Social-networking sites: the complete guide

Facebook, MySpace et al, find the right site for you

How safe is social networking?

In light of a handful of high-profile cyberbullying, stalking and suicide cases that the media partially blamed on social networks, many of us have begun to give serious thought to the wisdom of spending life online. The parents of teenage MySpacers and Bebo-ers, in particular, have expressed grave concerns.

Mary (name changed) has a deal with her secondary-school-age daughter that her MySpace profile must be private, shielding her from all but her real-world friends. But when the 15-year-old created a fictional female MySpace character with a friend, they made the account public and soon began chatting with an older boy. When the younger girl agreed to meet the boy, it triggered a crisis in both girls' families.

"When you make somebody up, they're exciting, they're more adventurous than you really are," says Mary, who was unhappy with the fake account but even more shocked that it progressed to a face-to-face meeting.

Magazine publisher Waylon Lewis says his company used a MySpace page to promote parties and other events for its yoga-culture magazine, Elephant, until the page began attracting so much porn spam that he had to abandon the effort. But Lewis's story has a happy ending: his company fled from MySpace to Facebook, and he finds it a great place to publicise events and build community around the magazine. Lewis says his Facebook inbox is completely spam-free, but he wonders whether that will last if Facebook's ownership or policies change.

"I didn't used to get triple-X spam on MySpace," Waylon says.

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