Thursday, March 30, 2006

Be(bo) Aware

Hands up all those who know about Bebo, the latest craze to be sweeping through the youth of Ireland. Mmmm.. not that many hands raised. While it is estimated that there are in the region of 500,000 young people in Ireland with Bebo accounts, it is also estimated that only a fraction of the parents of those 500,000 youngsters are aware of what their offspring's accounts contain. But first, what is Bebo? This is taken from their help page.

Bebo also allows you to share Photos, Blogs, draw on your own and other members' White Boards, and, oh, a lot of other stuff too.
If you are a student you can join your school or college to hang out with other students in your own school or college. Or you can join your old school or college as an Alumni to catch up with past students.

So, there you have it, good clean fun. And in most cases that's what it is, kids being kids. In many of the blogs I've seen the main subject for discussion is the amount of alcohol they can consume, their musical tastes and their interest in the opposite sex. In a lot of cases the most appaling thing on the sites is the massacre of the English language with poor spelling, optional grammar and a propensity for text-speak - U no wht I mn? So is there anything to worry about? Maybe.

First off, while you can set up your account so that only friends can see the content (what's the fun in that?) many young people are making their accounts public for (literally) all the world to see. They are also not following Bebo's (good) advice to not use their own names nor to reveal any personal details. Many of the sites I reviewed for this article are littered with personal (and sometimes revealing/embarassing) details and photos of the site's owner and their friends, together with the friends' names and often personal details about them. Given that Bebo allows kids as young as 13 to have accounts (and they have no way of preventing younger kids from getting accounts), you don't need to be a genius to work out that the wrong kind of audience might be attracted to the site.

Another thing that the kids posting details about themselves tend to forget about is the persistence of the web. Something that you may want to brag about today may be all too easy for a potential employer to find when they Google your name in five years time - something that some employers are already doing today.

So, if you do use Bebo, follow the site's good guidelines and stay anonymous. And if you're a parent, why not ask your kids about their accounts, I'm sure they'll be happy that you are expressing an interest and delighted to show them to you. Sure, why wouldn't they?

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