My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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MySpace blamed for alienated youth’s threats

Another beautiful MySpace article: Online Terror Threat Hits Local High School. The “terrorists” are two boys who are threatening to show up in school with machine guns. As a result of their posts to MySpace, most students didn’t show up for school. The school district is pissed and blames MySpace for enabling students to “post their thoughts and ideas” without surveillance. They are deciding whether or not to sue MySpace.

::smacking forehead:: We didn’t learn from Columbine did we? Both of those kids also posted their threats on websites. What they were doing was a cry for help. I’d bank money that those kids are feeling alienated and disillusioned with authority. Goddess knows the number of times i had dreams about blowing up my school growing up. Why is MySpace at fault? Because they are letting kids speak their minds? Is it better that they speak their minds so far removed from adult vision that they can’t actually be supported when things go horribly wrong? Why not learn from the kids and try to support them rather than take away their tools for expression?

I was talking with a friend about this and he reminded me that these services help kids who are alienated come together and, sometimes, this means that they get validated in their alienation which exacerbates the situation. He’s right and this is a problem with some of the cutters on LiveJournal – they try to outdo each other with more severe images. But then i talked to a psychologist about the cutters and she pointed out that she’s so thankful for LJ. Now, she can see into the lives of people like her patients, better understand their psychology than anything they say in therapy and be a more effective therapist. Sure, she has to deal with the peer validation issue, which she admitted was more significant on LJ than in everyday life, but she said it’s worth it because knowing what’s going on in their heads helps her help them overcome the peer pressure bit as well as the actual damage. She told me it was far more effective this way.

In my research group, we started talking about cultural differences regarding peer groups and age-related validation. In the US, it’s expected that you will be friends with people your age, but elsewhere, it’s more common to socialize with cousins and family members of all different ages. Throughout our lives in the US, we’re chunked by age and then we’re spewed out into the adult world and it’s so weird to make friends with people that are older than us. And we think it to be weird when friends span large age gaps.

The problem with a lack of diversity around age is that you’re constantly being validated by people who are in the same stage as you, who are dealing with the same problems and don’t have much in the way of perspective. I was thinking about how Manuel Castells always talks about the solution to ending violence starts with having diverse groups of people always interact. He thinks about this mostly in terms of socio-economic class, but does this apply to age too? Would we stop more youth violence if teens weren’t so age-segregated? If the groups that provided them with validation were from different age slices?

It’s pretty horrifying that we’re talking about teens as “terrorists” now. More fear, always more fear. Of course, the more we fear teens and place restrictions on them, the more prone they will to seek agency through whatever means possible, even violence. We’re creating our own demise through oppression. (::cough:: Paris.) When will we figure out how to support people through feelings of alienation?

God, i feel like a broken record on this one, but it seems like the media is doing a damn good job acting as one too.

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33 comments to MySpace blamed for alienated youth’s threats

  • lynn

    Yep. This is one of the reasons I ‘took the red pill’ and quit teaching.

    “What is [Public Education]? Control. [Public Education] is a [elitist]-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.” [holds up a Duracell battery]

  • Ah, but the more I teach the more I am convinced that friendship is what imbues the best in education … And what you say, danah, about age and friendship is absolutely on the nail. Absolutely!

  • lynn

    Regrettably, most of what is going on in pe is NOT education.

  • It is amazing how many people do not even notice the segregation by age. I grew up with a cross-generational friendship structure and feel like an uphill battle (and am looked at with suspicion) whenever I try to befriend people who are not my age +/- 2y. There is a definite antagonism towards friendships that are too different in age. We like to use holidays, like Passover, to break such barriers by inviting fiends ranging betwen 18 and 81 years of age. After a couple of glasses of wine, tension loosens and people are surprised how much age DOES not mean impossibility to understand each other. I feel like I have personally learned so much from friends who are of very different ages than me, both older and younger.

  • Coturnix, it’s so good to hear someone say this — cogently, clearly and with strength. Community has suffered such diminishment in our times and the recovery of that great freedom that friendship can bring is something we need to celebrate.

