With the advent
of the Internet, more ways of communicating
with friends, staying in touch with long-lost pals, and meeting new
abound. Instant messaging services and chat rooms used to be the
feature and are still used very frequently, but as times have changed,
and social networking sites have now become all the rage. Though teens
for these services and begin an account and begin to publish
themselves and their inner-most thoughts, what they don’t realize
is that it’s
not only their friends who are viewing this information but it’s
with access to the Internet, including online predators and sex
offenders. This is not to say that the creation of a profile on a
social networking site is bad as this modality of creative and personal
expression does have its benefits, however, it's just that it can be
quite controversial as will be noted here.
1. Social networking sites are extremely popular amongst the young adult population.
Friends are probably just that: friends.
Children and teens will not stay away from social networking sites just
because they are blocked at school.
There are potential dangers associated with MySpace and other social
adult users of these sites need to realize that the information they
post is made public and anyone with Internet access can view it.
MySpace is working towards making the environment safer for its users.
Teachers may want to check to see if sites have been created about them
but not by them.
There is value in social-networking sites.
Popular Social Networking Sites:
MySpace is the most popular social networking site on the Internet according to MSNBC.com. This site was originally created in 2003 for bands and singers to promote their music and to get their name out there, but it soon gave way to becoming a site for any person over the age of 14 to set up an account and begin socializing with peers and frighteningly enough, strangers. Along with textual information, users can also post pictures on their site and design their site to their liking using special features such downloadable images and icons (MySpace, 2006).
Created in February 2004, Facebook was designed to be a social gathering place on the Internet. As long as one has a valid e-mail address from a supported college, high school, or company, one can create a profile which includes pictures and text. Young adult and adult users can connect with friends, friends of friends, and meet new people. There are more than 7.5 million users and Facebook is the seventh most trafficked site in the United States (Facebook, About Facebook, 2006).
Xanga is basically a place to journal one's thoughts. Users, aged 13 and above, create an account and can begin journaling their thoughts. These journals and diary entries become viewable to the public. Users can also post pictures of themselves along with their entries. Through this site, users can connect with each other (Xanga.com, 2006).
Live Journal is just that - a journal that is posted online for all to see. There is no age limitation except that if users are under the age of 13, they need to get parental permission first in order to use the service. In addition to getting a personal journal space when one signs up, one also has the option of including songs, pictures, images, and other graphics on his/her site. This site is intended to share one's thoughts as well as gain insight into the lives of others and network with peers (LiveJournal.com, 2006).
This site began in August 1999 and was intended to give people a chance to be heard on the web. Users may be of any age (the web site does not appear to specify this information) and once an account is created may begin writing their blog. Along with posting information, users can also include pictures on their sites (Blogger, 2006).
As with all of these sites, they warn users not to post personal information such as addresses, phone numbers, first and last names, etc.; however, many users are ignoring this warning and posting it anyway. Some users will go so far as to post directions to their house or after-school location(s). Sadly, this gives potential predators a very easy way of finding their victims and turning an already dangerous situation into an even bigger one.
It is estimated
that over 50 million people have a MySpace
account and an estimated 6 million young people have a blog. Concerning
a survey conducted by the Children’s
Though the sites listed above are the most popular and most widely used, most reports involving sexual crimes, and potential ones, have happened as a result of MySpace or various blog sites. "Why is this?" one might ask. Is it because some social-networking sites require a more valid form of identification, such as an e-mail address from an accredited learning institution? Is it because some sights have stronger patrols monitoring the content of users' sites? All of the aforementioned sights have security disclaimers, some more readily-available than others, and all sites claim that the posting of inappropriate material will not be allowed and that it is unlawful to harrass users or put others in danger as a result of the content on one's site, but why would only one or two sites yield the most concern and be talked about in the news so much? Although these questions will not be answered in this white paper, they are questions that do raise concern and should caution readers.
