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Len Sousa

Insidious interlinking

I have some well-meaning friends who try to convince me that MySpace isn't a cult. Of course, being MySpace users themselves, I don't expect them to say otherwise. Though most recent MySpace press has focused on sexual predators finding their underage victims within its eerie canals, the frightening prospect that this popular website is a breeding ground for an international cult has been largely ignored up until now. Therefore, I feel it a duty, as a member of the minority who does not belong, to speak out and alert all to the harms of this service.

MySpace use begins innocently enough. Perhaps you join as a way to stay in touch with old friends or those going off to college… but soon, you find yourself caught up in its cyber carnival ride, enticed to stay on by its vibrant colors and the invented personalities of its users. Estimates have claimed that over 50 million people currently use MySpace–though this figure doesn't factor in the millions who have stopped coming back or rejoined with a different e-mail address, likely making the actual number of users much lower.

Still, one is hard-pressed to find a friend who has not succumbed to the seductive temptress. Young adults, in particular, seem drawn to this amazing simulation of a social life. It's gotten so widespread that I'm afraid Joe McCarthy's ghost will start haunting me any day, encouraging me to name names in my rebel anti-MySpace affiliation. After all, if you're not with the MySpacers, you must be against them. Yet I've managed to remain steadfast in my refusal to enter its realm. Denying those who know me–and especially those who don't–the opportunity to see invaluable lists of my favorite music, movies, or books.

Aside from staying in touch with old friends, the hope of many users is to build new friendships. In MySpace jargon, a "friend" is the term for a fellow cultist. What MySpace calls a "friendship" is little more than linking one profile to another–and absolutely no danger of being called on Saturday to come over and help move some cyber-furniture. Clearly, this faux community is just a couple of kool-aid packets away from Jonestown. It's a process that helps create the illusion of a safe environment populated solely by fellow fanatics or "friends…" despite the fact that this wide-branching group may even grow to include friends of your ex's. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm not very comfortable with the idea an ex spying on my current life–something MySpace virtually encourages.

The most damaging aspect of MySpace's insidious interlinking, however, is not personal but employment related. It's a sad fact that what goes around the internet will often come around to your employer's inbox (Girls Gone Wilders beware); making it likely that he or she may one day visit your MySpace page. Now think about this for a second. Are you truly prepared to be judged on the basis of some random comments typed in a silly green font with the latest Black Eyed Peas song playing in the background? Even if you were just in an admittedly elephunky mood that day and felt "My Humps" struck a chord, is this the kind of thing you want to be seen by the person you've just tried convincing you're a mature, respectable employee?

Only this January, a reporter for the Dover Post, Matt Donegan, was fired for making some off-color comments on his MySpace page he later claimed were meant as a joke. While Donegan is likely sheltering some racist tendencies, the news hit close to home for those of us who are purveyors of the art of sarcasm. It could be that Donegan simply did not know which words to use, or how to treat his remarks with the right amount of exaggeration. In any event, it points out a problem with these public displays of information that MySpace users trump so proudly.

The famous slogan for The New York Times is "All the news that's fit to print." But on the internet, information–like people–comes fit, unfit, and every shape in between. There's rarely a line of propriety drawn anywhere. MySpace gives users the illusion that things are safe and sound, that their world is only who they choose to include, and making its public arena feel entirely personal. Here, perception becomes the problem. In a place with millions of users, the world is not your oyster but your audience.

It's time we had a national intervention for MySpace users. This cult has made addicts of its service, and forced them to stay up late hours, constantly updating their profiles with recently watched indie movies and self-portraits taken by cell phone via a bathroom mirror. Let us save these poor souls from themselves. Cure these egoes run amok, and focus attention on what MySpace truly is–a cult of the egocentric.


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