(image courtesy of CNN)
A 14 year old girl, who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a 19 year old who lied in his MySpace profile to gain her trust, has filed a lawsuit against MySpace for failing to take sufficient steps to protect its underage members from sexual predators and those who shop around MySpace profiles looking for someone to con, kidnap, or assault. The article itself is pretty short, essentially a statement from the girl’s lawyer and the subsequent response statement from MySpace, but this is one of those situations where both of them are absolutely right.
MySpace doesn’t do nearly enough to protect its members, especially its underage members who likely don’t know any better, but at the same time, MySpace is right in that safety online is a shared responsibility, and MySpace can’t be expected to police the profiles of its members in the stead of parents who should talk to their children about the people they speak to on the internet, talk to them about being safe online and who they speak to online, and taking steps to be a part of and monitor their child’s internet usage and habits, including putting the family or kids’ computer in an open area like a living room or den, or an office where the parent can supervise them, and teaching kids limits on internet usage and access, and for crying out loud, not buying them a webcam.
MySpace claims that no one under 13 is allowed to join their site, something easily falsified with a click of a drop-down menu (I mean honestly, people can just lie about their age) but beyond that, I’ve seen very little protections and warnings to children and teens and well, anyone else for that matter, about the dangers of mingling with questionable folks on the internet, and how to be responsible when talking to someone you don’t know, or even how to be responsible if you’d like to meet them.
At the same time, while I think that in most cases safety on the net is the responsibility of the user to stay informed and develop and practice safe online habits, I think this lawsuit has legs; it’s about time MySpace took this seriously, before someone else is killed or sexually assaulted by someone they met on MySpace. MySpace is obviously the shopping ground of choice for all manner of deranged and sick criminal and sexual predator, and it’s about time MySpace did something about it. If it takes a lawsuit to help MySpace urge its users into getting better informed and practicing safe habits, then so be it-AOL had to go through the same growing pains.
In better news however, the New York Times reports that MySpace is planning such security enhancements, and will be adding them soon.