'Problems happen in any community. The sense MySpace is where all these bad things are happening is overblown.’ MYSPACE CO-FOUNDERS TOM ANDERSON AND CHRIS DEWOLFE TALK WITH KATE FILLION ABOUT NARCISSISTS, CREEPS AND UNDERAGE USERS
Chris DeWolfe is CEO of MySpace, Tom Anderson is president; MySpace is now owned by News Corp. QTom, every new user is automatically linked to you as their first MySpace friend. How many MySpace friends do you have? TA: I think around 170 million. Q: And how many close friends do you have in real life? TA: Probably four or five. Q: Chris, your MySpace page is private, meaning that only people you’ve approved can see it. Why?
CD: Some people have private pages, some people have public pages. I have my better friends on the page, and it keeps things really clean for me in terms of communicating with those people and finding those people that I like to talk to on a regular basis.
Q: Why do we need MySpace Canada when so many Canadians already use the site?
CD: We’re now in 14 different countries. We recognize that there are big differences in culture in all countries. For example, in Japan, they seem to be very interested in blogging in groups and sharing information by affinity groups, whereas in the U.S. it’s more about the individual person and the friends that are around them. Although the U.S. and Canada are probably more similar than any other countries that we’ve entered, we realize there are differences. In every country we have a local management team on the ground that really understands the culture and customs and how people use the site. We just did that in January of this year, and our unique users have increased by 50 per cent. Something like the [Montreal singer-songwriter] Patrick Watson exclusive video premiere that we’re going to be unveiling next week will be super-popular among Canadian music aficionados, but people in the U.S. may not be as familiar with him.
Q: At least on the American site there’s an element of narcissism to the way a lot of people use MySpace, specifically teens and twentysomethings boasting about how hot they are. Doyou think there’s something different about this generation because of the media they can use to express themselves?
CD: Yes, definitely. It probably started off with the reality shows in the early ’90s, probably with The Real World. Everyone wanted to be on that show, then everyone wanted to be on reality shows, and then the Internet came along and sort of democratized the ability to reach out to many people. On the positive side, it’s definitely given emerging artists a way to be discovered. It’s made it really easy for people to “be famous” in a little bit of a different way. I think social commentators mistake that as [this] generation being selfish or self-involved, but what we’ve clearly seen is that people also use the site in a big way for charitable causes and making the world a better place.
TA: To answer the question how people have changed, how culture has changed, a lot of it has to do with the digital camera and people being able to take pictures of themselves and represent themselves in different ways. Now, almost every mobile phone has a camera or video camera built into it as well, that’s just becoming really commonplace.
Q: Someone called MySpace “an eternal memory of our indiscretions.” People are going public with information that used to be considered really private, and once it’s out there, there’s no way to get it back. Did it occur to you when you launched in 2004 that parents and employers would use MySpace as a form of surveillance, looking at kids’pages to see what’s really going on in their lives?
TA: It wasn’t something that either of us thought about because of course to reach that level requires a huge user base. I know that people have used it for that reason, employers take a look, but I wouldn’t really call it surveillance. I think people do have a sense that what they put out there is going to be seen by the public.
Q: Chris, you’ve said, “MySpace is all about letting people be what they want to be.” What if what they want to be is bullies or racists?
CD: We clearly have terms of service that don’t allow users to do those kinds of things. And we’ve invested a lot of money in insuring, to the degree that we can, that our terms of service are met.
Q: Who decides what’s objectionable? How
many deleters are there and how much do they delete a day?
CD: We’re not giving those statistics out right now, but you could say that a very significant portion of our staff is devoted to customer support, security and safety. We literally review every image that gets uploaded to our site.
Q: Do you think there’s more bullying because of sites like MySpace?
TA: That’s a really tough question. It’s not like I hang out at high schools and have a sense of how much bullying is going on, but I don’t think it’s a problem that is any different online than it is [off-line]. Fortunately, online, the consequences are probably easier to deal with because we can just remove the page and then it’s over, whereas the bullying that happens in person might turn into some sort of physical encounter.
Q People about kids identifying are putting also information concerned private, on the Web that leaves them open to predators, and in fact the families of several teenage girls in the U.S. are suing MySpace because their kids were sexually assaidted by people they met on the site. Do you ever lose sleep about something that’s happened on MySpace?
