MySpace Pushes Public Service

By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 5, 2006, the social-networking site that boasts 90 million members who are "friends" with one another online, is trying to galvanize its user base to get involved in public service.

It is doing so by sponsoring a contest, which begins today, requesting submissions of 15- to 30-second video public-service announcements encouraging social activism. The winner will be featured in Seventeen magazine, which is co-sponsoring the contest.

MySpace has attracted attention -- and notoriety -- for the things people post online. Claiming a membership equal to nearly a third of the American population, the site has become a launch pad for new musical and comedic acts who post their music on a page. Organizations, celebrities, politicians and companies have established their own Web sites. News stories also have reported about young MySpace members attracting sexual predators through their MySpace pages.

The contest's sponsors said they hope to use its spotlight to bring awareness to issues that would be of concern to a broad base of people.

"It's really a powerful way to reach people," said Jeff Berman, senior vice president of public affairs for MySpace.

Thousands of MySpace members submitted videos of themselves dancing to Ciara's song "Get Up" in a contest sponsored by Touchstone Pictures for a chance to appear in the music video, and Berman said he hopes for a similar turnout for the public-service contest, which will be judged by a panel of judges from Seventeen and MySpace. Next month, the online community will select the winner from the top three candidates. The winner will be announced the week of Aug. 21.

"We wanted to use our two mediums for greater good," said Atoosa Rubenstein, editor in chief of Seventeen, who said the magazine and its editors all started their own MySpace pages to keep in touch with their readers. With 13 million readers, Seventeen is the top-ranked magazine among teenage girls, while MySpace ranks No. 1 among teens' favorite Web sites, she said. "We're almost organizers with a powerful megaphone."

Research shows that while a majority of teens say they care, a minority are actually involved in volunteerism.

Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Ill.-based market research firm, uses the term "armchair activists" to describe many teens. "They are interested in community service as long as it's served up to them on a silver platter."

In a recent survey, 63 percent of teens said they care about others and want to make the world a better place, Wood said, but only 25 percent were involved in a volunteer activity. Teens took to the yellow Livestrong cancer-research bracelets because they were easy to wear and it allowed them to broadcast their involvement, Wood said.

"They're not as passive as that might suggest, but they lack an easy opportunity to get involved," he said. After all, "they're still teenagers, and they don't want to work too hard to get involved."

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