Sex, Crimes, and MySpace

45 Comments

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..

45 Comments

kaos

It’s not just myspace and similar sites that allow so much personal information to be revealed. I would be willing to bet that any person who has posted above can be found on the internet along with phone numbers, addresses, perhaps social security numbers, the list could go on…In fact, adults have more potentially sensitive information available for the public online than children by far. Where the problem lies, is that myspace and similar sites are popular among kids…and as sick as it is kids are popular among child molesters…It’s probably much more common than a crime commited against a child through myspace for some adult to fall victim to some scam through their email. Does anyone here believe that Yahoo email should be punished because some criminals manipulate users of their services for some mischief??? Note: Yes, I do understand coning an adult out of money etc. isn’t equal to hurting a child in any manner

yash

i m 23 mail & i m doing preparation for cat. but my mind always going for wrong direction like sex & i m not concentrate my study. what will i do. please help me, i m waiting for your email. i need your suggestion.
Thank you

Pics of my kids

My ex husbands new girlfriend posted pictures of my kids on her profile page. Is there anything I can do to have them removed. After all the thing I have heard I don’t feel comfortable having their pictures on there. I don’t even have them on mine. Please email me if you can help

Thank you

Robert

MySpace may face legislative crackdown

ref: http://news.com.com/MySpace may face legislative crackdown/2100-1028_3-6092989.html?tag=cd.top

… But MySpace declined to send a representative to Tuesday’s hearing, a slight that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton called “unfortunate.” Barton added that if Internet sites aren’t taking adequate precautions, Congress should enact DOPA, “at the very least.”

“Actions speak louder than words.”

ihatepervs

i see too many porno and violents on myspace.com. i think it’s just to lure teens to get hooked on this website. if you notice the terms of service. it says that inapprorirate things will cause your profile to be deleted. well it’s mostly what you see is real sleazy pictures on there. if you tell the myspace customers that you’re not interested in those explisive lifestyles without getting nasty about it myspace wants to delete your profile. they would rather keep the sleazy ones that use violents, the partying, and the nude. but these type of things are against policy though (so they say) if myspace is so safe and a good clean environment then why are child pervs reportivally being arrested from using this website? why do we hear cases like this on dateline mentioning myspace.com from where sex crimes happen? we need to fight to get this junk off the air and off the computer.

Jane G

(URL Posted is from link in article)

From Yahoo this morning:

(PRWEB) June 20, 2006 — While the recent attention surrounding the arrest of several cyber-predators stalking victims on MySpace.com has prompted parents to be more vigilant in policing their children’s on-line activities, not everyone has become appropriately frightened.

Information on a new case illustrates how some parents continue to harbor the illusion that their children are smart enough or careful enough to resist the wiles of would-be predators — a mistake that could cost children their innocence or even their lives.

Sometime after 10 PM on May 26th, “Helen T.” of Valdosta, GA saw the familiar sapphire glow of a computer monitor spilling through the cracked door to her daughter’s room. The 14 year old had been spending an inordinate amount of time online lately, and not all it innocent, as her email and chat history would soon indicate.

Her mother, attempting to reverse the trend, intended to admonish the child and send her to bed. The horror she felt after finding an empty room is difficult to imagine.

“My first reaction was, of course to call the police. But I was sure they’d be a long time responding and I couldn’t just do nothing and wait,” Helen explained.

In her excitement to go meet her new “friend”, Helen’s daughter had left open the browser window displaying the two-hour plus conversation she had had with what turned out to be a convicted pedophile. As Helen read through the two hours of shocking chat, she saw that the person on the other end had asked her daughter to call him and posted a cell phone number. The police later told her that although a bad move for a criminal, such actions smack of the desperation that compels these worst of society’s rogues.

As she waited for the police to arrive, Helen frantically searched the Internet for a source to identify the owner of the number. Overwhelmed with the typical search engine return of entirely too much information, it took the overwhelmed mother of two nearly 40 minutes of wading through gimmicks and assorted cons before she finally found reverse lookup source that appeared to provide actual reverse cell number lookup results.