  • Ypulse Essentials

    ‘Heaven’ can’t help us…anymore (7th Heaven has been cancelled) (The Hollywood Reporter) – Teen mayor (love it…I’m sure they’ll make this into a movie) (L.A. Times, reg. required) – My super ridiculous bat mitzvah (more on over the top coming…

  • alchemism

    One of the more positive aspects of certain music cultures and tribes is the breakdown of age-based segregation. They often form synthetic family structures that encourage “…socializ[ation] with cousins and family members of all different ages.” I suspect that these kinds of interactions allow the younger people to mature faster and reinvigorates the older people, reminding them to stay young at heart.

    It is definately a healthier way of life.

  • Why isn’t anyone thanking myspace for the “early warning”?

    Frankly, if MySpace had a “Community Patrol” that took those comments down before anyone saw them, and then the two kids actually showed up at the school, guns blazing, I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself after.

  • First I would like to say that I’m Ineke, I’ve found your website by searching for ani lyrics and I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, but never really found something constructive to say.

    Anyway, about the age thing. I’m wondering about what age differences you are talking, do you mean 5 years/10 years/more? Because I don’t know how it is in the US(I live in the Netherlands), but my friends’ ages vary from 18 to about 28. I find that no problem at all, because I’ve found out that age doesn’t matter that much at all, it’s more about what you have to say. Which is a good thing because it made me realise it’s not that bad to become older and that it’s not that bad to have doubts about where I’m going with my life. Because some people I know of 25 don’t even know what they want yet and they seem to do just fine.

    It also made me find out there were more people like me, because I’ve been living in this town for my whole life now and at first I only had friends from school who were around my age and I didn’t really feel I had the same ideas as these people. I mean they were great for having fun with and talking about everyday things, but not really for deeper conversation. When I found out there were more people in this town that people from my age and when I started my current study, that helped a lot.

    It also made me become less shy in front of older people, because I always seemed to kind of look up to them and feel as they saw me as the stupid little girl who knew nothing yet.

    But do you think sites like livejournal increase age-segregation? Because I have a livejournal and my LJ-friends are between 15 and 30 and I post in a forum where the age difference is even bigger. But maybe this doesn’t count for the groups you are talking about, the alienated youth and the cutters. And even worse are these communities where you have to post your picture and other people have to validate you, vote if you are pretty enough to join:/ well if that doesn’t add to the alienation, I don’t know anymore.

    I guess LJ can be really good for you if you use it in the right way, find people with the same interests/ideas. But I guess these people are only on LJ for the attention for their own problems and trying to find people who are just as depressed as themselves and then get even more depressed. They’re not on LJ to find a cure for their problems and become a better person, so they get into a downward spiral…

  • round-up on MySpace and culture of fear

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how anti-MySpace propaganda has been rooted in the culture of fear. Given that youth play a critical, but different, role in social software, i suspect that folks might be interested in how MySpace is…

  • I whole-heartedly agree with you.

    The stuff that Pascual Gonzalez said to the news reporters baffles me. Things inferring Myspace caused this. Are these people blind and deaf?

    I was always under the impression we learned history in school so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Apparently the generation before mine never heard that, because it repeats over and over as the cries for help get louder and louder.

    I think we are in for some radical changes over the next few decades. Since the election of GWB, I see less and less effort from the government dedicated to bettering the quality of life for each individual.

    Straying from topic slightly, businesses are what run a capitalist country, and the people are only learning from businesses. Until a democrat truely enforces better business-practice laws, we will not see any significant change in the way the lives of people are run.

    I will end with that, and a word about myself. I am NOT some pessimistic, over-analytical, gov’t know-it-all, nor do I sit up all night long thinking about this stuff. We, as Americans, should each think about our nation once in a while; this is the result when I thought about it.

  • Mel

    Danah, I realise you’re really busy with your work and everything but have you ever considered writing any fiction – specifically young adult fiction? You have such sophisticated insights about this group. I think you could so something really inspired with that – but through story. Even your own story (the one of your high school experience) could be part of that … perhaps that’s why you’re so tuned into social culture and youth (because your own experience resonated so deeply?). Just a thought. I’m still reading along and enjoying the big brain stuff … but I thought wouldn’t it be great if Danah wrote fiction, too.

