the most shocking thing about this whole debacle for me was that people still use MySpace?


JaneDoe said...

Word! And is it just me, or is posing as a doctor and sending out emails to young adults really unethical and inappropriate?

Frank Buchan said...

I wandered here from The Making !T Work blog, and was amused. A decent rant. But as one of the folks too old to actually give a rat's arse about My Space, Facebook, or any of the rest of the trash called social networking, I might observe things today (a la Big brother) are no different than they ever were. The only difference now is that we seem to substitute "experts" for parents. If anything should frighten us, it is that -- a substitution of rote policy for awareness-based mentoring.

You are dead-on though about the potential impact of certain behaviour in an exposed space online. It's no different than dropping one's trousers in a park, really, except that with online archiving and such, it will be around to echo a lot longer.

Thankfully, stupid scientific studies will continue to provide grist for the mills.