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April 7, 2023 32 mins

MySpace amplified the ongoing moral panic around teenagers on the internet. For young MySpace users, many of the trials of teenhood were transposed from the locker rooms, lunchrooms, and high school corridors to the realm of testimonials and Top 8. But was it really worse than any reality that teenagers throughout history have known? 

Joanne is joined by Alexis Nedd (author of Don't Hate the Player) and Noor Al-Sibai (author of the forthcoming MySpace Scene Queens) to talk about growing up on MySpace. 

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:10):
This is an I heeart original. I don't want to
make it seem like the overwhelming whiteness of the scene
necessarily stopped me or stopped other seeing kids of color,
like seeing because of color, often banded together and boosted
each other up when you know the elite kids didn't.

(00:31):
There were trains that were just for seeing kids of color, which,
of course the white kids was super racist. And I'm like,
how many black people are running your train? Though we
did talk to each other and we were talking about
these issues even back then, even as kids in our
like sort of unworldly way. I'm Joan McNeil, and this

(00:52):
is main accounts the story of my Space episode four,
Seeing Kids by the mid Offs, my Space was a
cultural phenomenon like this Saturday night Live sketch. What's up, everybody.

(01:13):
I am pumped to welcome you to the learning annexes
MySpace and you seminar today we're gonna help you, guys
set up a MySpace page so that you can communicate
with more than six million young people currently in the
MySpace community. Most depictions of MySpace and the media zeroed
in on it as a scuzzy place where kids were
getting into trouble. It's one of the Internet's most popular sites,

(01:34):
posting messages that are tasteless, sometimes x rated, and also illegal. Tonight,
a woman beaten, robbed, and then tormented by her attackers
again days later. The victim says that she was set
up on a website the thousands of kids and adults
use every day the social networking site MySpace. In two
thousand and seven, nearly eighty percent of twelve to seventeen

(01:57):
year olds in America use MySpace at least weekly. Technically,
the age limit to use MySpace was fourteen, but it
was easy to get around that age of it. Adults
could sign up for an account with a fake birth
year so it showed they were fourteen years old, or
fourteen year olds could say they were eighteen. Eleven year

(02:17):
olds could have said they were fourteen, or, as MySpace
users often did to be cool, they might have said
they were ninety nine years old. But even if MySpace
had strictly enforest age limits, even if that were possible,
fourteen years old is still really young. MySpace amplified the

(02:40):
ongoing world panic around teenagers on the Internet. In two
thousand and five, there was a movie called Hard Candy,
with Elliott Page playing a fourteen year old who meets
a thirty something man over the Internet. Without giving too
much of the plot away. It might have inspired the
more recent release Promising, Young Woman, you just didn't really

(03:02):
look like the kind of guy he was to meet
rolls over the Internet. Well, I think it's better to
meet people online first, sometimes get to know what they're
like inside. For these young MySpace users, the youngest on
the social network, many of the trials of teenhood were
transposed from the locker rooms, lunch rooms, and high school

(03:24):
corridors to the MySpace realm of testimonials and top eight.
Harassment and bullying took on a new dimension, and on MySpace,
the limits to who could bully you weren't constricted to
other teens at school. Anyone in the world with an
account could give you grief. In two thousand and nine,
a high school student received harassing messages on MySpace from

(03:48):
her father's creditors. A collection agency working on behalf of
JP Morgan Chase allegedly threatened her in an attempt to
attimidate her father into paying back his loan. That's just
one of the warped experiences that ordinary teenagers were having
on MySpace, living their lives with online avatars. These experiences

(04:10):
were bizarre, and it was all becoming commonplace. All the
drawbacks to online attention that early influencers had to deal with,
the underbelly of fame seeking and celebrity obsession, the surveillance
of scrutiny that was impacting ordinary youth. But was it

