Friday, September 29, 2006

MySpace: Terror's next planning tool?

Last night I was reading the start-of-the-year letter from the Headmaster of Saint James School, my alma mater. In part, Father Dunnan writes
When I spoke to new parents on Sunday and those returning parents who were able to be with us on Monday, I expressed to them my continuing concern about "blog" sites on the internet such as "MySpace," "FaceBook," and "Xenga." Those of you who were with us last year will recall that we were forced to respond to several students who misrepresented themselves and the school on these sites, made compromising statements and even attached compromising photographs. We had the same experience this summer. Despite our best efforts to teach them, many of our students still fail to understand or at least refuse to believe that whatever they put on the internet is public, and indeed permanent. Again, our concerns are several. First and foremost, this activity often is not safe, as it attracts attention from internet predators not only to the student doing this but also to fellow students on campus and in the dorm. For instance, once a girl writes that she plays field hockey and attends Saint James, all the predator has to do is look up the schedule on our website to be there to watch her. Secondly, it is almost always a complete waste of time, and they have much more productive things to do. Thirdly, these sites invite young people to "brag" about sexual acts, drinking, and drug use, all of which are dismissible behaviors on or off campus. Fourthly, students are also tempted to be mean on these sites and to harass or haze other students whom they perceive to be less "cool" or not in their particular group. This was already an issue with "chat rooms." The challenge for us when we read these things is whether or not to believe them. If we do not, the student has violated the honor code; if we do, he or she may need to go, as two so far have. Needless to say, a photograph, or indeed a series of photographs, can be particularly compromising: "look at me and my friends at the party! It was awesome!" There are nonetheless a few legitimate uses, particularly once they get older and are applying to college, but these uses frankly are very few.
I was sold on points two through four, but I wasn't so sold on the first point.

It didn't take long for me to see the naivete of my viewpoint and admit I was wrong.
The gunman who shot and killed a high school student after holding her and five other girls hostage had asked for students by name, a Colorado county sheriff said Friday.

Duane Morrison, who killed himself after fatally shooting Emily Keyes, 16, molested all six girls, said Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener. The sheriff didn't know "how much or to what degree."

Morrison had gone up to a male student and asked about the identities of "a list of female students," Wegener said. He didn't know which, if any, of the girls he took hostage in a classroom were on that list.

Investigators were aware of rumors that Morrison may have researched his victims on, an online community that allows users to post personal pages and network with friends, Wegener said.
Oh, yes, I was wrong.

And, what seemed at first to be a sad and random act of violence now seems to be something much more evil and sinister.

I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this specific attack in the days ahead and more on this issue in the months ahead.

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