State wants MySpace to raise minimum age
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; Posted: 11:57 a.m. EDT (15:57 GMT)
BOSTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- Massachusetts 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 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 statement.
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 personal details.
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 missing.
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 year.
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.