Teens pour out their feelings online
LAFAYETTE, Colo. (AP) – The mall and arcade are hangouts of the past.The first place teens now go to check in with friends isn’t a place at all. It’s MySpace.com, the online social networking site. There, and on other sites like it, teens blog to the world about their angst, joys, friends and crushes. They post pictures that would shock many parents, form relationships, flirt and fight.”The things we did at the mall, the park and in parking lots – these kids don’t have access to those places as much anymore – and so they’re doing those things in their public space, which is MySpace,” said Danah Boyd, a fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communications who specializes in youth and online culture.But when a high-profile event comes into play, one’s audience can rapidly expand. In the case of Tess Damm and her boyfriend Bryan Grove – the teen suspects in the slaying of Damm’s mother, Linda Damm, of Lafayette -that audience now includes lawyers, detectives and journalists.”People start looking for anything they can get their hands on to explain what happened, and MySpace is one of those places people turn to,” Boyd said.
MySpace is nothing new to teens. But its repercussions – especially when seemingly private worlds go public – are still being ascertained.
Tess Damm’s and Grove’s online profiles offer a public window into their lives that likely wouldn’t exist otherwise. In hindsight, much of it is haunting.Entries written by Tess portray a teen with a troubled relationship with her mother. She wrote about moving away from her “alcoholic” mother and identifies herself as bipolar.”Everyone knows the story of me and my mom … and everyone knows how much I’ve tried to fix it my whole life. And everyone knows how it never works,” she wrote.Grove’s postings reveal his devotion to Tess, sometimes through poetry and sometimes through violent threats. In one entry, posted after Linda Damm’s death, he wrote: “I did things that I shouldn’t have … but I did them … with my two hands … “At its birth, MySpace was a way for lesser-known bands to get their music heard. It’s much more now and home to more than 100 million registered users. Many people spend hours on the site everyday and have relationships that exist solely in the MySpace realm.It’s especially popular for teens as they attempt to establish their identities, said Boyd, who specializes in youth interaction with public networking sites.”In the process of understanding themselves, they put things out there,” Boyd said. “Teens are always sharing what adults would consider intimate details with their friends. … This is how identity is derived.”And the place they do it most is MySpace, she said.Although many kids use the site as a place to “perform,” Boyd said it’s a way for them to derive context about who they are. They collect “friends” through MySpace who they may never physically spend time with.”It’s like the kids you would hang out with at the mall but then not take home to your parents,” she said.
Many teens mark their pages as private, which means only approved friends may view their postings. But for the millions of teens – and adults – with public pages, accessibility to their worlds is now available to the media, strangers, employers, police and predators.”People very commonly have this experience where they post pretty innocent stuff in these very public forums and it never occurs to them what could happen,” said Steve Outing, a former senior editor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and founder of The Enthusiasts Group. “Many teenagers definitely have this perception that this is my private space without really comprehending that this is open to the entire world.”The disconnect has come back to haunt people in many different ways.In January, several University of Colorado athletes were kicked off their track and field team after posting photos of themselves in mock sexual positions on the college networking site, Facebook.And horror stories abound about job interviews that go downhill when the potential employer mentions having checked out the candidate’s online postings.When crime enters the picture, detectives, lawyers, journalists and crime bloggers start looking, too.Tess Damm’s and Grove’s MySpace pages have become the subject of stories nationwide, including a Time.com piece this week called “Murder, They Blogged.”