  • lindsey

    Hi this is my first time posting a comment, I think I actually found your journal link in my college Soc book awhile back!

    Anyway I think it’s totally awesome the amount of research you’ve been doing on the group of alienated youth. I used to be one. I have felt like blowing up my school many times before! I was bullied, ignored, looked down on by my school, merely because I was being bullied. Therefore I was looked on as a troublemaker and something to be scolded consistently, despite that I did not actually cause trouble and was an honors student who happened to be into punk rock. I can totally understand these kids who feel like this, post things on LJ and Myspace. Part of it is a cry for help, and the feeling that if they don’t get help from people who should be helping they have to do something big to get the hint to the school. Unfortunately, they are looked upon with fear and terror and treated as if they were criminals even before they do things like shootings.

    I have to say I agree with the age thing too, at least from my own experience, in high school you’re stuck with people mostly your age group and…a lot of people around those ages do think they know everything about the world, mostly incorrect things. And if these are your only friends, those with fallacious knowledge, and your only world outside of them is the authority ruled over by parents and school admin, a lot of what you are told by your friends is going to be wrong because none of you have real world experience, and most of what I was told of by my friends, was extremely based on peer pressure and it was effective because of the lack of outside world contacts that most high school students do not have. So if lots of people in school are cutting, it’ll seem like the normal thing because most times for high school kids that is their ONLY social circle.

    And I still see the age thing a little bit. I am a 23 year old who recently went back to college. I frequently get comments from those students younger than me that it seems a little “freaky” or “weird” that I am returning to college at 23 instead of taking the more socially accepted course of going right out of high school. My friend group tends to be people in the 25-30 group, and when they (mostly those closer to 30) visit me here, it gets a lot of strange looks.

    I also find that school districting thinking of sueing myspace over that whole ordeal absolutely ridiculous. They are acting as if Myspace were enablers of these kids saying they were going to shoot up their school. And it’s also ridiculous because if they look at myspace as a whole, that place is loaded with people, and they want to sue over 2 kids out of that entire site over free speech issues? It just doesn’t really make correct sense. If it’s not music, it’s video games, and if it’s not video games, it must be the Internet. How about the lack of hope school gives? The lack of knowledge of the world as a whole that high school refuses to give, to see that there is a world outside of school afterwards, that IF high school is a really bad experience that their whole lives won’t be that bad. Or even someone in school to talk to about their problems! The guidance counselors and mediators in my high school were either unused, or terrible. It’s so sad the system that is part of the cause for the feelings of alienation are going after popular culture to blame for problems they cause themselves.

  • Unfortunately, i don’t think in fiction terms and i am not ready to tell my own story because it won’t be light and fun.

    A huge part of what makes me who i am today is that i went through some deep dark hells and came out the other side. Of course, a huge part of what helped me survive it all was my mother. I recognize at a very personal level the role that a supportive and trusting parent can play. She believed that if she tried to get involved, tried to stop me from doing some of what i did, that i would never come out the other side. She was probably right.

    I don’t think that anyone should take the path i took but i’m very thankful for the lessons that i learned even if it involved far too much risk for me to retroactively feel comfortable. I still look back and wonder how the hell i managed to get here from there. And i worry deeply about kids who are on my path with no trusting adult figure to stand there and patiently provide unconditional love.

  • p@

    Trusting adult figures aren’t very hard to find these days. I found them in my family. Other kids might find them in their coaches, teachers, co-workers, pastors, friends… The list kinda goes on… There are a lot of people out there willing to help kids through tough times… Through experiences that they could say, ‘Hey, I’ve been there, done that.’

    I think the problem is… Our culture doesn’t really allow for those types of relationships to grow beyond the level casual acquaintance… You don’t tell someone you barely know that you’re thinking about committing suicide without taking a huge leap of faith… A leap that will either land you in the arms of someone who cares enough to help, or onto the ledge you’re going to jump from.

