The myspace battle

Myspace.com is in the news again. At least it was last night on my local tv news channel (KING5 NBC affiliate in Seattle). Another child preyed upon by creeps who use the information provided by some of the vulnerable young users to do ugly things. It made me wonder what myspace is doing about it.

I came across this site (tech.monstersandcritics–jeez, there's a site for everything these days) which although written in April gives a hint as to myspace's strategy.

SANTA MONICA, CA, United States (UPI) — The highly popular but often criticized youth Web site MySpace.com has hired a former federal prosecutor to oversee content, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Child-safety advocates praised the choice of Internet safety expert and former Justice Department pornography prosecutor Hemanshu Nigam as MySpace`s first chief security officer.

Nigam, most recently with Microsoft Corp., will oversee content at the Web site, which is No. 2 in U.S. daily page views behind Yahoo! Inc.

News Corp., the parent of the Santa Monica, Calif., Web site, also launched a public service advertising campaign Monday to warn MySpace.com users against sexual predators.

The spots, which are playing on other News Corp. Web sites and TV outlets, say 'don`t believe the type' when strangers approach children online.

'There are certain issues on MySpace that are endemic to the Internet that are endemic to society as a whole,' MySpace Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe told the newspaper. 'Having a safe site and having a cool site that lots of people are into aren`t mutually exclusive ideas.'

If you look at the comments on this site, some of the kids were freaking out. Omigod a cop policing the content on the site. But others have to think what will hiring one former federal prosecutor to "over see" content going to actually do. There are 78 million users of mspace.com. I'm not sure he can get through more than a few dozen sites a day. They probably already have filters that helps him find the questionable stuff. Omigod! They're filtering my stuff!

The problem is that the myspace issues are close to the heart of the cultural battle that increasingly rages around the internet. It is largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable. The internet culture, now increasingly firmly established, resists controls and values complete openness. While the CEO Chris DeWolfe made some sort of attempt at highlighting this problem, I can't imagine he and/or his communication advisors, could have done a worse job of expressing the problem. "Certain issue"? Endemic? Isn't endemic some sort of medical term for hideous swelling? Oh no, that edemic I think. The point is he had a chance to express this dilemma in a thoughtful way and instead chose to obfuscate.

The real issue is that society (whoever they are) needs to come to grips with the clash of cultures which says that controls are good and necessary in a world in which predators predate, where crooks crook, and where bad people are bad. The truth is our society keeps moving further and further into a culture of control with new laws being passed over every perceived risk or danger with little thought to the unintended consequences of such laws. But these are demanded by a society which somehow believes that we ought to be protected from all risk.

At the same time we have the internet. Open, free, without controls, inhabited by millions or billions now of people–many of them young, naive and inexperienced–who share their thoughts and intimate details with little awareness of the consequences.

One suggestion for an area of compromise. An element of blogging and commenting and posting on sites like myspace that I don't particularly like is the anonymity. I posted a link to an article about the viciousness of much blogging and I think part of it is bloggers and other posters can hide behind pseudonyms. Myspace is apparently moving in the direction of requiring those who participate to be findable by email, real name, etc. That may increase vulnerability for some but will also allow law enforcement to have better access to those who are using the site for their evil. 

In the meantime, myspace is and will continue to be for some time at the forefront of this culture war between the culture of control and the culture of unlimited freedom. I hope they learn to do better in both strategy and communication.