(04:31):
really worse than any reality that teenagers throughout history have known.
There's always been this backlash to youth culture that makes
whatever the technology of the day is into the villain.
There's something about the transition from childhood to adulthood that

(04:51):
lends itself to the victimization of young people but also
to their liberation. And I don't think that I can
extricate the two. But I know that's complicated and messy.
But what coming of age story isn't you know? That's
nor Al Sabai, author of MySpace Scene Queens, which is

(05:14):
forthcoming with the Remember the Internet series from in Star Publishing.
Nor was an active MySpace user in her use. I
don't remember exactly when I signed up from my Space.
I think it was right before I started high school,
and I had some friends who were like there's this

(05:35):
website that we're all using to connect to people, and
I was like, Okay, cool, maybe I can meet some
of my friends or meet some people who can become
friends when I started school because I was very nervous
about going high school. The first thing I remember on
my Space is finding this one girl's profile that was

(05:55):
very It was a completely fleshed out profile, which not
many people had in the year of two thousand and five.
She had a lot of interesting music. She wasn't even
a scene kid herself. She was just like a pretty
nor more like cool girl. And she had a song
playing on her profile by the man band My Morning Jacket,

(06:15):
which I got into then at the ripe age of fourteen,
and I developed a crush on this girl, of course,
and so I didn't understand that part of myself at all,
but yeah, that was That was the beginning of my
Space for me. Nora had been out on the Internet
for a while before my Space, on sites like have
a Hotel and Harry Potter fan fiction communities. She built

(06:39):
an Orlando Blue fan site when she was twelve, but
the immediate way that my Space connected users to one
another seemed totally new. That girl she noticed my Space
seemed to encourage her to look I guess she was
like friends with some people who I already knew, the

(06:59):
kind of you know, like the kind of way you
click through on someone's Instagram from a friend's file or whatever.
Just ay, it's weird to call it natural, but a
very natural progression of just like how you find other
people's profiles on a social network in pretty like organic

(07:20):
social ways, Except this was I believe the first time
I ever did that, making it a really different experience
for me. Nor quickly became immersed to the site. One
thing appealing about my Space was how popularity didn't translate
the same into the Internet. It wasn't the cheerleaders who
seemed cool on MySpace, the kids with more of an edge.

(07:45):
It was a very interesting but confusing place to be
in the high school social strata, because previously these would
have been people considered freaks, you know, if we're going
with the sort of breakfast club archetypes, these would have
been the two characters who were wearing all black, and

(08:09):
the way my Space sort of amplified their reach made
them out to be much more popular than they would
have otherwise been Without it, I think queerness seemed to
nor I was more accepted on my space. She was
just figuring out that side of herself. Part of the
appeal of the site was just the general queerness of

(08:32):
the place where all the boys and the girls looked
the same and there was this level of very deliberate androgyny.
My space was, to use a term from the era,
a scene after the break, we're going to look deeper

(08:59):
at the Emo scene. That's right, the dark side of Emo.
L just kidding BRB. For listeners over the age of
forty five or under the age of thirty, let's break
down what Emo, the music phenomena of the two thousands

(09:22):
was all about. Explaining Emo is like, well, how long
do you have? This is a seven R level college course.
But my connection to the emo movement style it was
basically about being very emotional, hence the Emo part, and

(09:44):
it was basically centered around like boys that cried and
like had strong emotions, and the music was always like
these sad boys with like dark hair and bangs in
their eyes, just like crying about how how mean girls
are to them. But we were like overvalidating that like
extreme expression of emotion, and then you know, the girls

(10:04):
in the community also were just like there was a
lot of talk about mental illness, want to talk about depression,
and it was kind of bonding over the fact that
we feel like crap all the time, which is kind
of just being a teenager. I mean, some people myself concluded,
did find out that we did have some mental illnesses.
Go figure, But it was it was a lot about
like embracing sadness, embracing darkness, finding the aesthetic that suited