    I agree with you that youth should look to find peers outside of their own age group… I just wish it wasn’t so hard, in the eyes of our culture, for those relationships to develop into something more meaningful and rewarding. The resources are there, we’ve just implemented a governance to restrict it.

  • Amber

    Seriously, what does any of this really have to do wiht Myspace.com, I have a account there http://www.myspace.com/Ambzizmyname it has nothing to do wiht the case of the teenager, seriously if it wasnt myspace it would have been Xanga, or live journal there are so many of those things out now you cant go sueing everyone, I totally agree wiht that age segragation thing, we are creating our own problems and it is time we stop, I wish everyone could just wake-up.

  • I hope it’s not true, but suspect that it is, that this sort of stuff is going on all the time, everywhere, and that tools like MySpace, Blogger etc just bring it out into the open… at least where we have a chance to address it….

    http://theotherblog.com/Articles/2005/11/28/online-bullying-at-myspace-and-my-blog/

  • brittany

    i think people who abuse myspace shouldnt even bother getting on myspace is for all of us sceansters and emo kids not the little preppy bitches who post all there little slutty pics and think they are hot all the guys think they are easy and myspace was made for people who are 16 not 12 or 14 16!!!!

  • Fariza

    i think myspace.com should be unblocked. if someone ran away from home they can use the mysopace to track it down

  • I am a writing this as a concerned parent that has just discovered our children are in danger. I’d like to share what I have recently discovered about myspace.com the computer website where kids create their own “space” online. When it was brought to my attention about a year and a half to 2 years ago by my pre-teen girls, I was not concerned. I asked a lot of questions but was assured that it was very clean and well monitored just like their “xanga” websites. What I did not do was explore it first. It was not until about a month ago when my 16 year old step-daughter began dating much older boys and behaving oddly. I also noticed the girls (I have three) seemed to be taking a lot of pictures of themselves in a variety of outfits. Of course, all of the one’s they showed me in the camera’s were very clean. I decided to visit my teens “myspace” based on the suggestion of another concerned parent. What I found was down right shocking. The first thing that caught me by surprise was a picture of my 16 year old daughter coming out of the shower with just a towel on and plenty of cleavage showing. (Remember, when my kids got their “spaces” on the web they were 11, 13 & 14 Next would be the picture of the gun she held to her head with explicit captions underneath and it goes on from there. I was very taken back you can imagine. I continued down her page only to see more unreal pictures. The most shocking of all were the posts that people were leaving or “comments” as they call it about her pictures. Next to these comments show pics of the people leaving these comments. In addition to many, many young men (17-21) were 40+ men discussing what they wanted to do to my daughter in great detail. When I asked her about this, she claimed she wanted the comments because it makes you “popular” in the myspace community. The more comments & the more “friends” the better. She refused to block the older offensive men from commenting due to this popularity. In several posts she was answering other teens questions like where do you go to school and where do you hang out. This is out there for everybody to see. So not only did the young guys see this, the older guys were as well. Not to mention there is no way of knowing if these “young” guys are really the same as what they say they are. Anyone can sign up. All you have to do is say you are 14. No parents permission is required and no verification is asked for other than your birthday. Any teen can do the math and make up the “appropriate” birthday to make them at least 14. Again, 2 of my girls were under 14 when they signed up for this. The next thing I did was click on her “friends” list and read their posts, comments, profiles etc. The use of sex and profanity was unbelievable. I could not repeat the explicit words for what they wanted or were doing to each other on line sexually. I also saw many nude pictures. What is the most upsetting about ALL of this is that I actually contacted Myspace.com. I informed them of what I saw (yes I saved all the e-mails) and what I was concerned about. I asked them to delete my daughters “space” as I could not due to the fact that it was password protected. They refused and told me I should monitor my children better if I don’t like what they are doing. It is now a fact that children have access to the internet just about everywhere, friends, the library, internet cafe’s and even school. My youngest visited myspace more than once at school on “free time”. She did inform me today that her teacher announced it was no longer permitted. The customer service department at myspace refused my request twice and told me they would only remove it if I could prove she broke their terms of service. I told them right off the bat she was lying about her age and that should be enough to cancel her account. Again, they refused and would not help.
    I am pleading that we make this myspace.com a newsworthy matter so that ALL parents can be made aware of the dangers their children are being exposed to everyday.

