It's time to talk about one of the overlooked banes of the internet: The Curse of the Zombie MySpace Profile. Many former MySpace users are stuck forever with old profiles stamped across their Google results like a bad butterfly tattoo, reminding everyone of how lame they once were. Including me.
The Curse struck again this week, though nobody feels bad for the victim: Trayvon Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman. Mediatakeout unearthed Zimmerman's old MySpace profile, which revealed the guy is pretty racist against Mexicans. "Workin 96 hours to get a decent pay check, gettin knifes pulled on you by every mexican you run into!" he wrote. According to his lawyer, who idiotically confirmed it was legit, Zimmerman hasn't used his profile since 2005.
This happens again and again: Someone becomes suddenly notorious, and their old embarassing MySpace profile soon surfaces in a seizure of flashing .gifs, the "last logged in" notifier usually displaying some date during George W. Bush's second term. (Actually, a recent redesign of MySpace seems to have eliminated the "last logged in" field to avoid showing what a ghost town it is.)
Of course, people are routinely burned by stuff they put on Facebook. But there's something particularly insidious about an old MySpace profile: You may have completely forgotten it, but if you haven't deleted your MySpace profile by now, it's very possible that you will never be able to. Ever.
If you're like me, you can't sign into your profile any more because you don't remember your password. MySpace's halcyon days were more innocent times for the internet, before everyone completely freaked out about hackers. Back in the early 2000s passwords were, maybe, the name of your dog or a tree or a Moby album. But today we are warned to use a 58-character string of randomly generated alphanumeric symbols, or we may as well order a dozen Chanel bags and ship them to Belorussian cybercriminals ourselves. Most of us only have room in our brains for one generation of passwords.
The password reset feature has been thwarted by the passage of time, too. I signed up for MySpace with my college email address, which disappeared when I graduated. So the emails that would let me chose a new password are being blasted into empty space.
This picture of me, then an aspiring comedian, sitting on the lap of the late Oregon State Treasurer Ben Westlund in 2005, should show why this is distressing.
A quick poll of Twitter followers and Facebook friends finds that I'm far from the only person haunted by an indestructible MySpace profile.
"I tried to do an art project like four or five years ago in which I ceremonially deleted my MySpace profile in the spirit of a Heaven's Gate cult suicide/spiritual ascension," said Claire Evans, an artist and one half of the electronica duo YACHT, "but I couldn't complete it because I signed up for MySpace with an old college address that was deleted when I graduated."
As far as I can tell, this means our MySpace profiles will exist until MySpace finally dies. Which was supposed to be years ago, but then it got a last-minute defibrillator shock from Justin Timberlake and continues to stagger along with the sole purpose, it seems, of serving as an anthropological collection of the ways young people embarrassed themselves online in the early-to-mid-2000s.
Which leads to the second reason the MySpace profile problem is a unique threat to our online reputation. MySpace profiles were abandoned when Facebook started taking off, around 2005 or 2006, which freezes its portrait of you squarely in the Peak Embarrassment Zone (PEZ). The PEZ is that unfortunate period that constantly floats about 5-10 years in the past, where your clothes and hairstyle are just stale enough to be comically outdated, but not old enough to be retro-cool. Your jokes are too recent to completely disavow.
I call myself a "freelance word slut" on my profile.
19-year-old Kevin Suwandee stopped using MySpace about six years ago when he was in 7th grade, and his profile depicts the chubby hardcore online gamer he was at the time. Today he's in the army, lost a lot of weight and barely plays games. But he also lost his password and can't access his original email account to delete his account. Suwandee cringes whenever he thinks of the fossilized profile sitting there near the top of his Google results.
"If anyone sees it they'd notice my weight loss and will say I still look the same, but to me it's a big difference," he told me in an email. "Since then, I've chosen a healthier lifestyle, my acne cleared up, I stopped using hair gel, and I also stopped wearing 'Southpole.'
If you are lucky enough to still be able to sign into your old MySpace profile and delete it, do it immediately. (Here's how.) Nothing good will come of it. But if you are in the same situation as me and thousands of others, stuck with a permanent record of your existence in 2006: May God have mercy on your awkward soul.
Update: I've been informed there is a way to delete your MySpace profile even if you forgot your password and don't have your original email address. Fill out this "Declaration of Ownership Attestation Form" and perhaps an administrator will delete your aging account. However, one reader who tried this says, "I've gone that route numerous times and have never even received a response."
Update 2: If all else fails, try the MySpace salute.
(A MySpace representative did not respond to a request for comment.)