In the Trenches: MySpace or Yours


In the Trenches

by Bob Ditter

Note to readers: MySpace.com and Facebook.com are so-called social networking
sites—places where many campers and staff go to create their own
personal Web site or "profile." Web Wise Kids, a California-based
company that tracks Internet use by young people, estimates that about
150 million profiles have been created by over 21 million youths in the
United States alone. (Some people create several "profiles.")
The overall aim of these sites is to communicate with friends, post pictures,
and generally stay in touch with people on the net while creating a kind
of "persona" on the Internet.

Social networking sites pose many challenges for camp professionals.
One issue is the suitability of the profiles of staff, especially when
these profiles are able to be viewed by campers and their parents. A
profile laden with escapades from college or high school may not be quite
the image a camp wants to promote regarding its staff. Norman Friedman
from AMSkier Insurance has written and spoken widely on this topic (see "Broad
Shoulders, Bright Ideas," May 2006). He
suggests doing a routine online check of each staff applicant to see
how they represent themselves publicly. (After all, if you can find such
material on your counselors, so can campers and their parents!) However,
you must first let your staff know your intentions so they have some
time to "clean up" anything that might jeopardize their chances
of getting or keeping a job at camp! You might tell your staff that,
of course, they have the right to post anything they want on their profiles,
blogs, or in other Internet media. They also don’t have to work
at your camp! My "test" for what is appropriate is if a camper
parent, when seeing the site, would feel comfortable having this person
take care of his or her child.

Another issue is the so-called "user" or "group page," where
several staff members, for example, create a profile of camp or some
aspect of camp. This often happens without a director knowing and, again,
may contain perfectly appropriate material, or may contain gossip and
pictures that are not in keeping with the values or image of camp. Someone
stumbling across such a page might well think it is an official representation
of the camp, especially if counselors have put camp pictures on the site,
used the camp name, or added the camp logo. I have received many e-mails
regarding this growing area of concern. The following is one such example:

Hello Bob,

We wanted to get your thoughts about some group pages we have discovered
that have been created by former staff without our permission. We contacted
the person(s) who created the site and requested that our name be removed.
I received no response. After that I consulted with our legal counsel
from our YMCA and he suggested that we contact MySpace.com directly.
I sent them an e-mail and received back a message saying that they would
look into the matter. After sending the message again twice, I still
have not heard back. I then contacted Parry Aftab with www.wiredsafty.org
who works on legal issues regarding these sites. She said, "You
may or may not have the right to shut down the sites. If it is merely
descriptive and not offensive, MySpace will not act against it. Did you
ask them to change their name? If so, and they refused, you can write
to customercare@myspace.com and ask for their DMCA agent for copyright/trademark
issues."

There is nothing really bad on the sites themselves. However, when following
those links to their individual pages one encounters the discussion of
drug use or sexual encounters at camp. This just has so many layers that
it makes my mind swim!

Feel free to e-mail any questions or concerns for clarification.

Thanks again.

A.L. "ALF" Ferreira

Camp Executive Director

YMCA Camp Indian Springs

Dear ALF,

It sounds like you have taken some pretty good steps already in trying
to deal with these user pages with the camp name on them. Let me back
up and outline some points, as I am sure many camp directors have similar
concerns.

First, unless a site has profanity or is offensive in some specific
way, MySpace.com and Facebook.com, which between the two of them account
for about 90 percent of all social networking sites, will probably not
remove it even though it was created without your permission. Your first
and best action is to be in contact with the person who "administers" the
site—that is, who checks
and approves postings and adds things like pictures, friends, and so on. You
and all camp directors should also look into having your camp name or logo copyrighted
or trademarked. It simply gives you firmer legal ground on which to stand when
pursuing these sites.

In addition, I suggest you create a profile for your camp on both MySpace.com
and Facebook.com that you control. On it you would simply say something like, "Welcome
to Camp So-and-so’s official presence on (for example) Facebook.com! Unfortunately,
we don’t accept friends or postings at this site, but please visit us at
(and put in a link to your official camp Web site). This profile is the only
official representation of our camp on Facebook.com. Any other group or individual
page you may see with our name on it was not created by us and does not necessarily
represent the views or values of our camp."

I actually got this idea from Jennifer Burgess at Bunk1.com, a well-known
Internet company that serves camps around the country. Jennifer also
suggests the following:

  • Create an official alumni site in a safe, secure
    environment
    .
    Doing so will require you to have someone on staff monitor the site
    daily, but it does allow alumni to find you, which could be a great
    source of new camper referrals! It also encourages staff to stay in
    touch with you, which can have a beneficial effect on staff retention!
  • Go to www.google.com and search for different variations of your
    camp name. Does your Web site appear first on the list of results?
    Which sites are in the Top 5 listings?

      – Alternately, type "Camp Example site: myspace.com" in the
    search field.
  • Go to popular social networking sites (e.g., www.Myspace.com and
    www.Facebook.com) and conduct an individual search as well as a group
    search for variations of your camp name.

For every new site/profile/group you find, contact the moderator/creator
of that individual site, introduce yourself, and use the following courses
of action. If the site seems:

  • Friendly/Inoffensive: Ask the individual to put a link to
    your official alumni site and keep things as clean as they are now.
  • Friendly but Somewhat Offensive:Explain your concerns. Politely ask
    the individual to take down anything that may be offensive and to put
    a link to your official alumni site. Remind the individual that you
    will be checking the site from time to time.
  • Unfriendly/Offensive: Explain that you do not tolerate the use of
    your camp name/logo in association with offensive or unsavory topics/photos.
    Give the individual a deadline to clean up or remove his or her site.
    If the individual does not comply, follow the social networking site’s
    procedures for removal (instructions are usually found in the FAQ section).
    If all else fails, have your lawyer send a cease and desist letter
    to the creator of the unofficial camp site.

Social networking sites are a fact of life that is not going to go away
anytime soon! The sooner you "get out in front" of this
phenomenon, by taking some of the steps outlined above, the better
able you will be to get the best out of what these sites have to offer
while managing the risks.

Good luck!

Reference
AMSkier (2006). Broad Shoulders, Bright Ideas.
May 2006.

Bob Ditter is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in child,
adolescent, and family therapy. He supervises content for Bunk1.com and
can be reached via e-mail at BobDitter1@aol.com or by fax at 617-572-3373. "In
the Trenches" is sponsored by American Income Life Insurance.

Originally published in the 2007 May/June
issue of Camping Magazine.

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