Update: Shawn Gold from SVP Marketing of MySpace has left a comment on the thread and has assured us that MySpace is working hard. He also points out that these are problems facing the social networks. The presence of sexual predators on online social networks is […]

Update: Shawn Gold from SVP Marketing of MySpace has left a comment on the thread and has assured us that MySpace is working hard. He also points out that these are problems facing the social networks.

The presence of sexual predators on online social networks is getting attention on the mainstream media. Most of the spotlight is on MySpace.com (supposedly bigger than Google in sheer traffic). Dateline recently ran an investigative series on the topic of online sexual predators. CBS recently aired a piece as well, that talked about 14-year-old Judy Cajuste who met a man in his 20s through MySpace.com and was later murdered. This is not an isolated case.

Authorities are looking at multiple cases, and in a Newsweek interview Rupert Murdoch said, “We’ve also got a third of our work force monitoring the site to prevent inappropriate material from being posted.” Murdoch’s Newsweek statement suggests that MySpace is taking the situation pretty seriously.

Robert Young, who has in the past written guest columns about Rupert Murdoch and MySpace thinks that that these developments could cause major problems for MySpace and limit its money making potential.

Guest Column By Robert Young

Here’s a quiz: What is the absolute worst question that a web community service can face when dealing with advertisers, especially inter/national brand advertisers?

Answer: “How do you intend to deal with sexual predators?”

Put simply, if that question is on the table, you can pretty much kiss major ad buys goodbye; and even if you’re lucky enough to persuade a few of them with a well-thought-out containment plan, good luck securing high ad rates.

As of this past week, this is the unfortunate predicament that Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace finds itself in.

The recent press coverage (which was surprisingly massive) will, without doubt, be a much-discussed topic among brand managers as well as media planners & buyers all over corporate marketing departments and Madison Avenue. While it may seem that I’m going over the top with alarm, rest assured that I am not. This is a *huge* problem; as large as anything that a web community will ever deal with. Now, I’m not saying anything here that advertisers don’t already know, but I sure hope that someone on Murdoch internet crew advised and prepared him of this risk early on in the game.

The root of the problem lies in the fact that there is no definitive solution to the core problem of eliminating predators within a web community. Actually, there is one way – by verifying the real identities of every member. But doing so is not practical, as it would effectively destroy the community. As anyone who has battle-scars from running a large community can attest, nearly every effort that attempts to ensure higher safety & security will have a diametrically opposite effect on the growth and attractiveness of the service to existing members and potential members alike. At the end of day, people online will generally prefer the benefits of anonymity, even when weighed against extreme risks.

Does this mean MySpace will not be able to monetize their enormous inventory of pageviews? As I wrote in my last piece, where I compared MySpace to Google, the challenge is a tough one to begin with. How does MySpace over come this challenge, and still be the money machine for Murdoch’s web ambitions. So, in conclusion, does this mean that Murdoch made a mistake by buying MySpace, after all? Absolutely not. Even if he cannot *directly* monetize the community to the levels that he had hoped for, this group of 50 million people (the new new MTV generation) is the most valuable strategic asset he owns as he transitions his empire into the digital age.

Robert Young is a serial entrepreneur. He was an exec at Delphi Internet Services (which he sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.), and founder/ceo of Freemark Communications. His past columns for GigaOM.com include Inherent truths and value of Community; Why Murdoch Bought MySpace and Murdoch, WiMax and the Two Way Web..

  1. Robert,
    Been thinking on those lines, albeit for the face recognition stuff. How does one stop a mature face recognition from sharing your private information, when all that is required is to get a photo using a cell phone and then search around the internet(social networking etc) to find personal details. This definitely would limit the usage of this stuff and community tagging as such.

  2. I started advising MySpace, last year, about underage female members. Their response, after hundreds of notices from me, was to change the rules and advise me that I had to stop posting certain classes of underage members. Performing a Browse of female members – age: 100 years, I noted that 95 percent of the members were underage, based on MySpace (updated) underage rules. I advised MySpace on more than one occasion that this situation existed for: females – age:100 and that for ages over 70, the percentage also was over 90% underage. They never responded – and a quick Browse of female members – age:100 reveals that the 95% statistic is still fairly accurate. These are the facts: MySpace does not consider the underage problem important; they don’t respond to concerned members who point cases out to them; they change the rules to make reporting “underage” more difficult. There is a pattern here. Hopefully, a careful and thorough review will reveal MySpace’s determination to post detail personal information of underage kids – so that sexual predators can easily locate, identify and abuse our kids. Shame on MySpace !!!

