Over the past several weeks, the director of C3, Henry Jenkins, has been putting part of his focus on social networking site MySpace. During that time, he has posted about MySpace on his blog and conducted an in-depth interview for the MIT News Office that appears in full on the Web site of Danah Boyd, who is working with him on this story.
Jenkins has been writing on the Deleting Online Predators Act, proposed legislation in front of Congress that would, among other things, ban MySpace from places like schools and libraries, the very places where it would be best to have professionals available to talk with kids about issues and to oversee MySpace use. It's not like banning the social networking tool from these social spaces would cause teens to quit using MySpace--it just means they'll be using it on their own, which could not be the best situation. And, considering the growing improtance of the Internet in the lives of American teens, these social networking tools cannot just be legislated away.
In an article I wrote last month for The Greenville Leader-News, Jenkins related the anecdote that, when he was a child, his parents warned him about talking to strangers on the telephone, but they didn't take the telephone away from him or forbid him to use it. Considering all of the societal angst surrounding teenage use of MySpace right now, it's the right set of questions to be asking at the right time.
A high school teacher I interviewed discussed the complications of interacting with students online and not wanting the correspondence to be viewed as inappropriate. These types of issues cause some legislators and some parents to just want to eliminate the medium instead of worrying about specific content or interaction. The truth is that MySpace is changing the ways in which people view community--on the one hand, people form virtual communities freed by geographic restraints, based on their own personalities or interests; on the other hand, people who no longer live in an area can stay connected to the people in their hometown or former residence to a degree that's never before been possible.
Jenkins' continuing work on helping people understand and navigate MySpace, while fighting governmental restrictions on the communication forum, is worth following, since this has key implications for social networking online, as well as issues that we've discussed here like transmedia storytelling through character pages, such as with Soup of the Day or The Carver on Nip/Tuck. MySpace and tools like it provide people of all ages with the unparalleled ability to be heard--a key component of the convergence culture we are talking about.