We’ve all read the coverage about MySpace’s teen users, "safety czars" and education campaigns to warn about the existence of sexual predators prowling the site. Check out this story in Wired about reporter Kevin Poulsen’s 1,000 lines of computer code and an investigation that saw law enforcement nab a New York sex offender on MySpace. Read more here.
The article and this ongoing concern about teen safety begs the question: Should MySpace be doing more to protect users? In theory, it would be great if the site could cross-reference sex offender databases state-by-state with names, email addresses and locations, automating the process to ultimately block offenders from logging in or contacting teen users. But in practice, considering that it’s common for people to have multiple email addresses/accounts and that offenders may use fake names, this idea may prove difficult to implement. What should be seriously examined is establishing an automated system that screens for key words or photo content between users of specific ages, thereby IDing potential sex offenders.
On the flip side, federal watchdogs had no trouble finding and flagging the profile of a Sacramento teen frustrated with President Bush. The student was recently questioned at school for threat-related content in her profile. Something to ponder: if “the law” is scanning profiles for threats against political figures, shouldn’t it also “watch” for sexual, inappropriate messages from predators to teens? Or is all this monitoring too Big Brother-ish and invasive? Or not the responsibility of MySpace at all? With more members signing on to the site by the minute, these are very real issues to address.