March 16th, 2006
I’ve been dreading this post, but I can’t avoid saying this any longer — MySpace is a DEEPLY DISTURBING place. It’s so disturbing that I’m convinced that the vast majority of the Web 2.0 fan club who gush over MySpace has NEVER actually spent any time on MySpace.
I’m not the first to raise a red flag:
Still not disturbed? Try spending some time on MySpace. See how long it takes you to find sexually suggestive or explicit content.
I’m going to be accused of fraternizing with Nick Carr for saying this, but this is what you get when you remove all social barriers — you get humanity in the raw.
Is this new to the web? Of course not. Is it limited to MySpace? Of course not. Does that mean we should start talking about censorship and regulation? I’m not going to touch that third rail — and I really don’t have any answers.
I’m not going to do a moral critique of MySpace or Web 2.0 or anything else — that’s not my gig.
I will say this — my greatest fear of MySpace is as a parent. That’s my personal view, which I won’t try to foist on to anyone else.
But as Web 2.0 watcher, I have a strong view from a business perspective, which leads me to this prediction: Rupert Murdoch will come to regret the purchase of MySpace.
Why? Because the reality is that MySpace can’t be controlled, and that’s a liability.
Yes, I know, Web 2.0 is all about “ceding control” to the “edge.” But MySpace pushes this evolution to the extreme.
Before you respond, let me be repeat — this is NOT a moral critique. It’s a practical, business critique.
“Social media” may be all the rage, but “society” functions best somewhere in between anarchy and fascism. Let it drift too far to one extreme, and things can get ugly.
And when things get ugly, it’s hard to sell advertising.
When you’re accused of being alarmist, you have to ask yourself whether everyone else knows something you don’t (i.e. criticism is valid) or whether you’re a cat wandering into a flock of complacent pigeons (i.e. criticism is not valid). In this case, I can’t claim to know which it is. I’ve heard a lot of passionate defenses of MySpace. But I’ve also heard a lot of fallacious arguments, like:
MY child doesn’t do anything bad on MySpace, therefore ALL children are safe on MySpace.
Children I know on MySpace are, as far as I can perceive, “stellar students, athletes, musicians and people,” and therefore there’s nothing to worry about.
Advertising on MySpace is growing, and will therefore continue to do so.
MySpace is virtual, and therefore the any potential danger is virtual.
Anyone who thinks there’s anything possibly wrong with MySpace must not “get it.”
There’s an orthodoxy to Web 2.0 that defines any criticism a priori as nay-saying, alarmist, or failing to “get it.” Kind of reminds me of the Bush administration’s (now failing) technique for deflecting criticism. In the end, I’d rather err by being alarmist than err by being naive.
But let’s say that I’m completely wrong (which is very possible), and that MySpace is good wholesome fun for people under 18. From a business perspective, the issue is not the reality but the PERCEPTION.
Let’s say parents being “alarmists” and media outlets acting as “fear mongers” are being unjust towards MySpace — if advertisers come to PERCEIVE that their ads on MySpace may appear next to content they really can’t fell good about, I still fail to see how MySpace will be a cash cow.
But NO, Web 2.0 will argue, advertisers need to stop insisting on control. Consumers are in control.
Well, indeed they are. Media and marketing has become fundamentally social. But society only functions when there are some shared norms and standards — and some laws to protect people’s rights from being violated. In a democracy there is a constant debate over what the laws and standards should be, but there’s no question that there need to be SOME.
If we say to people, especially children, here’s a place where anything goes, you can’t depend on individual restraint and responsibility to prevent people from getting hurt — especially people who are 18 — as a society we have decided that people under 18 DO NOT have sufficient judgment to make certain decisions, e.g. voting and drinking.
I may sound awfully moral, but I’m not advocating for any particular standard. I just saying that there need to BE some.