  • re – Lori Ann.
    I think the real issue here is not the tool or technology (MySpace), but how young girls have learned (and continue to learn) to use their sexuality as a way of gaining attention and approval from their peers (and otherwise).
    What we are seeing is a perfect example of how masculinity and femininity are socially (re)produced. No one seems to question the social construction of gender and sexuality – and what the ramifications of this might be. Instead, people blame technology for everything that goes wrong with our culture.
    Playing the ‘heavy-hand’ with our kids is not the right approach. Let’s address the real issues at hand…

  • katie

    big sigh.

    just because there are some slutty little girls on myspace that take disgusting pictures of their pubescent (and sometimes even pre-pubescent)bodies doesn’t mean that everyone that uses myspace abuses it.

    let’s keep in mind that this is a social networking site. not a porn site & not a dating service. it’s a place for bands to gain fans, its a place to reunite with friends, its a place to connect with people with the same interests as you…

    in response to fariza… (and any other parents or teachers with such warped viewpoints on this) it is NOT myspace’s or the internet’s job to monitor your children. it is your job as a parent to be informed. my father used to always monitor my internet usage when i was younger. and honestly it helped me a lot. anytime i was looking at dirty jokes, or anything of the sort, he’d confront me about it. and because he was an informed parent… he knew how to block such sites from being viewed.

    maybe when you’re child is exhibiting such bad behavior, you shouldn’t blame it on the internet, or music, or tv or whatever the hell it is… maybe you should look and see what you as a parent are doing wrong and fix it.

  • katie

    rather in response to lori ann. i apologize.

  • MySpace = idiots

    well those kids are idiots for posting that kind of stuff on the internet.I mean seriously how dumb do you have to be. IF your going to make threats like that someone is going to believe it and get you in major trouble. MySpace is a cult and all who use it are pathetic.

  • Jabbadaddy

    I have a 14 year old daughter who is on My Space. Much to her dismay, I monitor her site and use. I’m afraid I’m addicted to being a good parent and attempting to protect my child in a world gone crazy with too much too soon. I could prohibit her from joining, but would that do any real good? She might just be tempted to join and use a new ID that I don’t know about.
    Therein lies the problem. It should be absolutely mandatory that a credit card be used to sign up for My Space or ANY other Web Site and a charge levied that will show up on the CC statement. I really don’t care if it is $1 and is refunded later. This would make sure that (1) Parents are aware that their children have signed up and are using the site. (2) Allow the establishment of age verification.
    The minimum age preferably should be 18 or over, but I might see my way to perhaps 16 (with parents knowlege and permission)as a minimum.
    If this site persists in being what it is and run as it is, if there continues to be abuse, molestation,preditors of younger more naive kids threats, x rated content and even connection to murder (Pennsylvania case recently). I am relatively sure there will be very vigorous action taken to impose restrictions.
    The site should be responsible and institute the needed changes and usage parameters on their own.
    In short, My Site needs to CLEAN UP IT’S ACT Now!

  • William

    In response to netwoman.

    Your comments are the epitome of ignorance. You obviously do not have children, or you have no compassion. Perhaps it is a combination of the two.

    What, exactly, is so “warped” about fariza’s point of view? I do not recall her suggesting that it was the job of myspace to monitor her children nor do I recall her suggesting that everyone who uses myspace is abusing it.

    It seems to me she is concerned about her children’s activities on myspace and is taking action to counter them but is receiving absolutely no help from myspace. Regardless of what you may think it is the legal obligation of myspace to remove profiles of children under the age of 14. It is also their legal obligation to remove profiles of minors when requested by parents. Do you really find something to be so wrong with that?

    For Christ’s sake she is not asking myspace to shut down. She is concerned about her children’s use or abuse and is simply asking them to remove the profiles.

