Normally I can find very little to say that is positive, when it comes to sites like MySpace, Bebo, and so on; particularly in the matters of children using them. As a parent I know there's a terrible difficulty in balancing your child's safety through anonymity with their need to fit in with their social peers who all interact on these sites. The ease of access to thesse sites, and lack of verification of members is a serious concern.
Recently a story caught my eye that made me think for a moment that the sites could be good for something.
Police swooped on the homes of more than 180 youths and children as young as 12 who use internet sites such as Bebo to exchange information about drugs and alcohol and boast about violent crimes.
Officers visited 183 young people – 80 in Falkirk, 37 in Clackmannanshire and 66 in the Stirling district – in an operation described by police as “intrusive and robust", and which lasted several weeks.
Central Scotland Police said many were forced offline at once by their “shocked and horrified" parents. Several were reported to the fiscal and the children's panel for offences, including assault, theft and breaking bail.
Nearly 70 children and a number of adults with learning difficulties were formally reported to social workers and the children's panel as being potentially at risk.
In all cases, officers identified young people aged 12 to 18 from their photos and videos posted on Bebo and other sites. It is understood some had posted videos showing them committing serious crimes.
I think this was a good project, and all the children were interviewed about their activities in the presence of their parent - many of which were unaware of the children's activities. While it's tempting to tut and shake our heads, and think they may be terrible or neglectful parents, just think for a moment about how this can be changed. Children have access to the internet at school, at their mates' houses, on their phones, at cafes ... the list is huge and there is no legitimate way that even the most vigilant parent can monitor or allow for them all.
Peer pressure to undertake the same activities is rampant among young teens, and this is hard for kids to ignore. It can also be seen in the horrible trend of 'happyslapping' that we often see reported - and may also be behind some of these incidents recorded for the social network sites.
I was glad to see that evidence of crimes was being uncovered and used appropriately. That was my positive take from this story. If these social sites didn't exist, the videos and photos may have been harder to trace, and may not have accompanied the boastful confessions apparently accompanying them. However, I wonder how much the existence of these sites has to do with the lure toward becoming such proud little criminals in the first place.