(10:28):
somebody who felt like they were alone, felt like they
were sad all the time. Some of these emo bands
had serious style too, like Panic at the disco, I
come in with the heavens people ever heard of closing discope,
it's must better to face they because they were sort

(10:51):
of the big theatrical band that was coming up when
I was in high school, and it is it's it's
very dramatic. It's very theatrical. It's very you know, candlesticks
on a dining table in a castle, but everyone's dead
at the dinner party. Like it's it's super super dramatic.
So you know, teams. That's Alexis Ned. She's an entertainment

(11:13):
reporter and author. My first novel don't hate the player
is out right now And I was a MySpace then, kid.
There is something funny about that era of being emo
or goth or where you could be the one at
your school, but you're still part of some community. It's
just like elsewhere. And in this case it was like
on the internet, right, yeah, yeah, I mean you you

(11:35):
sort of enjoy the feeling of being a little isolated
because it means that you're validated by the online community
who were all talking about how isolated they are while
forming like these giant groups together or you know, virtually. Yeah,
that was very much a part of the identity where
it was kind of like a Batman style. We all

(11:56):
feel like Bruce Wayne, but then we get online and
like who we are the night Alexis had already felt
like an outside or at school. I grew up in
northern New Jersey and I went to a private school,
a very small private school. And I'm also black in
Puerto Rican visibly so, and it was a prep school. Everybody,
almost everybody else in my grade was like very wealthy,

(12:19):
white preppie kids with you know, they were popping the
collars on their polos back then. I'm not sure if
they're doing that now. I mean, they're bringing back the
two thousands, and I'm like, gen Z, don't pop the collars.
You don't have to whatevery else you bring back. But
that was very much the vibe, and I did not
fit in there for I mean racial reasons, but also
I was, you know, a bit of a weird kid

(12:40):
and a and a nerd, and for me that to
identify against my peers at school was like the emo
kids who had, you know, all the palefaces and the makeup.
My Space is where Alexis refined her scene identity, adding
strangers as friends because she thought so look cool on

(13:01):
my Space she needed a big friend count. I just
went from like zero six stee on, like I'm in
ninth grade and I'm posting pictures from like my fencing tournament,
so like taking all of my regular friends off and
just adding like hundreds of kids with like dark emo
bangs and an eyeliner and like roarer necklaces. Just every day,

(13:24):
like hundreds of strangers. And I didn't really talk to
any of them. It was just more about the number.
And like the courtesy of commenting on pictures, commenting on
people's walls and from that moment on Alexis was part
of the MySpace scene, seeing kids kind of prideed themselves
on being very vain, having a certain hairstyle, having certain makeups.

(13:48):
Everything was about getting new pictures on my Space, photoshopping
the pictures, like I learned how to photoshop because I
was making my pictures look sceny, and I would like
trade people shops of their photos and they would like
boost me on their profiles, like it was an actual currency.
Was like pictures and the pale face stripes in the hair.

(14:09):
What kind of reactions were hoping for and what kind
of reactions to you typically get if you put up
a new avatar. Yeah, on pictures and stuff. There was
kind of like a code of the scene where it's
like you usually don't tear people's pictures down unless they're
like completely tragic. So really it's like you you post

(14:32):
a picture up, you tell people that you have a
new picture up, and then your followers will comment on
the picture something else nice like oh love your hair
so cute rawer xo xo, but you had to return
it and you would post on the forum pick for
pick F for F, which is like friend for friend,
and it always was reciprocal, so you were kind of

(14:55):
passing along the positive mostly completely pointless validation to each
other just to get like a little pop up I said,
you know, new new picture comment, new new friend request.
It was very, very much a constant trade off that
just kind of sustained itself as opposed to creating anything
else outside of the community. Did you have a subsort

(15:17):
of self being young in that community though, because even fourteen,
for these sort of twenty three year old guys, maybe
not really. I would say like thirteen was probably young,
but fourteen seemed at the time definitely the appropriate age
at which to enter a community of strangers on the Internet.
I mean pretty much anyone over eighteen was viewed as