Helen said that most of what she found were companies wanting to sell her some sort of software she could download and use to “become a detective” or “find anybody.” The market was flooded by such ads to the point that she barely found what she wanted which was simply a cell phone lookup service.

After locating the site Cellulartrace.com, Helen frantically emailed the company about the time-frame on their rush service. The expedited service that has only been available again for just over a month is advertised as returning the phone search results within several hours. Being aware of the dangerous situation Helen’s daughter was in, the company agreed to perform the search immediately.

Within 20 minutes, and still long before the police showed up, Cellulartrace called Helen with the cellular lookup information. When the police arrived, Helen told them she thought she knew where her daughter was.

Despite the incomprehensible horror she certainly felt, the most recent MySpace saga ended as well as did the cross-planet adventures of Katherine Lester who ran away to the Middle East to meet the object of her online Romeo earlier this month. Police located Helen’s daughter at the address the skip tracing investigation company provided. Authorities say the minor child was swimming with the middle-aged man in his unlit pool when they arrived. Initially, police cautiously informed the child’s family that she was “unharmed.”

Describing the quasi-abduction investigation as pending, police did not release the name of the man involved. However, an investigator close to the case stated, on condition of anonymity, that the preliminary evidence combined with his past criminal history indicated “a pattern of predatory behavior.”

It is unclear at this time who made initial contact with whom, and whether the minor child had contact with the adult on prior occasions. Evidence in the investigation will certainly include information on the cell phone number provided to the minor as well as email and messenger style communications between the two. It is also thought that the adult subject’s PC will be searched for additional incriminating information should sexual assault, attempted assault or any other related charges be filed. There appeared to be at least the probability of charges stemming “from some omissions” regarding the subject’s sexual offender registration, the source said.

Police were thrilled that the child’s mother took the initiative to order the cell phone reverse lookup information from the online vendor, stating that “Time is a commodity we simply don’t have in child abduction cases. If we didn’t have an address, this may well have ended badly. Whoever obtained this information for her likely saved a life tonight.”

The investigative cellular number research site the information was provided by specializes in cell phone number trace information for a variety of skip tracing and address-locate applications.

Cellulartrace.com spokesman Mark McAlpin responded to our email about this reverse lookup order stating his relief that the child was located.

“We are thrilled that this child is OK. We get several urgent requests a year on situations similar to this. If the info comes in during office hours, we drop everything and focus on that search.”

The industry has taken some flack the past few months on alleged privacy concerns. Perhaps recent events like the Jay Coffield and John Wentworth arrests in Naperville, IL and the Jessica Liccar case and this one will illustrate the vital role private sector investigators play in discovering the truth. In any case, we are glad to played some role in returning the girl to safety.”

The arrests McAlpin referred to were charges of child solicitation filed against two Naperville, IL men recently in connection with their alleged luring of children for probable sexual exploitation or assault using online chatting through the ever-popular MySpace.com.

While it appears there is a growing trend among cyber-stalkers, visitors to the site have only increased. MySpace.com received a staggering 50 million visitors in May.

Authorities and investigators alike warn parents to be mindful of their children’s online activities and to be less concerned about a child’s privacy expectations.

#

Children First
Jennifer Caldwell

Robert

With the recent lawsuit filed by a 14 year old girl – ref: http://www.securityfocus.com/brief/232 – MySpace will have to stop talking and start acting. If they don’t, then maybe they will get the message after 10-20 lawsuits or a major class action.

Predictable?? .. You bet. And when people realize that there is “big money” to be made by MySpace’s lax attitude and actions or non-actions – then copycat suits will follow.

MSV

True, MySpace can’t be blamed for everything that goes on at the site. However, it’s their site, so they have to take some responsibility for cleaning it up. The fact is that MySpace is home to predators, rapists, and the like. You’d be surprised at some of the content the members of my group find on a daily basis. What sickens me is that these things are in plain sight, yet they’re allowed to continue.

