Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Youth on the Internet -- the benefits, the dangers, and the worry

I've blogged quite a few times about youth on the internet. I've written about the dangers of sexual predators lurking for vulnerable kids. I've also touched on the potential dangers youths pose to themselves in providing too much identifying information on the web via social networking cites like Facebook and MySpace.

These issues have continued to gain momentum and become increasingly dangerous for youths. I've recently become hyper-conscious about the type of information available on the Internet when my schoolmates and I partook in the legal job market. It would be pretty irresponsible to hire someone -- especially to be a lawyer -- without at least doing a simple Google search. Employers who are a bit more savvy might even log onto Facebook and MySpace, both of which are now open to the general public's view.

Social networking cites are becoming more and more accessible to youths and are becoming the center of high school (and perhaps even middle school) social lives. Teens can make plans with each other, join groups, speak in real time, and meet each other online.

In the news recently there have been a few stories about teens posting self-incriminating information about mischievous and at times criminal antics. There is an ongoing debate about the admissibility of such online evidence into court. The veracity is difficult to check, there are potential self-incrimination problems, and it is quite unconventional. E-mails seem to have become more common evidence in court proceedings, but profile information seems like a reach.

There is another potential liability for youths online. Youths, seemingly by their nature, are not nice to each other. We are all probably familiar with the "mean girls" phenomenon -- even those who haven't seen the movie. Teenagers can be vicious and mean. This stems from immaturity, jealousy, and probably group-think. This youthful tendency coupled with the possibility of widely disseminating information is a dangerous combination.

Public humiliation and lies are no longer contained to writing on the bathroom wall. Teens can post to electronic "walls" and cause more damage than they envision. Not all information will be indexed by Google (making it search-able), and not all information will be posted for long, but there is certainly at least cause for concern.

As electronic media become increasingly admissible in court, as the general public becomes increasingly trustworthy of information obtained on the Internet, and as youths become increasingly web-savvy, it seems youths become increasingly vulnerable. I wonder if the youth of today will have more to worry about come job-search time once they sit down and take a hard look at what information has been posted about them and what impression it leaves.

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