Monday, April 10, 2006

Me No to Bebo - RM column April 7

YOU would be hard pushed to have missed Bebo recently. It is the latest internet craze that allows members to interact in an on-line community and it is been one of the media’s topics over the last couple of weeks.

From radio DJs such as RTEs Rick O’Shea to secondary school children have all signed up to the service and the Young Wan’s pals are no different. After all it is estimated that 500,000 people in Ireland have signed up to Bebo with so many thousand coming on line each day.

So it is not surprising that the Young Wan wants to join up too. But before I would allow that I decided that I would check it out for myself.

While there are some people who you can read about, such as Rick O’Shea, to comment you need to sign on. If you wish to view secondary school details you have to sign on first and join a school.

So I did as a 14-year-old schoolgirl, no bother at all. All you need is an email.

I was able to check out the kids’ profiles, their pictures, their blogs, who their friends are, who considers themselves as their ‘groupies’ and I was disturbed.

Most of these young people have signed up in their own names and the information about themselves they are freely giving away is more than scary. Even though the terms and conditions of Bebo state that you shouldn’t use your own name, the kids are.

Being a blogger myself, where I keep a sort-of internet journal, I love the internet, I love what I can do there, from storing my photographs to contributing to a Dublin Blog.

And I can certainly understand wholeheartedly the fascination and appeal of something like Bebo and the other services like it such as MSN’s MySpace.

And even though I keep my own online journal I have tried to some degree to maintain a certain level of anonymity. There are just too many nutters out there.

Those nutters are sure to love Bebo.

Talking to the Young Wan about this and the dangers of it, particularly going online using your own name and giving away details of your life as well as posting pictures.

But I realise that the Young Wan’s head is almost exclusively full of the fun aspects of the site and how so many of her pals are members.

When talking to her about it I said: “Look how easy it was for me to sign up pretending to be something I am not, what if you are talking to someone only you do not know that they are 45 years old…..”

And that’s as far as I got before she interrupted saying ‘well I might talk to them but I wouldn’t meet them and I wouldn’t keep talking to them’.

What I was about to say was “45 years old and a paedophile?”

She was just not listening to me at all, she’d gone off on some Bebo daydream. And I think she is under the ridiculous notion that she could spot danger, when it is perfectly clear this isn’t the case.

If my mind wasn’t made up before hand, it is now.

While she might start off only talking to those she actually knows, this will change and do not think it wouldn’t. Part of the service is that you can link to other students in other school and on and on.

The scenario where a nutter or whatever can pretend to be a cute teenage boy is all too real. So if some cute boy gets in contact with a teenage girl, do not tell me that they won’t be flattered and intrigued. Of course they would, that’s also the appeal of Bebo.

And let’s imagine this ‘cute boy’ corresponds over time, only in reality they are not a ‘cute boy’ at all, they are the 45-year-old man I was talking about earlier.

Now the Young Wan is a smart child/young adult to whom I have exhaustedly talked to over the years about being safe. Yet despite all that in theory, in reality she obviously doesn’t realise the full implications or how a young person can be manipulated.

And this is all aside from the fact that many teens are now immersing themselves in Bebo spending hours and hours online. As I said while I love the internet, reality is reality and something has to give with this amount of online time.

So it is me no to Bebo.

RM April 7

Technorati tags:


Paul O'Mahony (Cork) said...

That's a very strong line you're taking. And you have every right to take it.

What flashes across my mind is: what if she set up an account and runs it from internet cafe? Or from her friend's machine?

I don't know what I'd do if I was in your position and you haven't asked me. So I have no business dumping any advice on you, but ...

Your research is great, just the sort of research we need.

Boliath said...

Jesus that is terrifying! Whoever is running that site needs to install some safeguards immediately. Good for you for doing the background research, I can imagine that the YW is pissed off at you but it's not your job to be her friend eh? Good on you babe, super Mum as always.

Red Mum said...

Omani - I know my forbidding it won't stop her but fortunately (?? fortunately for now anyway) she is not that mad into computers so I am hoping before that happens she will also have grown up a bit and maybe become more aware of the potential dangers. I completely understand the appeal of Bebo, of course I do, but I still think it is too fraught with danger at the moment, particularly given what I read about the kids my daughter knows.

Boliath - I dont think she was too pissed off, yet anyway.

Emma in Canada said...

How very smart of you. When I started my blog I did not use my senses and keep our names anonymous, and part of me wishes I had. My daughter is very big into MSN, but she is not allowed into the chat rooms and so far there has been no interest from her. So it's just talking to her friends from school and a penpal in England.
The news here is full of police posing as young kids to catch predators, for every one they do catch I imagine there's thousands they don't.

Rick O'Shea said...

Hey redmum!

You mentioned me in your column! Sweet :-) For me as a 32 year old man it's not an issue (and most of the stuff there about me is freely available elsewhere on the net anyway) but, as a parent myself, looking at some of the 900 or so kids who've linked up with my page it terrifies me the amount of information available. Mates, places they'll be meeting up, photos, even phone numbers in some cases.....



