MySpace lied to us all….and no one cares!

The blog world has been pumping out stories over the last week related to the "scandal" surrounding Tom, one of MySpace’s cofounders and our first "friend" when we set up an account. Apparently, Tom, like most Americans over the age of 30, has been lying to us all these years about how old he really is. When the site launched four years ago, Tom’s listed age was 27, but as first broken by TechCrunch last week and later legitimized by Newsweek, Tom either had temporary amnesia when filling out his profile, or he’s just really, really bad at math. It turns out the old geezer was actually 31 back in 2003 when MySpace launched.

Ok, so Tom lied to a lot of people (185 million members, if you want to be particular). Does this really merit the absurd amount of media coverage it is receiving? Maybe I’m just a cynic and don’t choose to really believe anything I read on the Internet (and most especially something on a social networking site) without some sort of factual evidence. But why is this such a big deal? Are parents going to be that much more creeped out when they find their children joined Facebook and are suddenly friends with a random, 30-something-year-old man rather than a late-20-something-year-old man?

This certainly isn’t the first time the American public has been lied to either by producers of content. Some may remember this story about the 32-year-old writer who passed herself off as 19 and got a $300,000 contract for writing the TV show "Felicity." Or, more recently, how James Frey lied about certain parts of his past in his memoir "A Million Little Pieces," even managing to trick Oprah for a little while. People lie when they see a benefit to themselves. Sometimes, those lies are more serious, such as when a leader lies to his people. Others are relatively harmless, such as when I lie about having read an article for class. Like most things in life, it’s all a matter of degrees. And in my opinion, lying about your age, except when trying to pick up 12-year-olds*, falls on the "who cares" end of the lying spectrum.

So why did MySpace do it in the first place? In today’s information-hunting, scandal-searching milieu, it’s hard to keep a secret for long. In fact, I’m surprised Tom’s age remained hidden for as long as it did. But apparently, the site thought it was worth the risk, and it may have paid off. Younger people are more attractive and less threatening than older adults. Younger people are hipper and more in tune with the younger generation and technology trends. And some parents may actually have given more thought to allowing their children to join a site founded by someone over 30 than the unassuming-looking 27-year-old profiled on the site. Tom’s age helped cement the social networking site as a cool place for young people to spend their time, as seen in MySpace’s continued domination of the social networking world.

I’m curious to see what fall-out (if any) results from this revelation. Tom’s age is still listed as 32 on his profile. I wonder when he’ll realize his "mistake" and fix it. My guess is that, like myself, not many people really care about the age-stretching and this, like so many other similar stories, will quickly fade into the background. MySpace will certainly not disappear, nor will it likely suffer any negative consequences as the lie caused no one actual harm.

Just remember this next time you are trying to find someone on a social networking site: in the digital realm, age really is nothing but a number. Either that, or there are a whole lot of centenarians with MySpace accounts.

 

 

*Yes, I realize there are other times when lying about one’s age is more serious than I suggest. A discussion of those times is not the point of this post nor within my current mental capacity.

Jessica Vitak, a 2008 graduate from CCT, is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Michigan State University in Media & information Studies. She spent six years in Washington, D.C. working as an editor for PR Newswire, the global leader in news distribution and monitoring services, and later as a research intern at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. At Pew, she coauthored two major reports on online privacy and teens' gaming habits. Her master's thesis at Georgetown looked at relationship formation and maintenance on the social networking site Facebook, as well as the potential relationship between online activities and offline consequences. She is continuing her focus on online communication technology at MSU.