Recent Occurrences and Concerns:
Incidents Involving the Use of Social Networking Sites to Commit Sexual Crimes
2004, Dateline NBC has had a running
segment titled "To Catch A Predator". From that time,
investigations have been done,
all taking place in different locations throughout the
reports have also provided the public with knowledge of how these
social networking sites have contributed to the sexual molestation and
assault of young children and teens. For example, one report cited a
man who molested a 16 year-old girl in September 2005; the two had met
through MySpace.com, and he was able to track her down as a result of
the information she provided on her site (Website's
Power To Overexpose Teens Stirs a Warning, 8 December 2005).
according to one source, in March 2006 alone, there were
three men who were charged with sexually assaulting teenagers they met
MySpace.com. In early April, a 26 year-old-man was charged with
assaulting a 15 year-old-girl who he had met through MySpace.com (Why Parents
Must Mind MySpace, 5 April 2006).
Closer to home, a
27 year-old Naperville man was recently charged with indecent
solicitation of a child, distribution of harmful materials, attempted
aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and aggravated criminal sexual abuse
all because he lured teenage girls in by means of his MySpace account.
His account revealed sexually explicit photos of himself (John
R. Wentworth-MyCrimeSpace, 5 June 2006).
not-yet-settled case, a 23 year-old male from Massachusettes who was
president of his college's Sexual-Assault Victim's Advocacy Group,
was convicted of raping an acquaintance. His MySpace.com site
implies that he would never do such a thing as he claims on his
site: "I do a lot of work with domestic violence awareness and I
think it’s really crucial to speak out against such an epidemic,"
1 June 2006). Though it remains questionable as to whether or not
he did commit this crime, one can see that MySpace - or any other
personal information site for that matter - may or may not always
reveal the truth about one's life and intentions. In fact, many sexual
predators use fake identities complete with false pictures and
information to mask their true identities in order to seem more
enticing to those with whom they wish to interact.
Most recently was
the story involving the 16 year-old girl from Michigan who disappeared
from her family's home and was eventually found in the Middle East to
meet a 25 year-old man she had met on the Internet, more particularly,
MySpace. The young lady was advised to go back home once she had
arrived at the airport in Jordan. She did go back home, thankfully, but
one can only wonder why she had wanted to meet this man in the first
Sneaks to Mideast to Meet MySpace Pal, 9 June 2006). What
were their intentions? Were they honest intentions or false?
Authorities are uncertain as to whether or not any crimes have been
committed in this case, but it is alarming at the very least.
aforementioned reports are only a glimpse of what has happened
concerning sexual crimes - or potential ones - and social networking
sites. Surely, a myriad
of other reports have likely been filed but it'd be nearly impossible
to find all of them and report on each and every one. By providing a
sampling of what has been reported though, one is able to understand
the severity and complexity of this issue.
Just About Anyone with Internet Access Can Create an Account - Even Registered Sex Offenders
This issue has
recently raised concern because there are currently no laws that deny
access to these social networking sites to people who are registered
sex offenders in the communities in which they live. If a man or
woman has committed a sex crime which has caused him or her to be put
on the list of registered sex offenders, there is nothing stopping this
person from creating an account on a social networking site and seeking
out new relationships and potential victims. This causes
uneasiness amongst Internet-savvy parents and other concerned adults
Wisconsin, for example, of the hundreds of registered sex offenders
there, about 24 of them have been found to have an apparent MySpace
profile. A registered sex offender will be allowed to access
social networking sites, such as MySpace, as long as he/she has no
restrictions and/or supervision regarding that issue. Some sex
offenders, in contrast, are given supervision which prohibits them from
having an account. Once a sex offender has no more supervision though,
he/she is liberated and can pursue any social networking site with the
aim of starting up an account (JS Online:
Local Sex Offenders Might Be On MySpace, 22 April 2006). Of
course, Milwaukee is only one of thousands of cities in the United
States and around the world, but this goes to show that the Internet is
a place for virtually anyone, from anywhere in the world to roam as
long as they have that freedom.
Keeping Children and Teens Safe:
What these young teens do not realize is the messages they are sending as a result of their provocative photos and overall content of their online profile. A countless number of females in their early teens are wearing next to nothing in their pictures on MySpace and are posing in very provocative positions. Clearly, older men who are attracted to these much younger females are trying to lure them in in order to gain sexual pleasure. Sadly, these young girls are being taken advantage of, as a result. Though the girls do not intend for this to happen, it is inevitable with the messages their pictures and words are sending.
