By Jason Szep
Massachusetts on Tuesday called on popular teen social networking Web
site MySpace.com to strengthen protection of children against sexual
predators, including raising the minimum age for users to 18 from 14.
The arrest on Tuesday of a 27-year-old man in Connecticut on charges
of illegal sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl he met through
MySpace underlines the risks of the fast-growing Internet site that
boasts about 60 million members.
"MySpace has not taken sufficient steps to ensure that the MySpace Web
site is a safe place for minors," Massachusetts Attorney General Tom
Reilly said in a letter to MySpace.
He said a three-month investigation found that potential child
predators were surfing MySpace seeking chats with potential victims
and violent images or content were being posted to bully children.
"An adult can register as a minor member and use that profile to seek
access to the profiles of countless underage members," he said in a
MySpace allows teenagers and young adults to find friends and express
themselves by posting profiles and blogs, or Web journals covering
everything from their favorite singers to schoolwork and intimate
It generated a blizzard of headlines in national media this year that
have raised alarm with parents and school authorities -- from "Man
arrested in MySpace.com teen-sex case" to "Sex predators are stalking
MySpace; is your teenager a target?"
Connecticut authorities said in March that two men -- one age 22 and
the other 39 -- were arrested on allegations they had sexual contact
with minors they met through MySpace. Another man was arrested early
on Tuesday at a Connecticut hotel after a mother reported her daughter
'HAPPENING MORE AND MORE'
In February, California police arrested a 26-year-old for felony child
molestation after he met a 14-year-old on MySpace.
"It's happening more and more all the time, both through MySpace and
through chatrooms and other blogging sites," said Christina Slenk, a
director of Web Wise Kids, a nonprofit Internet safety organization
based in California.
Reilly, a Democrat running for governor, said his staff raised the
state's concerns in a March meeting with officials at MySpace, which
media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought for $580 million last
MySpace authorities were not immediately available to comment but its
chief executive, Chris DeWolfe, told Reuters in March that it had
several measures in place to prevent abuse.
He said the site prohibits children under age 14 from using it and
restricts access to the profiles of 14- and 15-year-olds, allowing
them to be contacted only by users that they add to their buddy lists.
MySpace also uses software to identify minors, flagging profiles with
terms likely to be used by children under age 14. But DeWolfe said
there was no fool-proof way to verify the age of all users.
Reilly said his investigation found that the safeguards failed. He
asked MySpace to install an age and identity verification system,
equip Web pages with a "Report Inappropriate Content" link, respond to
all reports of inappropriate content within 24 hours and significantly
raise the number of staff who review images and content.
He also wants filters to block sexually explicit or violent images,
deletion of profiles of people who have abused the site, removal of
all advertisements deemed inappropriate for children and free software
that allows parents to block MySpace.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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