MySpace Isn't So
Social networking website, MySpace, just announced the discovery of 29,000 sex offenders hiding among its multimillion users. The discovery comes forth after a great deal of pressure was placed upon MySpace's owners for creating a platform that gives known sex offenders easy access to under-age youth's personal information. The push to rid the web of these menaces to society comes from, not surprisingly, North Carolina Attorney General, Roy Cooper. Cooper and his allies are now calling on Congress to create and implement legislation that bans all sex offenders from MySpace and similar networking sites, as well as require parental consent before an underage individual registers to use such services.
And so we witness another chapter in the continuing saga to protect America's (and subsequently, the world's) youth from anything remotely sexual.
I have several criticisms of Mr. Cooper's plan to make the web safe for children. First and foremost, we are only aware of these sex offenders thanks to the US' right to privacy-violating, Sex Offender Registry. What the news media (and Mr. Cooper) aren't telling you is that these 29,000 sex offenders who were booted off MySpace don't just encompass child molesters -- it encompasses a multitude of crimes that may or may not have been targeted at youth. Those prosecuted for indecent exposure, some forms of sex work, or statutory rape are among those who have been banned from MySpace. Frankly, I fail to see how banning all sex offenders makes anybody safer; and I have yet to figure out how a Sex Offender Registry helps anybody but the most paranoid of us. It certainly doesn't facilitate a "known offender's" reintroduction into civil society.
Another point that has been acknowledged by all parties is that these 29,000 offenders were only the ones who signed onto MySpace using their real names. Granted, I do have an account on MySpace under my real name, but I am not planning on committing a crime anytime soon. And frankly if I was hoping to use the service to track down prepubescents, I think I would be smart enough to use an alias.
Additionally, as someone living outside the US, I find myself tiring of how American laws constantly affect my Australian life. Since MySpace is an American company that serves other parts of the world, any American legislation that forces MySpace to alter its services will be felt worldwide. This is especially true when dealing with the issue at hand, as age of consent and levels of nudity vary country by country. Similarly, pornography that is produced internationally but shipped in and out of the US must comply with the States' obscenity standards.
The solutions proposed by Mr. Cooper and other morality fighters are weak at best -- simply tired and ineffective tactics used to gain money and votes. Expelling these 29,000 sex offenders is not only a violation of their rights, but will have little effect in the long-run. How many of these people are just going to sign back up under a different name and email address? Likewise, the solution to require parental permission and proof of age is a measure that has yet to be perfected online. As someone who began accessing online pornography at the age of 13, I can assure you that there was no hesitation to click the, "Yes," button when an adult website asked me, "Are you over 18 years of age?"
What scares me most about this sudden push to sanitise MySpace is how far will lawmakers go to keep the children safe. MySpace already bans nude photographs. Sex workers using MySpace to build a clientele must do so using aliases and innuendos. And in the realm of identity politics, MySpace continues to push the gender binary by offering users only two selections: "Male" or "Female." How long before any talk of sexuality is stricken from MySpace's profiles altogether? Are we just one step away from seeing a MySpace sexual-counterpart where those of use who aren't self-identified vanilla heterosexuals are relegated?
You may think that my jump from outlawing registered sex offenders to outlawing any sexual difference is a stretch, but as we have seen in the past: anything can be banned in the name of "protecting the children."