A tip from an animal-rights group led to charges against two 14-year-old Marion County girls who posted a video of themselves kicking a cat wrapped in plastic on the popular Web site MySpace.com.

“I think we have a pretty good case,” Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said Thursday as he watched the video online for the first time. Authorities were alerted to the video by a letter from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, charging documents indicate. The nearly two-minute video, which was still on the Web site Thursday afternoon, shows the girls dropping, shoving and kicking the plastic-wrapped cat, named Stump, around a room, making comments such as “How does it feel?”

The Internet isn’t the real world, but it can have some real world consequences. I have nothing against MySpace. My profile originally began as a piece on MySpace. Obviously, I have a MySpace, which I created to pursue readers and network with folks. It has worked out great for me. But MySpace is simply a tool, a quick way for folks to carve out their small corner of the Internet, connect with friends, form social groups, and network with colleagues. Yes, cliques can form or some folks reduce it to popularity contests. On more than one occasion I’ve been called a friend whore.

It fills a need. People are searching for relationships and a sense of community. Clearly, the Internet has popularized the idea of nonphysical communities, pushing cup-of-sugar-borrowing, town-meeting-decision-making neighborhoods to the definition. And our president’s it-takes-a-village touchy-feeliness has raised expectations of group coziness so much that it takes a community to have a conversation. But there’s a more fundamental emotional shift in the meaning of the word as well, away from describing an inclusive, indiscriminate mix of people (the sort of community served by the United Way) to something more about personal choice. MySpace simply capitalizes on this trend. I spend a great deal of time in correspondence with folks from my MySpace, on my message board, in instant messages, and in e-mail. But I’m an adult making my own choices.

But I find myself asking “where are the parents?” We parents have to be diligent about what are kids are up to. Unless they are paying rent, my kids have no privacy rights. It’s my house. They are under my roof having to abide by my rules. I know, I’m talking awfully bad for a man who only has a 3 and a 4 year old to deal with. I can’t help but wonder why the parents at least didn’t have their own MySpace and friend their kids. Absurd? Let me share an example from my workplace. I have a MySpace. My boss has a MySpace. My work colleagues all have MySpaces and we’ve all friended each other. Now, let me share with you a hypothetical situation. If, for example, one of the people who works under me calls in sick, can’t come in the whole weekend, and if this person has a MySpace that he KNOWS everyone at his place of employ has friended, that person probably shouldn’t blog about the latest drunken spree that they went on. I’m just saying.*

For that matter, folks share entirely too much on MySpace. Heck, on the Internet, period. Yes, I know that though I swore that I wouldn’t share too much because it destroys the author’s mystique (and that I have broken that rule on many an occasion). Some folks keep their Xangas and their LiveJournals and their blogs to use as journals, posting private information on the Internet then act shocked when their friends discover it. Or blog about company secrets and are shocked when they are fired. The sense of anonymity on the Internet has empowered many folks into believing they can say just about anything they want behind the safety of their keyboard. They can talk about their friends in their blogs. They can have complete and far too public meltdowns on message boards.

This desperate need for relationships and community has lead to a devaluing of both. Too often folks have confused being acquaintances with being friends. There is no such thing as instant intimacy. Relationships take time. So I try to balance in my mind the idea that I’m communicating with real people with the idea that we are all a bunch of 1s and 0s to each other. Though I will also say that blogging and instant messaging people have made me very conscientious about gossiping. There is not better life lesson on gossiping than realizing that what you put into the Internet ether is there forever. A few clicks is all it takes for something you said to be posted and re-posted forever.

Think about that next time you are filling out your MySpace information and you check “yes” for pot. You never know who is watching.

Speaking of blogging about work, this is for those folks who listen to the Bob and Tom Show. Bob Kervoian spent all morning talking about his Asian grass carp problem that he’s been having. He was wanting to get them out of his pond because they were wrecking the plant life in and around his pond. He spoke of the big bust of having a crew come out to electrocute the fish. For the record, electrofishing is not designed to eradicate a pond but to sample from it. It’s pretty easy for fish to escape the field. And the backpack shocker unit (think the gear from Ghostbusters) isn’t real powerful and it would be very difficult to get the more powerful equipment out there.

And we didn’t charge you.

*Oh, btw, it may be about time for the blogged letter of resignation. I’m just saying.

I don’t have time to always check the comments all the places where this rant is posted. If you want to make sure that I see it or just want to stop by and say hi, do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.