MySpace bumps up privacy

By Dani Murtagh

MySpace will implement restrictions to protect users from sexual
predators in 49 states; Texas is the only one excluded.

The social networking Web site reached agreements with attorney
generals Jan. 14. This settlement is the result of almost two years
of negotiations between the states and MySpace to shield users from
sexual predators.

A recent study in New Jersey revealed 268 sex offenders in that
state have a MySpace account. The Illinois attorney general’s
office confirmed a MySpace investigation that 1,558 registered sex
offenders in that state created 1,843 MySpace profiles.

“People need to keep in mind that sexual predators are good at
what they do,” said Faye Wachs, an assistant professor of
sociology. “The danger is that if we make laws, we have to make
sure they won’t infringe on those who are not sexual
predators.”

The new agreement includes strict enforcement of “private”
profiles for users under 18, and the opportunity for parents to
submit their child’s e-mail address to prevent the creation of a
MySpace account.

Most children, however, have access to create an e-mail address
that their parents do not know about.

“I think they definitely have to try and find ways to police
these sorts of environments,” said Wachs. “But sometimes parents do
a disservice by protecting their children too much.”

Stacy McGoldrick, an assistant professor of sociology, agrees
that parents should regulate less and teach more by giving their
children skills to protect themselves and making sure they are not
vulnerable.

With the popularity of social networking sites growing, MySpace
alone has more than 110 million registered users.

“All kids are doing it,” said Art Chavez, a fourth-year finance,
real estate and law student. “There’s no stopping them.”

The new regulations do not include age verification. Instead,
MySpace will create and lead a task group, working with competing
Web sites such as Facebook, which will research ways to validate
users’ ages and identities. The group will report its findings
quarterly and give recommendations at the end of the year.

Students who have MySpace accounts are not optimistic about the
success of verifying users’ ages on MySpace.

“I don’t think it’s going to work,” sad Eunice Park, a
second-year hospitality and restaurant management student. “Unless
MySpace shuts down, you can’t prevent people from lying about their
age.”

Facebook was the first social networking Web site to take
responsibility for protecting users. It is the reason MySpace has
taken these strong measures to keep their users safe. Yet, Facebook
users don’t find it any more secure than MySpace.

“People post hate groups and other inappropriate groups on
Facebook,” said Park. “I don’t think it’s safer either, and that’s
the sad part.”

Prosecutors are precautious about creating new laws involving
such Web sites. An example is the case of a 13-year-old girl from
Missouri who hanged herself after being rejected by a boyfriend she
met on MySpace, who she thought was 16. The “boyfriend” was a hoax
created by Lori Drew, a neighbor and mother of the young girl’s
former friend.

David Adams, an ethics in law professor, said prosecutors
decided there was nothing they could do legally because Drew wasn’t
stalking or kidnapping the young girl. He said it’s despicable
ethically to lie to hurt a girl’s feelings, be exceptionally cruel
about it, and pretend to be someone else.

“It gets hard, because not all forms of lying are against the
law,” said Adams. “With cases that are this tragic, emotions run
high and definitely, in my opinion, are not good cases to use a
precedent.”

If charges were made against Drew, it would become a legal
precedent for future cases.

“Although the case is shocking and disgusting, bigger legal
ramifications against free speech are at risk,” said McGoldrick.
“It’s scary.”

Students and professors agree the best thing to do is inform
those who are vulnerable to sexual predators, such as minors,
instead of relying on MySpace regulations or legal precedents.

Wachs said people must be aware of the potential for
victimization to protect themselves in cyberspace and in real
space.

“It’s kind of like ‘buyer beware’ – you know you’re entering an
environment where people may not be who they say they are,” said
Adams. “You have to live with that or don’t use it.”

MySpace bumps up privacy

Photo Illustration by Lucio Villa

MySpace bumps up privacy

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