So how do
we keep youngsters safe and
equip them with the
tools and knowledge necessary to avoid potential danger? Although there
is no perfect solution, the following tips offer ways to take steps in
combatting such safety issues.
Internet Safety and
Monitoring Must Begin at Home
monitoring must begin at home. In a survey conducted through WiredSafety.org,
it was found that one-third of 250 middle school students had a blog
5% of the parents were aware of this. Furthermore, the information
putting on their sites is simply too much. In another survey conducted
Internet Safety and Monitoring is a Joint Effort Between Parents and the Web Site Companies
of these sites needs to be a joint effort between the companies that
publish these web sites and the parents of the children and teens who
are creating these sites. In support of this, an unscientific
online survey on
msnbc.com showed that 59% of respondents believed that both parents and
site companies need to do more to keep kids safe on the Internet. 25%
believed it was up to the parents alone and about 6% believed that it
was the sole responsibility of the web site company. About
9% believed that the issue wasn't really as important and serious
as it has been reported. All in all, parents need to take
responsibility by filtering out web sites at home that they do not want
their children to access. Furthermore, passcodes could be set on home
computers in order to block out sites that parents may deem
inappropriate for their children. Web site companies do their
share, or so they claim, by hiring security officials to monitor the
content that comes in. If content is found to be inappropriate, the
user's profile will be removed; however, being that there is so much
information on every site and considering the millions of sites that
exist, clearly not every bit of inappropriate content is going to be
found. Basically, the web site companies do what they can with
the resources they have.
Schools and Libraries Can Block Social Networking Sites
libraries can do their part by filtering out social networking sites
their computer systems so they cannot be accessed from school. In
fact, a bill titled Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) has been
proposed by Pennsylvania Republican Representative Michael Fitzpatrick
in order to make social networking sites inaccessible for minors from
school and public libraries. Even though many schools already
block such sites, this new law would make it illegal to allow these
sites from being accessible and would force all elementary and
secondary schools as well as libraries to abide by this law.
Organizations Taking a Stand
Such organizations as the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
(RAINN) and the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children are making their voices
heard in combatting the issue of sexual crimes involving children and
the Internet. According to RAINN's site, June is Internet Safety Month.
In order to raise awareness of Internet safety issues, the organization
offers a quiz for young adults to take to test their Internet safety
skills. An explanation behind Internet safety month is offered here,
along with a link to the quiz. Further helping to promote
Internet safety, RAINN was sponsoring an online awareness campaign
through MySpace. On a web site, it had posted an announcement
asking for volunteers to join their friends list so that the word could
be spread about this organization. Click here to view the
announcement, but be sure to scroll down the page until you find
The National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children hosts "CyberTipline"
so that anyone with information about a sexual predator can contact the
center. The site is very helpful for teens, parents, and other adults
as it provides safety tips, phone numbers, and links to other
information regarding the sexual exploitation of children.
Controversy Surrounding Social Networking Sites
Is This Really A
the Potential DOPA law
the DOPA law would eliminate the risk of children engaging in
potentially dangerous situations while in the educational setting,
there are some critics who believe social networking sites are not as
awful as they may seem. For instance, Lynne Bradley, director of the
American Library Association's office of government relations states
that there are "legitimate uses of social networking sites."
critic of this potential law also claims that it would be a major
overreaction to treat such social networking sites like poison (Congress
Targets Social Network Sites,
10 May 2006).
children may find ways around this. Hacking
into computer systems could occur or more conveniently, accessing these
sites via wireless devices such as cell phones. In a recent
it mentioned how MySpace will soon have wireless capabilities which
means that access into one's profile and the sending and receiving of
messages will occur via the cell phone, more particularly, the Helio phone
(which the article does not mention). Surely, this has parents worried
since the information would be so easily accessible for their children
and might otherwise be blocked on the family's home computer (Social Networking Sites
7 April 2006). However, since plans for the mobile MySpace seem only to
be in the making for the Helio phone, it would mean that children who
own any other type of phone, such as Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, etc.
would not have to worry, at least for the time being.