(15:38):
as quite old. You might be wondering how young alexis,
Very very young alexis even found all these other scenesters.
A lot of that happened through these sorority style clubs
on my Space called scene trains. The scene train Delia

(16:00):
went like this, someone starts a scene train, they'd name
it something. Usually it's an acronym that also has a
combolated title, like one was like narcissistic, a holes and
sadistic something. But it's spill about NASA, so you could
put NASA on there, and they would have these blog
posts that would go out and it was usually like

(16:22):
very early Internet like graphics where they had you know,
like a little moving gifts and music would play, and
it was always presented in tiers, so like the train
heads would be at the top of their very big pictures,
and then like the VIPs within the train would have
like medium sized pictures, and then there was like the
regular people who were still on the train who would

(16:45):
get like smaller pictures. And the way to get into
a train was you had to go through what you
had to add as a friend every single person on
that train, and then once they checked that you had
added everybody, you could put your submission in and it
was basically a picture linked to your MySpace profile MySpace scene.
Kids took these applications very seriously. Some people have like

(17:07):
legit applications, like written applications that you had to like
email to people. I mean some people did it by committee.
Some people it was just one person deciding like hot
or not? Are you seen enough? Are you not seen
enough for our train to put your picture next to
our pictures. That was how that process went along, and
getting accepted on those lists was like the ultimate currency.

(17:29):
Like you would put the abbreviations of the trains you
were on in your profile name, but those trains were
curated by usually one or two people that the train heads,
and basically if you weren't hot enough, you didn't get on.
The thing that I'm still stuck on, why did people
want to join this group in the first place, Like,
what do you get once you get into the train? Prestige?

(17:54):
It was one hundred percent prestige. Also because with the
it was twofold. So look, if you were in a
really good train, like people would just add you by
default because like you were, you were danged, you were
the best of the best in the scene. And the
other thing was because when the train got posted, you
got added, So people that wanted to join your train

(18:15):
had to add you as a friend. And I got
rejected from a lot of them, and the ones that
I did get on, one of my ones that I
was like super proud of actually getting into. They basically
decided who got on the train by committee, and they
would post in their group and they would say, ahoy,
here's the people that have applied Who's Gonna Get in.
Alexis was accepted into what was considered at the time

(18:36):
a very cool, very prestigious scene train. One day, she
was looking at the message board where people were discussing
possible new members. There were a bunch of comments about
one of the applicants. He was fifteen and a person
of color like Alexis. The comments the other people in
the train made about him shocked her. They said that

(19:02):
they couldn't accept him because he looked dirty. There was
one girl, never forget the comment. She says, like he's cute,
but I just want to like take some soap and
scrub him off. I read that, and at first I
didn't get it because I was like, he looks fine,
and then like it hit me. I was probably like fifteen.
I was like, oh, oh my god, you guys are
super racist, and that just it stung. Like I didn't

(19:27):
feel like I had enough social capital to say anything
about it, because you know, I would get kicked off
the train. But also it wouldn't mean anything to them
that another brown person was defending a brown person. And
that was kind of the beginning of the enter the
scene with me, Like I faded out and but I
just cut ties with it. After the break, we'll find

(19:52):
out how Alexis grew out of scenes and left my
space for good. The racist comments Alexis observed the Scene
train messageboard. We're not an isolated incident. It was jarring

(20:13):
because the kids in the scene trains had accepted her in,
but had they really and just watching things that people
would say about people trying to get on that train,
it was just like it was horendously racist, like beyond
I mean, like N words, W words. I don't know

(20:35):
if they just didn't think that I would. I actually know,
I do know they did not care if I saw
it or not. They were not thinking about me at all,
even a little bit, or anyone else who looked like me,
because we were not their their concern. And just reading
all of that was, as I said, not my first
racist experience, but it was the first time that I

