Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 5/16/2007 9:55:12 PM ET 2007-05-17T01:55:12

So, we’re in agreement here, right? Stacy Snyder, the Pennsylvania woman denied a teaching degree because of an innocuous MySpace photo, was majorly hosed.

In case you missed it, the offending photo, taken at a 2005 Halloween party, showed Snyder, wearing a child’s pirate hat and lovely lavender frosted eye shadow, drinking from a plastic Mr. Goodbar cup. The accompanying caption read, “Horny Mary Kay Letourneau.”

Wait! Wait! My bad! I got confused for a minute there because then Millersville University’s actions might almost seem reasonable. “Drunken pirate” is what the caption actually read — the same two words that describe the beloved protagonist of a blockbuster Disney franchise, the third installment of which premiers to PG-13 audiences on May 25. For this “unprofessional” and “potentially offensive” photo that somehow “promotes underage drinking,” Synder, a 25-year-old mother of two, was deemed unfit to teach.

Snyder is suing for her rightfully-earned diploma and teaching certificate, as well as $75,000 for damages. Unfortunately, when it comes to institutionalized abuse of social networking sites, she’s not alone. Scientists predict that by 2010, everyone on the planet will know at least one person whose life has been destroyed by MySpace.

Okay, not scientists. Just me. True, I can’t do math in my head. But I’m pretty good at predicting these sorts of things. One of my bestest friends lost a well-paying, prominent job for which this person was singularly qualified due to an arguably hypocritical and fascistic response to a tongue-in-cheek sentence fragment posted on someone else’s MySpace profile. Detailed, inaccurate news reports of this incident then flooded cyberspace, where everyone can hear you scream.

Again, trust my veracity. Though granted permission to discuss my friend’s situation, I won’t make another online record which may haunt my friend’s future endeavors. Unlike all those kids in a recent New York magazine article about Generation Y’s online openness, I know how the Internet works. And how it works is a lot like those tattoos you young gentiles are getting all over your bodies — the ones you know in your soul you’ll never regret. Ever.

Except unlike those tattoos that, turns out, don’t look so good when faded on sagging skin, you can’t erase your Internet imprints with skin grafts. Or anything. Your innocent MySpace hijinx never go away. For the rest of your natural life, they remain just a few clicks away, waiting to be discovered, misinterpreted, and abused.

The fact that we're conducting our private and work lives in the same medium will continue to raise issues. It starts as posting something to a blog that only your friends read, a blog which then unpredictably becomes a multinational sensation overnight. You think you’re carrying on a semi-private conversation via the bathroom wall, and it turns out everyone now knows that you like getting spanked or you watch NCISor whatever.

This is stated more succinctly in a quote from Center for Digital Democracy founder Jeff Chester in a recent Sci-Tech Today article by Frederick Lane: "I think a new digital puritanism is arising. A case like (the drunken pirate) highlights the need to develop a whole new standard of ethics, since even a relatively innocent remark or situation online can backfire and ruin someone's entire career."

Like I said, MySpace will destroy you. Or your house. Or Annie Lennox’s house.

I’m not saying MySpace is evil. It’s more like big dumb Lennie from “Of Mice and Men.” It doesn’t mean to snap the puppy’s neck or crush your future. But there’s a good chance it’s going to happen all the same. The best thing you can do is cap MySpace in the back of the head while talking about your future rabbit farm, or stay the hell away.

If there’s actually full-on evil associated with MySpace, it comes from the Big Brother institutions who abuse it. Not so much the attorneys generals from eight states looking to usurp the law by asking MySpace to hand over the names of registered sex offenders using the site. A request denied by MySpace, who recently dumped registered sex offenders anyway — which was probably fairly easy because as everyone knows, sex offenders always use their real names.

More striking is the Pentagon’s decision to block MySpace, YouTube and over a dozen other Web sites from the military computer system — effectively cutting off simple communication and support systems between soldiers in Iraq and their families back home. A compelling argument for security would be one thing. But after years of war and Internet connection, “The U.S. Army’s not going to pay the bill for you to get on MySpace and YouTube,” according to Maj. Bruce Mumford, communications officer for the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Iraq. (Hey Private, see if you can still get on Friendster!)

These days, when your Halloween costume can cost you your future, perhaps it’s all for the best.

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