Before you sext: MTV's crowdsourcing app

For teens who've had enough digital drama, the network introduces "Over the Line?"

Published March 17, 2010 8:08PM (EDT)

Yesterday, MTV launched a crowdsourcing app called "Over the Line?" to help youngsters determine which digital behaviors are over, on or under "the line." It's all part of the network's "A Thin Line" campaign -- they're really into this "line" idea -- which highlights the particular dangers that arise when technology meets flirtation, sex, jealousy and bullying (which is to say, basically everything that defines the typical high school experience). It's a crucial issue, given the handful of recent stories linking various types of digital humiliations to teen suicides and the growing number of "sexting" teens being charged as child pornographers -- but I wonder, will it do any good?

The basic concept behind the app is that MTV-viewers submit personal stories about walking that aforementioned thin line and then random Web surfers comment on and rate the relative outrageousness of the stories. For example, an anonymous poster writes: "i just got involved with someone and i really like them alot...but they are in a relationship with someone..and now they asked me to send some nude pics." In response, another anonymous user says, "Can't trust them. If they're asking for nude pics while they're in a relationship how can you trust them to ever stay faithful to anyone?" Wise words, Anonymous, wise words. But then another commenter chimes in: "send the damn pic, dont be a negative nancy."

That pretty much sums up the experience on any public forum in any corner of the Web, right? There are many smart and earnest people, and then there are the minority of ranty jerks who are high off their anonymity and scream louder than anyone else. Thankfully, the intelligent comments are thus far dominating (thanks in part to comment moderation by MTV). Take the responses to a 14-year-old girl whose boyfriend digitally stalks her throughout her day: "Yes, that's definitely obsessive!! He has trust and jealousy issues. You deserve better," "yes, back away from controling guys" and "that's super obsessive behavior -- totally not fair to you." Now that's sure heartening and totally deserving of an MTV-branded fist-pump.

But, much as I'm down for listening to kids, as opposed to preaching to them, I'm not sure this app brings much to the table. At the same time that it tells teenagers to "draw your own line," it also encourages them to listen to popular teen opinion -- as if they aren't already, I mean that's what high schoolers do. It seems to me they're much better served by shows like MTV's "Sexting In America" special, which documents the real-life consequences of virtual flirtations (much like "16 and Pregnant" documents the real-life consequences of unprotected sex). It gives them the facts -- as they exist in the real adult world, as opposed to the court of teenage opinion -- but, crucially, without the alienating tone of a parental lecture.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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