(20:57):
had self selected a group by myself and forged a
part of my identity and had faced immediate racist backlash
in something that I picked for myself. This was something
that I chose, and I picked for myself, and I
still stepped in the racist dodo. I thought that I
was special to people if I was good enough, that

(21:19):
I was seen enough, I was pretty enough, people wouldn't notice.
It never works like that, And I thought that because
we had so many other things in common, there's no
way that those people could think that's about people like me,
which is also a tremendous fallacy when it comes to
whiteness and race. Alexis turned to the scene because it
seemed like everyone was commiserating over their intense emotions and

(21:42):
sense of social exclusion. The racism she encountered on my
Space from the emo kids went against what she felt
they had in common. Being an outsider. Yeah, being an outsider,
because I was an outsider at school, and I thought
that those are my fellow outsiders and I was not
their fellow outsider. Alexis had about twenty one thousand friends

(22:05):
on my Space at that point, but this experience was shattering,
like literally deleting all of them would have taken forever.
So I just knew the profile and went to college.
As for Nora, she did meet a lot of her
MySpace scene friends in person. Her scene was on and
offline internally in scenes. It was definitely a benefit to

(22:32):
the men in a lot of these bands and culturally,
even outside of what would have been considered scene culture,
there was that sort of rock star hipster mentality that
was popularized by vice of that era, by the kind
of parties that were happening in New York that week,

(22:53):
were trying to replicate in all of our suburban towns
all over the country, the sort of very chic debauchery
that we thought would make us so cool. Nor was
figuring out her identity as a queer woman, and my
face was part of this development. There were quite a

(23:14):
lot of queer people, and bisexuality, both for men and women,
for boys and for girls, was very celebrated. I can't
recall the number of times I saw posts that were
just a collection of images of scene boys kissing. That
was when girls got really into pictures of effeminate young
men kissing each other. And a lot of the girls

(23:37):
who were my bullies were bisexual themselves, which added a
whole other dimension to it, because there was a level
of rejection and the level of desire there that at
you know, at age fifteen, I was absolutely not prepared
to deal with. And I couldn't imagine also elements of

(24:01):
sexual harassment passibly too, when you're dealing with a number
of bisexual women like it that would that big character.
Absolutely that you hit the nail on the head of
that one, and there was definitely, especially when drugs and
alcohol were involved, there were women taking advantage of other women,

(24:21):
or girls taking advantage of other girls, girls who were
procuring younger girls for these older men bands, just really
really gross stuff that was way more grown up than
I think we realized at the time. She was living
in Charlotte as a teen which has a great music
scene and a lot of bands on tour passed through,

(24:44):
which meant a lot of older guys and bands passing through.
We the scene kids. A lot of us ended up
going that route, went from you know, listening to and
posting about hardcore music to listening to indie music. But
it was very much the sort of hipper than bou

(25:07):
mentality that my favorite band is more scared than yours, like,
you know, especially if you end up communicating with the
people in the bands, which we were able to divide
my space, and as has become pretty infamous now, there
was not just communicating going on, but there was also
older men in bands praying on teen girls. That was

(25:30):
replicated on a national and regional scale with the music
scene in my hometown and had some pretty close calls
myself with musicians and just men in these various scenes.
Lots and lots and lots of girls that I knew
in real life and online had more than close calls,
both consensual and non consensual with some of these older men.