    My son is abusing myspace. I have been trying for days to have his profile removed and am getting absolutely no help. He has given me his account password and I have followed the instructions to manually delete the account. Each time I am told that I will receive a confirmation email and to follow the instructions from there. I have done this at-least seven times and this confirmation email simply does not come.

    I have sent at-least four emails requesting myspace to delete the account on their side and still have not received a response. The only response I did receive was an automated reply instructing me how to delete the account myself. The same thing I have already tried SEVEN TIMES.

    You are very quick to point out that it is not the job of myspace to monitor children, but what happens when perhaps previously naive parents decide that myspace is not for their kids yet myspace refuses to delete the accounts?

    What then?

    Again, I don’t think anyone is suggesting what you have said, only that myspace should be more forthcoming in assisting parents that are concerned.

    Why you are so threatened by that concept I have no idea, perhaps you are one of the slutty girls who measure their self worth by the size of their myspace friends list?

  • Jake

    Myspace is total bullshit. I have a word of advice for the people above trying to get their accounts deleted.

    I tried for days on end to get myspace to take my account down. As silly as it may sound it became almost like an obsession. I decided I wanted it gone but, just like the guy above, they would not remove it.

    I repeatedly followed the instructions on the myspace site to remove the account myself. Each time it told me an email would be sent out, and that I had to follow the instructions in that email to follow through.

    Just like William, the email was never sent. I can not even remember how many times I went through this proceedure, Basically every time I checked to see if the account was still active I would send another deletion request. I never got a single confirmation email and the account still stood.

    I sent numerous requests to myspace to have them delete the account for me and nobody ever got back to me. At this point I actually became somewhat obsessed with having the damn thing down.

    I went throught this for about five days.

    Today I came up with a plan. I visited a website and downloaded five pornographic images. one hardcore and the other four nudes. I posted them on the page, with the hardcore image as my profile image, and changed my name to “MYSPACE SUCK MY @@@@”

    An hour later my account was deleted.

    Thats just ridiculous. That is what it took to have my page deleted. Half naked underage girls = ok. Copywritten porno not so ok.

    Concerned parents are not a priority on myspace. Removing copywritten material, in this case porn, is.

    Myspace should burn in hell.

  • Delaney

    I deleted my myspace. I didn’t have to go through the trouble with the emails, but I did go through the withdrawals. See. Myspace is addictive. What’s addicting is the way it allows the younger generation to express themselves when otherwise, they really aren’t able to. By maybe listening to our younger generation [[ of which the inability to do so has been shown in previous posts I.E. the school blaming myspace for the two boys and their charade ]] we could all prevent such acts of reaching out, such as Myspace bulletins or half-naked minor aged girls taking provocative pictures of themselves to get that one commment.. that one that gives them that attention for that one second. It just takes an adult to sit their kid down and give them some confidence. Let your insecurities aside and let your child know they’re worth it, and that they don’t need that. Someone very special to me helped me with this very subject, and here I am.. Myspace free and 234556 IQ points higher.

  • Delaney

    You want to know why kids are addicted to Myspace? It gives them the attention they don’t get. I’m not saying poor me, aw, I’m such an emotional teenager. I’m just saying that parents these days don’t give their kids the confidence sooooooooo essential to survive todays society. We’ve seen how corrupt it is today, and how else are we to deal with it, but post our queries, and maybehopefully get some advice on how to handle our situation. So. Do what you like.. delete their Myspace or monitor as much as you can because you know, I agree. But they wouldn’t be doing that stuff in the first place if you had just given them some self-esteem.

  • I am sure nothing whould happen about any threats by teens on myspace i am sure it was just to scare someone a little for revenge i am sure from something.

  • I’m honestly so sick of MySpace right now. A lot of people I know that are younger and have a myspace don’t normally think twice about whats featured on their page. Nearly 51% of all discussions taken place on myspace are about sex, drugs, and violence. Teens aren’t really thinking who is viewing, and that person could be just anyone who might be influenced. As a parent, I constantly struggle with the balance of watching out for my kids (when they go online or otherwise). I use internet filter Ez Internet Timer that allows to control Internet activity for my kids.