For instance, there are thousands of underage girl and boy groups, such as this one:
http://groups.myspace.com/teenflirtyness

…where older men go in search of UNDERAGE girls. WHY are such things allowed to continue. If you look at that group, you’ll notice that a guy named “Jonathon” posted a topic about wanting to meet “fair-skinned”, “red-haired” young girls. His url:
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=74643452

Note carefully that most, if not all, the girls on his friend list are underage. Before people realized what he was up to, he had his age set to 39. He’s since changed it to 26. However, I have screenshots of forum posts, his page, etc, where his age was still 39. He’s left many inappropriate comments on underage girl’s pages requesting that they post more pictures for him to look at, as well as ads in several groups requesting that underage girls contact him. He has his list of groups hidden, but it’s not hard to find:
http://groups.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=groups.myGroups&UserId=74643452

These groups all need to be removed ASAP, because they’re just plain dangerous.

The point I’m trying to make is, it’s not a difficult task to clean up MySpace. Nevermind the fact that there are 80 million users and counting. Simple steps can be taken, such as removing these offensive groups and investigating users such as Jonathon.

What happened to the MySpace ad campaign that was there a while aback educating young people about the dangers of the internet? Where did that go?

It’s not all on MySpace. You parents need to monitor your children’s web surfing activities. Some of the profiles I’ve seen of 14, 15, and 16 year olds are quite shocking. Kids don’t act like kids anymore. I’m only 19, but at those ages I would NEVER post such obscene pictures of myself on the internet.

Alot of things are disturbing about MySpace. I could post urls to profiles that will shock you; profiles of children that are obviously being exploited. It’s an absolute outrage and more needs to be done. I’m sick of the blame game. No one party is to blame for the stuff that goes one. C’mon, people…Rise above the bs and lets ALL do something about it!

Candi

QUIT BLAMING MYSPACE!!!

i am a mother.
i talk with people on myspace of all ages.
i feel that these kids are just expressing themselves and that their parents need to monitor them and teach them about internet safety.
it’s not MYSPACE’s fault that sexual predators prey upon kids online anymore than it’s the city’s fault predetors prey upon kids at parks or beauty pagent operators faults that pedaphiles prey upon kids at pagents.
it is up to us parents to teach our kids how to behave SAFETLY in ALL situations, to set limits and rules and make sure our kids are following them.
we CANNOT hold MYSPACE, the internet, the media responsible for us not doing our jobs.

Robert

Finally, one of the States takes the initiative. Per the article link: http://news.com.com/MySpace faces call to crackdown on predators/2100-1025_3-6067732.html?tag=cd.top

Mass. wants MySpace to raise the age to 18 .. and “do something significant” .. about protecting kids under the age of 18.

Now, all we need is for other States to follow this example .. and MySpace will have to take this “problem” seriously.

ashley

myspace isn’t that bad of a website, most teenage people that found out about the perverts on the website set their profiles to private so only their friends can look at their profile and pictures. Their are people out their that can get to your profile if they try hard enough, thats why tom made it so that you can set your profiles to private. But the only problem with the perverts, is that new kids that get a file on the website is that they think they know the person but they really don’t and that is probably 90% of people’s problems.

Us

MySpace is a crappy, rapist/abductor holding site and should be banned so that poor girls don’t have to be found naked and strangled in a ditch somewhere!

kelee

I want to know , if you known this guy for a while since 5th grade and you want to get into a relationshipand he is 18 and i am 17 why is that wrong…I loe him and he is always worried… well i am worried but not that worried…

louella

i need a new type of connection to get on myspace.com because my schol computer got it blocked so can youn give me some websites that could link me to myspace.com

Christian Montoya

I have to defend MySpace on this one, it’s an internet issue and it has always been around, ever since early message boards and AIM chats. Sure, MySpace can make it a point to their users not to share too much personal information, but the likelihood that any of them will listen is very slim.