(25:54):
There was a musician in the local scene who developed
a reputation for going for some of the youngest girls,
who never suffered any consequences for it, and it was
a joke among people my space happened years before me too,
and broad media reckoning around consent, sexual harassment and issues

(26:18):
like grooming. But it also wasn't the dark ages. Any
reasonable person knew that it was wrong for grown men
to hit on fifteen year old girls, nor as a
young woman open to meeting people in person she knew
from my space, was at risk. This guy was an

(26:39):
employee at the local and American apparel and he invited
me to his house to do a photo shoot, which
even I at the time, I think I knew that
it was a red flag. I think I felt weird
about it, but I was still flattered by the attention
that I was like you know, I was really interested
in it, and then truly the moment, I don't even
think the words were completely out of my mouth before

(27:00):
my mom was like, there's no way this guy is
a creep And I don't even think I protested that
much because it was a creepy situation. I think in
that instance he did slide into my DMS. We didn't
have that terminology, but it was absolutely what was happening.
And I think it was very much the same way

(27:26):
you know, when you see someone online that you think
is cute now like I did with the very first
profile or remember seeing on the website. You know, they
pique your interests, their photos pique your interests, and then
then their purported you know, taste in music and film
and art further draws you in. And yeah, that's how

(27:50):
any kind of encounters, good or bad or neutral, all
occurred there. My space was a place of harassment, but
it was also a place where Nor and Alexis both
found themselves. As toxic as the scene could be, they
found fellow travelers. I don't want to make it seem

(28:11):
like the overwhelming whiteness of the scene necessarily stopped me
or stopped other seeing kids of color like seeing kids
of color often banded together and boosted each other up
when you know the elite kids didn't. There were trained
that were just for seeing kids of color, which of
course the white kids said was super racist. And I'm like,

(28:32):
how many black people are out of your train? Though,
there was like an even smaller, smaller community within it
where complete strangers who also just happened to be seeing kids,
you know, brown kids, black kids, even I guess Asian
kids too. We did talk to each other and we
were talking about these issues even back then, even as

(28:55):
kids in our like sort of unworldly way. This wasn't
something that just happened to me, and I've internalized it.
When I thought like, hey, that's really messed up, I
had other people to talk to about that. That was
a very formative experience for me, and I think a
lot of other scene gets of color because we realize
that we have to make a space within a space

(29:16):
that we thought was our space. On my space, hey
look at that, and I missed those guys. I'm sure
they're doing great. My name time Space Time. Yes, bad

(29:52):
stuff happens on the internet, racism, creepy old guys, but
the Internet isn't all bad, isn't Look at Nora and Alexis.
They are both authors. Those Harry Potter fan fiction communities
and emoc message boards were good for something. It was

(30:13):
it was training. It was absolutely training. And we type
really fast and have like slightly Wi Fi poison brains,
and it's great. Wouldn't have it any other way me too.
I am an author and a lot of those writing
skills were forged from posting nutty things on the Internet
late at night. In our next episode, we're going to

(30:34):
get into another area of creative expression that flourished on MySpace. Music.
The best thing that my Space, probably its lasting impact,
was probably its impact on music and distribution. Anyone could
be on my Space and find out about like a
little band from Long Valley, New Jersey. You guys super
into them. That's what my Space gave us into long

(30:55):
term at and like low key racial trauma. More on
this next time on Main Accounts, The Story of MySpace.
Thanks for listening to Main Accounts, The Story of MySpace
and iHeart Original podcast Main Accounts. The Story of MySpace

(31:17):
is written and hosted by me Joe Anne McNeil, editing
it's sound design by Mike Coscarelli and Mary Do. Original
music by Alice McCoy, Mixing and mastering by Josh Fisher,
Research and fact checking by Austin Thompson, Jocelyn Sears, and
Marissa Brown. Show logo by Lucy Kntinia. Special thanks to

(31:39):
Ryan Murdoch, Grace Views and Behead Frasier. Our associate producer
is Lauren Philip, our senior producer is Mike Coscarelli, and
our executive producer is Jason English. If you're enjoying the show,
leave us a rating and a review on your favorite
podcast platform Sadly, my MySpace page is no longer around,

(32:00):
but you can find me on Twitter at Joe Mick.
Let us hear your MySpace story aunts check out my
book lurking main Accounts. The Story of MySpace is a
production of iHeart Podcasts.
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