We all know MySpace as a thing of the past: a former social networking giant that somehow faded into irrelevancy. From 2005-2010, however, the site was the most widely used social networking platform globally with over 100 million users joining every month, and even now continues to have new and active users. MySpace transformed music and pop culture, and helped spur the growth of sites like YouTube. It offered features like online journals, games, and message boards, and allowed its users to make friends on its site through existing friends, rather than through search or at random. But in spite of being so popular, what limitations did MySpace place upon itself, its content, and its users in order to regulate its site?
As the internet became more and more regulated, both internally and through governmental restrictions, social networking platforms began to place restrictions upon their users. The widespread and growing popularity of social media also generated anxiety and paranoia about what exactly was being shared on these sites, who could see it, and who had access to the information? In the early 2000s, users of social media became concerned about the vulnerability and exposure of teenagers and young users on sites like MySpace and Facebook. In 2006, MySpace did not allow users aged 13 or under to make accounts and only displayed partial profiles (in essence, part of the site) for users registered as 14 or 15 years old—unless the user viewing the profile is a member of the teen’s list of friends on the site. However, as the popularity of the site increased, parents, law enforcement, and schools raised concerns about dangers like sexual predators on the site. Mortifying stories circulated, examples of which include this one from Parry Aftab (executive director of Wiredsafety.org): “A 12-year-old who uses MySpace told me on Friday you can always tell if someone’s older than they say they are because the first thing they ask you is your bra size,” and the fact that MySpace faced lawsuit from a 14 year old who was sexually assaulted after an encounter with an adult user who lied about his age. Though the site denies the fact that regulations came in response to events like these, after coming under heavy fire for failure to protect children online, MySpace decided to make some changes.
New regulations included prohibiting users aged 18 or older from requesting to become a member of a 14 or 15 year old’s friend list, unless the user knew the youth’s name and email address beforehand. New features included the universal option to only display partial profiles, regardless of the user’s age. Furthermore, the site updated its ad-targeting technology in order to prevent the display and advertisement of gambling and other adult sites on its webpage, which was accessible to minors. While these restrictions were definitely steps in the right direction, they did not address the fact that potential users could still lie about their age, which would continue to put minors at risk.
These efforts were probably made in order to address concerns from users and parents, but it also seems that they were last-ditched attempts to protect the appearance and reputation of MySpace. MySpace is “a place for friends,” a safe place, and a place to interact with new and interesting people—in other words, a positive thing. However, these stories and concerns raised several questions: are these regulations effective, and can regulations be effective in protecting children?; who should be in charge of laying out these regulations? should parents and government officials be involved?; is it right that a term of executives who work for this social networking site have the authority to make decisions that affect the safety of so many young people?
I think that the parents of young users were inherently necessary in shaping regulation and policy. I also do not think these restrictions were effective enough in protecting children. Social networking sites continue to struggle to protect their users from online dangers and predators. Though the freedom to create and realize one’s own profile is what made MySpace alluring, ultimately the safety of its users was paramount. Perhaps this failure to adjust to growing concerns contributed to its decline, especially as other social networking sites developed newer and better ways to regulate user-ship and even newer sites were being developed.