Teens Seek Social Networks With Less Rules

StickamAre teens leaving MySpace for new social networks with less rules? The New York Times seems to think so. They say one of these new lawless destinations is Stickam.
Even enthusiastic Stickam users say the site often feels lawless. "People are very vulgar and like to 'get their jollies' from harassing people, mainly girls, to take off their clothes," said Chelsey, a 17-year-old user from Saskatchewan in Canada, who signed up after her 13-year-old sister violated the site's age rules and joined the service.

"I'm pretty sure none of their parents know or even think about the things that they are doing on this site," said Chelsey, who said in an e-mail message that she did not feel comfortable using her last name in an interview.

Other companies that offer Web cam chats say that the technology seems to attract abuse. "There are just some people who, if you give them a Web cam, are going to take off their clothes," said Jason Katz, founder of PalTalk, an eight-year-old service that lets users converse over Web cams on various topics. Unlike Stickam, PalTalk asks for a credit card and charges a monthly fee, which it says prevents minors from signing up.
Most of the videos on Stickam so far are personal videos. The wide pages that make comments more visible may be one of the draws at Stickam. Six pages of new videos -- with 30 videos on a page -- have already been added to Stickam today so the site does appear to be popular. The Times article says Stickam has over 250,000 registered users with 50,000 of them aged 14 to 17. The latest videos can be found here and the most popular videos can be found here. The most popular photographs are here. Not surprisingly, some of the videos and photographs do show young people not wearing much but that's typical of many social networking websites. Stickam's chief executive told the Times the site is safer than other social networks.
Mr. Kihioka of Stickam said that in some respects, his site was actually safer than other social networks. Live video feeds let users "know who they are talking to," he said. "Unlike MySpace, it is hard to disguise yourself." But he added that his company had the same concerns about child safety as MySpace and was working on an automated system that would monitor live video feeds for indecency.
Of course, the site's CEO can be expected to say the site is safe. Parry Aftab, executive director of the child protection organization WiredSafety.org, told the Times that the webcams may be the source of new problems. Aftab said, "Web cams are a magnet for sexual predators." Webcams can make it very easy for tech savvy teens to instantly upload live video. YouTube added a direct web cam feature last month. Maybe this year we will see a parental backlash against webcams.

Another reason teens may be looking for new outlets online is just because too much attention has been drawn to popular social networks like MySpace, Facebook and Bebo. The teens and young adults may simply want to be where the adults are not.

Posted on January 2, 2007

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