MySpace discovered 29,000 registered sex offenders on its service and has deleted them. This is every parent's worst fear about the service -- that it is teeming with predators looking to make contact with the kids and teens who have profiles. The good news is that MySpace has been working with law enforcement to discover these sex offenders and is deleting them. Of course, that's assuming these adults in the registry are all actually predators. The other piece of good news is that most teens on the site view any contact from an adult stranger that is sexual in nature as spam. Unfortunately, commercial spam is all over MySpace -- I deleted around 10 MySpace spam messages from my profile this week.
There are teens on MySpace who are at-risk and vulnerable to interacting with predators. The challenge is identifying teens who are most likely to engage in sexual communication with adult strangers. The ones who have already been hurt, who are seeking that sort of adult approval and validation, who are having problems at home, who aren't talking to mom and dad. It can't hurt to reiterate the "be safe" message to your own teens even though you'll most likely get an "I know, Mom" with a classic teenage eye roll.
The history, size and design of MySpace has made it more open to predators and commercial spam in general. It has always been a public site anyone can access. And because its early users were L.A. musicians/artists, it has also always had a more "adult" and alternative feel to it. It's like the Village Voice of social networking with all the racy ads included. The combination of spam and adult scrutiny is already driving teens off the service so it's worth asking your teen if they still use MySpace regularly or if they're "over it."
How do you take this news as a concerned parent, especially if your teen is an active MySpace user?
1). Don't panic. Read the headline, then read what MySpace is doing about it. Just as sex offenders or predators will be drawn to playgrounds or other spaces young people hang out in, it would make sense they would be drawn to a site like MySpace.
2) Talk to your teen. Share the headline, and tell them you're just checking in to make sure they're profile is either private, i.e. just for friends, or if it's public, that it doesn't include too much personal information (see my post on identity theft). Then try an "I'm sure you already do this, but if any adult or stranger contacts you and says anything sexual in nature, I want to make sure you block them and report their profile to MySpace."
3) Remember that MySpace is not for kids or young teens. If you have tweens (under 14) who want to be on a social networking site, steer them towards sites like Imbee (or check out the list of tween sites listed on the right hand side of Ypulse).