In July 2006, , I interviewed Kevin and Dale Farnham, authors of MySpace Safety: 51 Tips for Teens and Parents. Since 2006, online social networks have continued to grow and much of the advice the Farnham’s shared in that interview remains relevant today.
I’m reproducing the interview below for those who might be looking for help or guidance concerning social networking.
Interview with Kevin and Dale Farnham – HEM Guide to Resources, July, 2006
The preface of the book is online. It states:
We first heard of MySpace.com in September, 2004, when our 16 year old daughter discovered it. It was one of several sites she had found that provided an online venue for new songwriters and performers. We made some recordings of her original songs and uploaded them onto the site.Our daughter continued to manage her account, making contacts with musicians and fans, and we didn’t pay much attention to MySpace.com for the next year or so. Then we started seeing occasional news articles about the MySpace phenomenon. MySpace had become the leading site for social networking and was growing rapidly in popularity among teens. It was the latest teen craze, an online addition to the instant messaging that was already a part of daily life for most U.S teens.We began a more extensive exploration of MySpace. Our first session of friend-hopping to the pages created by our daughter’s MySpace friends, many of whom we knew personally, was very surprising. After further investigation, we began to see MySpace as something that could also be very positive. It provided a way for people from anywhere in the world who share common interests to meet and share information.
Still, it was clear that many teens were using MySpace in a reckless manner. It was also clear that the emerging anti-MySpace attitude which advocates its prohibition is not the answer to the problem.
In this book, we hope we have offered a common sense approach to MySpace.com for both teens and parents.
Mary: Kevin and Dale, thanks for taking the time to discuss your book. You state that the emerging anti-MySpace attitude is not the answer to the problem. As I understand it, your book offers common sense measures that will help families learn how to help our families remain safe while participating in such venues. Safety tip number #1 is – Parents: MySpace Is the Future. Can you explain why you believe that?
Kevin: In saying “MySpace is the Future”,we’re trying to tell parents that MySpace and similar online activity is not just a passing fad. Online social networking is becoming part of the normal way of interaction for teens and young adults around the entire world, not just in the United States. For example, the South Korean equivalent of MySpace, Cyworld, is used by 90 percent of South Koreans in their twenties. Research papers and PhD theses are being written about the phenomenon. Interaction and communication using online social networking sites is an integrated part of life for young adults, and teens want to participate, and are participating in still growing numbers.
Dale: To tell your teens they cannot use sites like MySpace is like telling them they cannot use the telephone. In fact, many teens today use the computer for communication (instant messenger and sites like MySpace) more than they use telephones. If you tell your teen he or she can’t use the telephone, that’s a punishment, and there should be a reason. There’s a good chance they’ll feel the same way if you tell them they can’t interact with their friends using MySpace.
Mary: MySpace.com is just one of over 200 online social networks. If this is the future how do we help our children learn the safety rules for this new world?
Kevin: The reason the problems with MySpace burst so suddenly into the news was that millions of young people were using MySpace with their parents completely unaware that such a site and such online possibilities even existed. Since parents were unaware, and schools were largely unaware, the teens had not been taught anything about online safety.
I think most homeschooling parents would agree that it is the parent’s role to teach children to recognize potential danger and take appropriate preventive action. We all did this with the dangers we were familiar with as our children grew up. However, online messaging, chat, and social networking didn’t exist when today’s teens were young children. They were, in effect, discovered by today’s young adults and teens. Meanwhile, their parents were busy working and trying to give their children a good home.
Dale: Parents need to learn about the new online social world, become comfortable with what it offers, learn how to navigate the sites, understand where there is actual risk and how to avoid any complications. Then, with parents fully understanding the new technologies and the inherent risks, they can teach their children how to use the sites safely and responsibly.
Mary: What do you see as the biggest danger facing children participating in myspace.com?
Dale: Too many teens treat MySpace like it’s a private place, where only their friends can see what they’re posting. The danger of contact from predators, which gets most of the media attention, is certainly there, but there are practices that can be applied to minimize that risk (just as there are practices we teach our kids about strangers who stop their cars and start talking, or who approach them on the street). Identifying the specific steps that can be taken to prevent unwanted contact from strangers on MySpace is the crux of our book.
Kevin: There are a lot of people on MySpace who aren’t sexual predators, but who are out to hurt other people in other ways. Boys regularly receive emails from MySpace members who are peddling pornography web sites elsewhere on the Internet. Other people send friend requests or emails, and their goal is to infect your computer with viruses or spyware.
