Xanga fears come local!

There was an article in yesterday’s Ann Arbor News titled “Blogs connect students but worry adults: Online journals, forums vulnerable to stalkers.” You have to register to read the story, and for folks outside of the area, I’m not sure that it’s worth it.

On the positive side of things, they do quote some folks who say good things about blogging. There’s a quote from a mom who was impressed with the writing and work done by her daughter on her Xanga blog. And then there’s this passage:

But Don Packard, a ninth- and 11th-grade English teacher at Pioneer High School, said online journals encourage students to write on a consistent basis and can stimulate their creativity.

Packard said that blogs and online journals should be used in a way that is positive and productive. He said he eventually would like to use something like a blog for students to comment on each other’s work in his class. “There’s a certain amount of frankness that comes with anonymity at times and it’s a frankness that’s necessary when talking about writing,” he said.

The rest of the piece is fear-mongering.

If someone didn’t know better, here’s what they would get from the rest of this article about”Web logs” (or “blogs”):

  • Blogs are something only kids do.
  • Blogs have no potential for educational usefulness.
  • The writing on blogs is nothing but “family problems and issues with friends,” “innocent, carefree comments, as well as lewd, sexual suggestions,” “personal information, and sometimes insults or threats,” and just plain dangerous, full of smut smut smut of the kind that “could lead to stalking, and a predator could pretend to be someone else of the same age in order to get to know the student.”
  • Xanga is the only way to post a blog.
  • Xanga blogs can lead to fights.

And so forth. Here’s my favorite alarmist passage:

Karel Graham, an eighth-grade counselor at Tappan, said she just found out about students’ blogs a couple of weeks ago and is concerned about inappropriate content on a lot of them. It also worries her that many blogs have links that allow readers to e-mail the writer.

A bit later:

Graham said she’s also concerned about the effect online communication will have on children’s social skills.

“Kids are not learning to interact socially in a normal way through verbal communication,” she said.

Jeesh. Yes, Ms. Graham, let’s do all we can to prevent student writing from actually being read and responded to by others. Let’s make sure we keep young people from writing things that matter to them. Yes, let’s do everything we can to have “normal” “verbal” “communication,” presumably the way that you remember it before this new fangled internet thing. Back then, kids never talked about sex, there never were any problems, there were no fights, there were no stalkers’ right? And, yes, yes, let’s keep our children disconnected from the rest of the world and isolated within their own limited face-to-face communities. God forbid they make a connection with someone else outside of their immediate school or town; where might that lead?!

I am not completely unsympathetic to some of these educators’ concerns. Clearly, there are a lot of junior high and high school kids who need a little lesson in audience and the reach of the Internet– of course, as I’ve noted here recently in my discussion of the Phantom Professor and other anonymous bloggers, there are plenty of “grown-ups” who seem unaware of audience and identity issues on the ‘net. I don’t know if school is the place for kids to be updating their Xanga journals about who they’ve been hanging out with and what music they’re listening to, but I also know that these are the kinds of things that normal teenagers think and write about all the time. As John Lovas has written on his blog, I don’t think we ought to criminalize writing like this.

Two other quick thoughts: first, I’m beginning to think that blogging is something that is more than a “passing fad” because it is being reported as being so dangerous and exciting and fun for teenagers. As far as I can tell, that puts blogging in the same category as just about every other popular thing ever. Second, isn’t it interesting how these stories about the dangers of blogs keep popping up in things like newspapers, those things that a lot of readers have abandoned in favor of the new electronic mediums like blogs?

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