TA: The lawsuit you mentioned was actually dismissed by the local judge. This decision reaffirms that under federal law Internet sites like MySpace cannot be held liable for content posted by, or wrongdoing committed by, users who visit our site.
CD: The safety and security piece of the business is one that we take very seriously. We’ve limited the ability with which older users can talk to younger users on the site. We have algorithms where we identify underage users [MySpace is limited to users aged 14 and over], we have people going through all the algorithms on a daily basis and deleting those profiles that fit their criteria. We’re also lobbying to make it mandatory for sex offenders to have their emails in a database. We’ve done a lot of public service announcements and trying to get the word out about using the Internet safely, and I think that’s the most important thing, to not only educate users but to educate parents and teachers and law enforcement as well.
Q: What’s the best thing you’ve heard about that’s happened on or because of the site?
CD: There’s a local group called the Burrito Project that would assemble all their friends through MySpace, get together and make burritos, and get them out to the homeless. They expanded nationally—actually internationally, to Syria, and over there it’s called the Falafel Project. Certainly there’s hundreds if not thousands of examples where a comedian was made on MySpace, or a musician got huge. Lily Allen is now signed by Capitol Records, and she emerged maybe a year and a half ago mainly through MySpace in the U.K., and now she’s a top-selling artist.
TA: It seems almost daily I get an email about families that have found each other, having been separated at birth, or they’d lost touch throughout the years. I was just thinking about a guy who was in a band that had a very large friends list because of his band’s profile. His father got sick and they needed blood donors; he posted a bulletin and all the different fans of his band and personal friends of his were donating blood to help keep his father alive.
CD: I get messages all the time from families of soldiers in Iraq who use MySpace.
Q: Why MySpace instead of email?
CD: Because it’s really a way for them to communicate with a larger group. They can accumulate all their friends from the U.S. or Canada or wherever, and post a blog about what’s going on, or post pictures. If they want to write an individual message, they can just click on their picture and send a message.
Q: Is there a commonly repeated factual error about MySpace, or something that’s tremendously irritating to both of you, that you see repeated over and over?
TA: I think on some level it’s the entire line of questioning you just went through, all these problems and security issues. Those things happen in any large community. There’s 170 million people on MySpace, that’s, like, five times the size of Canada! People aren’t walking around asking the police in Canada are they responsible for [similar security problems], Of course they are, everybody takes responsibility in a community. But the sense that MySpace is this place where all these bad things are happening is truly overblown.
CD: It’s shock journalism and people like conflict. A story about the nice things we just told you is not interesting to people.
Q: Chris, you just recently became a parent, right?
Q: This is a couple of years off, but if your child were spending hours online every day would that be okay with you?
CD: I would be fine with it. I think the benefit kids have, growing up right now, is Internetsavvy parents. They’re learning the basic rules of safety in life. Part of that is learning about how to use the Internet safely, just like they learn how to go to the park safely, how to go to school safely, how to treat other people.
Q: When News Corp. bought MySpace for US$580 million in 2005, was it anticlimactic to find yourselves in a very short period of time rich beyond your wildest dreams? CD: The truth is, we weren’t starving students prior to starting MySpace, we’d had successful businesses before. It’s certainly nice to make money off of it and become financially successful, but really the fun of it was to build the site and that continues to be the fun of it. I think both of us hope to work at MySpace for a long time in the future, even though we’ve already sold the company.
Q: What’s your biggest luxury?
CD: I like spending time at the beach.
TA: A lot of people have been giving me free clothes lately. It’s good because I hate shopping.
Q: In a fairly short period of time you’ve launched a record label, a politically focused channel, Impact, and signed a deal with Mark Burnett for a new political reality show. Doyou ever feel that by expanding in this way you’re losing touch with what MySpace was initially all about: user-generated content?
CD: I think MySpace is all about different communities connecting with each other around shared interests. And I think when you’re talking about politics and the issues surrounding you on a global basis, those are all issues people want to connect about.
Q: What’s the most unusual use of the site you’ve heard of?
TA: The couple trying to find a baby for adoption, that was just this last week. I think that kind of takes the cake. M
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