Paul S said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your feelings on the bebo site. I heard about it first from Rick O'Shea's site. Obviously because of his radio show he’s very much in touch with ‘the youth’ and also because like yourself he’s a parent. I’m neither. But I’ve been bloging now for a few months and I’m learning a few things about the benefits of anonymity. I don’t have much traffic to my blog but I’ve been surprised by how many random people end up there and how.
Recently I removed some comments I made from my blog because, as an adult, I need to be careful that I don’t do or say things that I might regret. This event has made me contemplate my online status and the related issues.
My partner is a fairly private person and has no interest in having a blog or any place where people can see information about her. We are getting hitched soon and hopefully at some stage in the near future we will have kids. This is when I’m now seeing that we’ll be entering into the unknown in a big way and hopefully by having my own blog etc and reading blogs like this one I’ll be closer to having the answers to what to do when our kids are looking to sign up on bebo or whatever it’s going to be at that time. I know my partner will not approve of it but she’ll be clueless how to ensure it doesn’t happen without us knowing.
I recently registered with bebo and myspace. I found myspace very much populated by people I wouldn’t associate with in my ‘real life’. It’s full of people with nothing to say that just want to put pictures of themselves online and flirt with strangers. The bebo site is much slicker and easier to use and I can see why kids are drawn to it. I’ve only been on there twice so I’m no expert but I too am a little concerned about what I’m seeing and hearing.
Unfortunately, recent history shows that it is inevitable that most parents will never be as technically literate as their kids and will quite often be unaware of the dangerous things their kids are up to. I’m trying my best to make sure that I’m not going to be one those, but there’s no way to guarantee that something won’t slip under my radar. I’ve been a user of the internet almost since it began and I’ve learned a lot. But I’ve always stayed clear of the chat rooms and such. My blog is my first foray into the idea of putting myself out there and I’m learning that even at the age of 32 and being fairly streetwise, when it comes to the internet I’m still occasionally na├»ve and make some mistakes. But better me now than my kids in the future.
Keep up the good work redmum! I’ll be keeping a close eye on your blog to see how this story continues. I’m interested to see what the Young Wan is going to do next. I feel that this is only the beginning of the bebo story for you and many others.

Anonymous said...

We seem to cross blogging paths fairly often. A while back I noticed the dangers of Bebo, specifically the way that contact details used to be displayed to friends. In theory that was fine but people were very lax in who they added as friends which is where I came in under the guise of an attractive woman.

Over a period of a week I discovered that over 40% of the people who accepted my request for friendship had their contact details displayed!

Anonymous said...

Notr being a parent and only being seventeen would probably not put me in the best position to judge you, my own parents or anyone else's for the sheer concern they have for their children's welfare. but I still can't help feeling you've crossed the thin line between concern and paranoia.

Firstly, paedophiles are out there. there is very little to prevent that. One way or another they will always, unfortunately find a way to do what they do. I am not even nearly condoning it but it's a undeniable fact that bad things happen. Luckily it occurs to a minority and you can only pray that it's not your own child. That sounds unsympathetic to the minority but there you go.

I don't see how anonymity is going to help anyone. If someone really wants top find out who you are, they use ip adresses or other things. Again, i don't condone this. There is a tight line again between the amount of information you should put up. Names? I see no problem. Photos? Again, what harm as long as there is nothing explicit. Phone Numbers? That would be the line. contact information is quite over the top when it's on display to the world. But wihtout being too harsh, only the idiots of this world would do such a thing. Or maybe all us teenagers are just naive foolish kids.

Meeting up with anyone you have met thorugh the internet is again an incredibly foolish idea. But again it happens. Even though I@d like to think my peers are smart enough not to do it, i'm sure it happens, possibly to dire consequences.

But, you really need to cut your kid some slack. She's clearly very bright and as long as you explain to her what is over the line of danger, Bebo or my space should pose her no threat.

For me Bebo is merely for my friends, people who i know and have contact with everyday regardless. The appeal is blatnat as you said, social beings need to socialise right? ULtimately it's jsut another form of what you do through your blog: give people an insight into who you are, be it friends or otherwise and I really don't think it's at all dangerous in anyway intelligent hands.


Anonymous said...

im a 13 year old girl from NZ and i do indeed see where you are coming from. These people could look at our pages and stalk us or whatever but there are many ways to prevent this. Bebo does ask you if you wolud like to accept these people as your friends. Additionally u can put a lock on your page so only people you ask though email can look at you site which most people do! Maybe people should encourage this and bebo might be safer but at the moment i havnt had any problems with it. Also you are just as bad making up a fake bebo to see if u can trick kids because that is what people do not just to be a stalker but for fun, to see if they can fake someone.

Thanks Ellie

Red Mum said...

Thanks for the comments Keira and ellie. Glad you have had no bad experiences on bebo, you seem pretty sensible in your approach. So continue to have fun and being careful, you will get a lot from it.

In fairness I set up an account to research the site, I didn't do it to trick anyone and had no interaction with anyone. Except when I had to use the account to ask someone to take nasty comments about my daughter off their page and I told them who i was.

But thanks again for dropping by with your contribution, its much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Bebo is the best of them, My Space is the one where you find all of the creeps, pervs and attention seekers, Bebo allows you to reject any comments before they are posted, and the young ones can have private accounts.

Bebo is easy to use and fun, I have reported a few girls that have had pictures of them in their underwear (kids don't need to see this) and they have dealt with them quickly, I never got that with My Space, as a parent I do see your concern but I would say that Bebo is the safest of the lot.