What is MySpace?

MySpace is a free online community made up of personal profiles aimed primarily at younger members. A profile on the site usually includes a digital photo and detailed information about the member’s personal interests. The amount of details included in the profile is the responsibility of the user and submitted voluntarily. MySpace policy requires users to be at least 14 years of age to join. Members routinely message each other and “network” or socialize in the community.

Friends use MySpace and other social media sites to stay connected when they’re not physically together.

MySpace’s format makes it easy for anyone to submit profile information, even if he or she has little online experience. While the domain proved incredibly popular, reportedly hosting over 60 million profiles, it also came under attack. The concern is that the vast majority of members may be too inexperienced to realize the potential danger of posting personal information online. Some profiles contain not just an image, but the user’s first and last name, location, and details such as favorite music and foods. This information allows a predator to easily target and befriend a victim.

MySpace members can fill out the “survey” detailing their smoking, alcohol and drug use.

MySpace members can also choose to fill out “the survey”. The survey asks questions such as whether the member has ever had sex, swim naked, smoked, drank alcohol or used drugs. Members who post to MySpace expect their profiles to be read by kids their age, explaining the often suggestive responses and key innuendo typical of teenage bravado. Provocative or not, these profiles provide a “protected” hunting ground where potential predators can pick, stalk and befriend victims without being seen. Supported by a plethora of personal information, the predator can easily manipulate the potential victim into a false sense of security and familiarity, while misrepresenting himself through his own fake profile. Although prohibited by the site, fake profiles are practically impossible to avoid within the framework.

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In some cases, MySpace members introduce themselves when asked. For example, in February 2006, CBS reported that a 14-year-old girl was approached for sex on MySpace by a 38-year-old man. The man was later arrested when police assumed the girl’s identity as he unknowingly continued to ask for sex.

Other MySpace members weren’t so lucky. Several reports from the United States have linked the site to children who were murdered or disappeared. Just before 14-year-old Judy Cajuste of New Jersey was murdered in January 2006, the girl apparently told friends that she met a 20-year-old man through MySpace. Likewise, Kayla Reed, 15, from Northern California, was reportedly an active member of the site until the day she disappeared on December 2, 2005. Her body was found seven weeks later, a victim of murder.

While the connection of these and many other reports to MySpace may just be a coincidence, the implication is troubling. Due to growing concerns, in April 2006, MySpace announced that it would begin serving public information advertisements aimed at educating its users. The banners are part of a larger campaign that began in 2004, initiated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Additionally, effective May 1, 2006, Hemanshu Nigan, a former federal prosecutor specializing in child exploitation, began overseeing MySpace’s security division. Nigan previously worked for Microsoft Corporation, developing computer strategies designed to better protect children.

Despite online safety strategies, parents are advised to take an active role in protecting their children from online predators.

Young people, like teenagers, make up most MySpace profiles.

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