Is Facebook safer than MySpace? While lots of folks have opinions one way or another, this article is intended to give you all the resources necessary to make a decision for yourself.
A Note About Methods
Researching an article like this can be daunting if you are a fan of either Facebook or MySpace. Rest assured, faithful fans, I have accounts in both programs and generally like them both for different reasons. Thus, I have no agenda to “push” one or the other upon you.
In doing research for this article, to determine whether Facebook is safer than MySpace, I needed to figure out what “safe” means to the average user. Parents and teenagers have very different ideas about what is and is not “safe” on the internet. Parents, for example, do not want to see “potty mouth” talk online, but teenagers don’t exactly see foul language as a safety threat. So, we know for certain that there is a keen difference between “inappropriate” behavior, “risky” behaviour and outright “dangerous” behavior. This article will focus on the latter two, but I promise to come back soon to talk about the naughties and niceties of online behavior.
Risky behavior is anything that has the potential to put a person at harm. For example, listing your employer’s address isn’t exactly dangerous, but if someone wants to stalk you, they now have some information about where you go every day. Risky behavior applies to adults AND teenagers, since adults often post too much personal information about themselves.
Dangerous behavior is worse; it is material that is ASKING for trouble. For example, posting something like, “For a good time, call me! My cell is…” is asking for peeps of all walks to ring you up. Again, this kind of openess doesn’t just stem from our teens; many adults post “invitational” messages, too.
What Does “Safety” Mean?
The difference in perceived and actual safety will truly rest on the settings and tools available within each program to protect privacy. In order to measure the two programs, we will rely on the sensible advice provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. While their information is geared toward protecting children, we can safely accept that their guidance also applies to adults. They have an excellent booklet that you can download and distribute to your teens or your coworkers.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project released an excellent study in 2009 on Teens and Social Media. You can download the whole study or read it online. According to their study, “55% of online teens ages 12-17 have created a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace; 47% of online teens have uploaded photos where others can see them, though many restrict access to the photos in some way; and 14% of online teens have posted videos online.” Clearly, we need to address safety and online behavior with our teens.
Interestingly, a lot of the data out there about safety issues between MySpace and Facebook is fairly old. Most of it stems from 2007 when it seems that there was a lot of press coverage given to MySpace’s removal of 90,000 sex offenders from its roles; pundits assumed that these people shifted over to Facebook, but it appears that both Facebook and MySpace do all they can to identify and remove sex offenders. Another comparison by the LovetoKnow blog in 2008 makes a really good point; safety depends on what you expect safety to mean.
Because there was little quality information available, and most blogs and articles seemed to have an agenda to push one program over another, I decided to focus on the safety policies and procedures of each one and provide you with a comparison. It will be up to you to decide which is most safe for your needs and expectations.
The MySpace Privacy Statement indicates that it does not gather personal information “knowingly” from people under the age of 13. They will, however, gather information about you if you register for a service, try to win a prize, or take a survey.
MySpace does not limit you from listing information about you in your profile, and takes no legal responsibility for information you provide there. According to MySpace, “the Profile Information in a Member’s profile is provided at his or her sole discretion.” Members can change their personal information at any time if they are concerned. You can set your stuff to private fairly easily, but you should remember that evil-sick people can and will do the same.
Interestingly, MySpace offers a specific statement about members located in the European Union. The “Member is responsible for ensuring that such information conforms to all local data protection laws. MySpace is not responsible under the EU local data protection laws for Member-posted information.”
MySpace admits to using “cookies,” but takes no ownership for cookies designed and placed by third-party companies. While you can choose to block cookies, you might lose access to games and features that you use most often.
MySpace is very clear that it has the right to disclose your personal information without giving you a choice if there is a legal reason to so. While the statement is pretty lega-leese, it basically states that if the police come a-knockin’, they will provide all of your data without asking or telling you. This is great if you are a parent and suspect someone is posing as a teenager but is really some sick dude. It can be alarming if you are a teenager thinking you are being funny by posting degrading and slanderous comments about your teachers.
MySpace offers tips to its users and devotes a lot of time, space, and money to the issue of safety. MySpace Safety Tips is the overall topic, and Safety Setting tips from MySpace is more specific. Specific Tips for parents can be found in the section called Tips for Parents.
The recent article about a convicted Facebook killer raises a lot of questions about the safety of Facebook. But, again, the same thing could have easily happened in MySpace or AIM. Since Facebook seems to have more current users, it isn’t surprising that sick people are drawn to it to find prey. The demographics and user statistics are interesting to read, as well.
They, too, accept no responsibility for what the user posts to, or omits from, their profile. They highlight four principles of their policy on the main page that all basically boil down to one key concept: the USER is responsible for checking his or her privacy settings and the USER must make changes to default settings as appropriate. Facebook does not take responsibility for information provided by the User.
Like MySpace, Facebook does not collect information about children under the age of 13. Their statement is a little more explicit than MySpace in stating “If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for Facebook or provide any personal information about yourself to us. If we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible. If you believe that we might have any information from a child under age 13, please contact us through this help page.”
There are some nice community resources about being safe in social spaces, and this video on Facebook safety is worth reviewing with your children:
The rules governing Facebook and MySpace are nearly identical on every account. Advertising policies and Cookie placement, for example, is strikingly similar. Facebook, like MySpace, will, in a split-second, give your account up, including your IP address, if a person is in danger or the law is being broken. Both companies will pass along all of your information if they are sold and bought by a new company, and your rights will apply under the policies listed when you most recently agreed to the terms of service.
Be the JUDGE!
Who can decide whether Facebook is safer than MySpace or the other way around? The documentation is fairly equal, and so my professional opinion is that they are both equally safe and equally dangerous. A hammer, likewise, is both a great tool and a weapon; it simply depends how it is being used.
In reviewing the documentation, I think MySpace does a better job helping parents and teenagers think about safety, but I think Facebook’s rules and regulations are more clearly written. In the end, though, both programs say the exact same thing. The user is responsible for what he or she posts, so take precautions and measures that fit your needs and expectations concerning safety.