Over the Line? MTV Launches Online 'Morality Meter'

Online app helps teens draw line between OK and offensive digital behavior.

March 15, 2010, 8:47 AM

March 15, 2010— -- Snooping in your boyfriend's inbox. Texting a classmate a racy picture of yourself. Sending a "friend" a constant stream of harassing e-mails.

Do those actions cross the line?

To help teens understand the difference between "digital use and digital abuse," MTV today launched "Over the Line?" an online application that "crowdsources" ideas on digital ethics.|The new tool lets teens share and rate stories about sexting, constant messages, spying, cyberbullying, digital-dating abuse and other forms of abuse. The idea is that, along the way, the teens will figure out which behaviors really are "over the line."

"It's digging into the nuances of digital behavior and the line between innocent and inappropriate," Jason Rzepka, vice president of public affairs at MTV Networks, told ABCNews.com this weekend at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas.

Dubbing it a kind of "morality meter," Rzepka said "Over the Line?" is part of MTV's ongoing public-affairs campaign, "A Thin Line," which aims to end digital abuse.

Similar to the Web site Texts From Last Night, which lets people anonymously share embarrassing texts, he said "Over the Line?" is meant to be revealing and engaging but spark productive conversations among teens about OK and offensive actions.

The application will include stories that range from the humorous to the dramatic and plugs into Facebook, he said.

Fifty percent of 14 to 24 year olds have been the target of some form of digital abuse and 30 percent have sent or received nude photos of other young people on their cell phones or online, according to a December study released by MTV and the Associated Press.

Twelve percent of those who have sexted have contemplated suicide, which is four times higher than those who haven't, the study concluded.

In a recent example, a Massachusetts boy sold nude images of his girlfriend to classmates for $5. Police said his action (as well as the girl's sexting him the photo) could violate child pornography laws because she is in eighth grade.

High School Girl Committed Suicide After Sexting

At a 2009 "Good Morning America" town hall-style meeting on sexting, Internet safety expert Parry Aftab of Wired Safety said she was concerned by how widespread the trend had become.

"We're seeing 14, 15 and 16 year olds and up are very commonly sharing naked pictures or sexual pictures of themselves," Aftab said. "We're talking about kids who are too young to wear bras who are posing in them, and then topless and then actually engaged in sex or even in masturbation. So we are seeing a lot of kids who are sexually active."

A Cincinnati high school girl hanged herself in 2008 after a nude cell-phone photo she sent to her boyfriend was sent to 100 students at four different schools.

"She was harassed. She was called names, filthy names," the girl's mother said. "Things are thrown at her. Her reaction to all this was -- when she would come home -- anger, snapping. And I would ask her what was wrong and ... she wasn't divulging everything, just that she was having a hard time."

After her death, her mother dedicated herself to educating people about the dangers of sexting.

"The challenge is, if you see someone that has a nude photo, you walk up to that person and you say that, 'You know, why don't you just delete that photo instead of spreading it?'" she said.

ABCNews.com's Cole Kazdin and Imaeyen Ibanga contributed to this report.

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