Long-term, there’s a risk that all the information teens enter into MySpace will come back to haunt them. For example, colleges are already searching MySpace to find information about their applicants. In the future, employers will surely do the same thing. The information is posted on a public web site, so no one can claim it’s a violation of privacy.
Mary: What do you see as the biggest advantage offered to children participating in myspace.com
Dale: Socializing with their friends who are also on MySpace; communicating and sharing with family, extended family, and friends who live far away; meeting other teens with similar interests; meeting people from around the world. For young musicians and songwriters there is no better site for sharing music with peers than MySpace.
Kevin: MySpace lets users apply their creativity to make their profile site reflect who they are. This “identityâ€ component is critically important during the teen years. MySpace users who are willing to experiment can learn a lot about web technology. I think knowledge of web scripting techniques is going to be advantageous as young people start their professional careers not too many years from now.
Mary: You state that the book’s 51 tips are sorted into ten categories. What are those categories?
Dale: “Get Ready for MySpace” discusses parent and teen attitudes toward MySpace and describes what you should know (ideally) before you join MySpace.com
“Joining MySpace” discusses safety with respect to the information MySpace requests when you sign up
“Setting Up Your Account” discusses important account privacy settings and your MySpace URL
“Your Profile” covers the most important data elements in your profile
“MySpace Friends” discusses safety and privacy aspects of MySpace “friending”
“The Extended Network” describes interactions between an individual MySpace user and the millions of MySpace members who are not on the user’s friend list
“Group Interaction” discusses safety issues relating to MySpace groups, forums, chat, and personal ads
“Scripted Safety” provides computer code that you can apply to your MySpace account for added privacy and safety
“Abuse” discusses types of online abuse that are prevalent on MySpace, and the functions MySpace provides for reporting the abuse
“Leaving MySpace” presents how to cancel your account, and also includes a look into the not-too-distant future
Mary: Can you share a few of your online safety principles?
Kevin: 1) Get an online email account (Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) to use for MySpace. People you don’t know can search for you on MySpace by email address, so you don’t want to use your permanent school or home email address for MySpace.
2) Enter an altered or completely different “real name” into MySpace. That way strangers can’t find you by searching for your actual name.
3) Don’t enter your real zip code or home town.
4) Remember not to enter this type of identifying information into your blog entries or the comments you post on your friends’ MySpace pages.
5) Set your profile to “Private” if you are using MySpace only for interaction with friends you already know.
Dale: 6) Parents: get onto MySpace with your teens, be their online friend just as you are their friend and companion in everyday life.
7) Teens: select “Friends” and/or “Networking” as your reason for joining MySpace. Don’t imply you’re looking to meet someone by selecting “Dating” or “Serious Relationships.”
8) Select “No answer” to dating/relationship related items such as sexual orientation. The less information you provide to strangers, the less likely they are to try to contact you.
9) Don’t “friend” with abandon. If someone sends you a friend request, look at their profile to see what kind of person you’ll be adding to your friend list if you approve them. If you share nothing in common, don’t approve the friend request.
10) Always remember that on MySpace people can portray themselves any way they’d like. It’s just web pages. If you don’t know a person in real life, don’t assume that what’s on their MySpace profile page is true. It may be, or it may be deception. Be careful, just like you’re careful when you walk down the street.
Mary: For many of us, the internet is a new world. Do you believe your book would benefit adults as well?
Dale: We believe the best way to ensure our teens’ safety on MySpace is for parents to know as much as possible about the site. So, while we direct safety advice toward the teens, we also intend the book as a user’s guide for parents who are starting out with little experience on MySpace or similar sites. We provide step by step instructions on how to sign up, how to configure your account, and how to navigate the site.
Kevin: One reviewer called our book “a comprehensive guide to the entire MySpace web domain.” We studied even the less used areas of the MySpace.com site, and we document all of it. Parents can use the book as a reference text. The more you know about MySpace, the more persuasive your arguments will be when you talk to your teens about the site.
Mary: Where can our readers find this book?
Dale: Online at BarnesAndNoble.com and Amazon.com. The digital edition (requires Adobe Reader) can be ordered at Amazon.com and Powells.com. Or you can ask your local bookstore to order the book for you using the title or ISBN 0-9778833-5-3.
Kevin: If you have a PayPal account, you can order the book directly from our publishing site HowToPrimers.com. Or you can order by check: send $11.95 ($12.67 if you live in Connecticut) to How-To Primers, P.O. Box 153, Pomfret, CT 06258.
The book also has a web site, MySpaceSafetyTips.com, where we keep readers up to date on the latest MySpace.com announcements and changes. There we have direct links for purchasing the book.
Mary: Thank you for taking the time to tell us about myspace.com and for writing this timely book.