  3. Venkatesh, your point is well taken. However, facial recognition can actually be used to weed out sexual predators as well (provided they are posting real photos of themselves… which a surprising large number do). I would certainly try using Riya, or its kin, in this context.

  4. Haven’t tried Riya myself, but I definitely see a combination of Riya, Social Networking, Blogs, Search, IM etc putting kids at risk. Its surprising how much of personal information is available online.

  5. [...] Om Malik on Broadband : » Sex, Crimes, and MySpace well, you promote a site for young people to share information and find each other through said information, what do you expect to happen? by Black Rim Glasses | posted in running Trackback URL | Comment RSS Feed Tag at del.icio.us | Incoming links [...]

  6. I hope Mr. Murdoch can work out his financial problems with MySpace, but I believe our society has a much more serious moral problem. Let’s not diminish the sick for the wealthy.

    Jesus saves both from HELL.

    God Bless you in your decision.

  7. Looks like this will give true.com some more ammo. Last year they tried to get all social networks outlawed as well as free dating services. The law failed in all states it was introduced in, in some states it barely failed or died because the session ended. This year they are pushing again.

    Here is last years michigan law.


    Basically you can’t run a social referal site, dating site etc without doing a background check on each and every member. If you don’t you will get find $250/day per member.

    Google, Yahoo, microsoft, ebay etc fought hard against this legislation. As they indirectly provide services that many allow people to meet and date.

    “(c) “Online dating service provider” or “provider” means a person or organization engaged, directly or indirectly, in the business of offering, promoting, or providing access to dating, relationship, compatibility, matrimonial, or social referral services primarily through the internet. “

  8. You cannot eliminate sexual predators, but you can more clearly define the term: “underage”. Over the last 16 months, MySpace has changed its definition down from 17/18 to 16 and most recently 14. If underage is defined to be 18, then all ‘social encounter’ sites should be obliged to respect that definition AND held accountable for any members under that age that are allowed to retain member status (after their “real” age has been uncovered. This will not eliminate the problem, but will severely restrict the number of “kids – under 18″ that flock to these types of sites and then load their profiles, blogs, messages areas with tons of personal information.

    This will be perceived by many (under 18) as unfair, but that may have to be the point. Protecting our kids, at times, is an unfair process – there are many rules and many limitations on personal freedom.

    Certainly, this would also eliminate many “targets of opportunity” for the sexual predators – and that has to be one of the ultimate goals.

  9. I agree that it would be impossible to eliminate sexual predators. I just turned 18 and now that I am in college I was able to signup for two college social networking sites that require a .edu or college email address to join. The sites are facebook.com and a new college social media networking site that just launched this week uspot.com.

    The fact that a .edu or school email address is required to join these sites seems to have a great filtering effect and do a great job at keeping sexual predators out. I think that a site should work hard to protect their members and give them the tools they need to take matters into their own hands and protect themselves from these sexual predators.

    I really like the advanced privacy tools that Uspot has for letting me control who can view any of my personal info and every video, photo, blog etc. that I post to the site with individual privacy settings. It really gives me the ability to control who sees what.

    I think that sites need to educate users more on what they should and should not post and how they can protect themselves from these sexual predators.

    The best defense is a good offense ;)

  10. Hey There. This is Shawn Gold from SVP Marketing of MySpace. Perception / reality is a big issue in this recent news. I spoke to Del Harvey this morning from Perverted Justice this morning (who did the dateline sting). She was ‘amused by the articles” on myspace because she said that “of the 50 people they caught only 1 was on myspace, most of them were on Yahoo chat and some on AOL chat…and only 5 of the 50 had a myspace profile”. That is not to say that MySpace is not a problem is used improperly. We have been innovating in the area of child safety since the inception of the company. As most of the news has pointed out, we have 1/3 of our staff working on these issues. Even with all the technology we can use, we don’t want to teach kids to circumvent it, because that what they will do. We want to make sure they sign up as their real age so we have a well lit area we can police. In the final analysis, EDUCATION is the only long term solution and the recent news about online safety is great, in that respect. We certainly don’t want to lose advertisers because of slanted reporting but we do want the issue raised in the public consciousness. We have a slate of methodologies and programs we have been slated to implement long before this issue broke in the recent news.

    this is not a new issue or a mysapce, it is an internet issue, and as an innovator int he social network space, I and the mysapce team is dedicated to innovating and educating in this area through its evolution.



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