Social networking sites are the new Dungeons & Dragons
My chosen profession of sexual violence prevention is as prone to buzz and “hot-button issues” as any other, and I’ve been hearing a lot about internet safety over the past 2 years. Usually it goes something like this: “What are we gonna do with these kids?! They’re postin’ half-necked pictures of themsleves, and Johnny Pervert is just waiting to make his move. This ‘Myspace’ is an EVIL influence on our kids!”
Then I proceed to inform everyone in the meeting/conference/whatever, that I’m on Myspace and Facebook, most of my friends are on Myspace and Facebook, and pretending that social networking sites CAUSE sexual assaults against youth is: A) fucking ridiculous (OK, so I don’t say “fucking”), and B) takes the responsibility off of the perpetrators who are the ones CHOOSING to perpetrate. Social networking sites are just their tools du jour. I suppose it used to be candy, hence “Don’t take candy from strangers.” But we didn’t try to villify candy did we?
It’s not that I think there shouldn’t be protections/limits on these sites, and I’m glad that people are out there educating the masses about the potential perils of online social networking. I just get frustrated when people take that next leap to causation, because doing so can have serious repercussions on the allocation of already-sparse sexual violence prevention resources. They see a relatively easy “solution” (e.g., destroy Myspace!) to an incredibly complex problem (sexual violence against youth), and jump on it. In the process they spend a ton of time and energy barking up the wrong tree, completely missing that big-assed forest.
When I hear arguments or news stories about Myspace/Facebook being scourges on our society, it reminds me of when I was 11 and my parents made me stop playing Dungeons & Dragons (aka, D&D, which I loved and still love to this day – go ahead and make your jokes). They watched some Geraldo Rivera “expose” on how D&D corrupts youth and causes kids to jump in front of trains – as if they were a 9th level magic-user with a sweet Telekinesis spell. But it was all bullshit. D&D was/is a game. It might have its faults (which have all been corrected thanks to Version 3.5 thank you very much), but it can’t COMPEL anyone to commit suicide/homicide.
Myspace/Facebook are online-communities/marketing-machines/douchebag-magnets run by corporations. They certainly have their faults, but they sure as hell can’t compel anyone to commit sexual assault. Period.
Oh and Gary Gygax, RIP.