Robert

Statistics are important, when they are presented in context. MySpace continues to harp on the theme: “1/3 of our staff”.

How many people is that – exactly?? 10 out of 30? 100 out of 300?

Obviously, if the ‘actual’ number of people is small (e.g. less than 20), then tracking and correcting problems on a site with over 50 million members (MySpace numbers) is plainly impractical – and the “1/3 of our staff” mantra is a shield to cloak virutal inaction.

Secondly, what are the actual statistics on situations encountered and resolved? Cases should include: scams (e.g. 419-Nigeria types), underage account terminations, innapropriate congtent, etc. Again, statistics that sound like: “weekly, 10 scams got detected, 150 underage situations got resolved and 25 innapropriate content cases got addressed” – indicate that MySpace is NOT addressing the problem – they are merely ‘scratching the surface’. And something significant needs to be done, possibly by a separate monitoring agency. IF MySpace does not recognize their lack of effort to address the huge scope of the problems, then children will continue to suffer.

MySpace makes money off the site. MySpace currently claims to be working to address problems (without providing meaningful statistics). MySpace will again appear in future press and news announcements — because more horrible situations will involve underage children (who were members of MySpace).

Somehow, I don’t think I owe MySpace any type of sympathy. I do continue to have concerns over MySpaces “marketing” efforts which attempt to subtley divert public and media interest to their “1/3 of our staff” efforts.

Wrong stats. Wrong approach.

Jonathan Trenn

I’m glad to hear from Shawn that MySpace is moving ahead to work on this problem. I tend to agree that this issue is huge and will not go away. Saying that, I do, however, want to point out a couple of things that could show how this could snowball into something a bit more widespread.

I’m sure most of you heard about that 18 year old kid that attacked three gay men in Massachusetts, went to West Virginia and picked up a former girlfriend, fled to Arkansas where his killed the woman and a cop, only to lose his own life.

In reporting the story, the Boston Globe pointed out and gave a link to his MySpace page, “Jake Jeckyll”. Some of the things he talked about were pretty hideous. Sitting atop the page, for a few days after the incidents in Arkansas was an ad for Vonage.

Point is, the bad press MySpace can get from an incident in Conn, followed by the Dateline expose (which showed only 1 out of 50 of the predators met the ‘teen’ through MySpace), is causing the media to automatically look at MySpace for any sign or clues related to deviant behavior. That’s not MySpace’s fault, but that’s the result of becoming a major player. In other words, wacko teen goes on rampage, let’s see if he has a MySpace page…oh, he does, hey everybody, here’s the link to his MySpace page.

You guys will have a greater problem on your hands because you will be a ‘go-to’ site for those investigating this weird stuff (meaning the media and law enforcement) and could get unfairly tagged because your name will get in the story. It’s unfair, but you guys have entered the big time.

And also, SOMEBODY has to figure out how to prevent the thing that happened to Vonage. It may have slipped under the wire, but I’m sure corporations won’t want their ads on sites like that – espcially after the bad news has been around for a couple of days.

Robert Young

Shawn,

Thanks for commenting. I agree 100% that this is an internet-wide problem, one that goes back to the beginning of community sites.

That said, the fact that MySpace is being singled out by the media, fair or not, is simply a result of the tremendous popularity of your service. In that vein, the masses will look to MySpace for leadership in the charge to eradicate the many threats that go hand-in-hand with managing such communities. I, for one, empathize with your situation and support all that you are doing to mitigate.

As for the specifics of my blog post… if you read my previous pieces on MySpace, I’ve been following and commenting on the highly positive strategic implications and monetization issues. With this piece, I was simply directing attention to the obvious negative consequences such threats have on efforts to monetize.

Shawn Gold

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.

Best,
Shawn

Emilie

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 ;)

Robert

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.

Markus

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.

http://mb.internetdatingconference.com/viewtopic.php?t=164

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. “

Rick

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.

Venkatesh

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.

Robert Young

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.

Robert

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 !!!

Venkatesh

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.

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