Introduction/ Overview

    This essay will discuss the safety issues concerning children using blogging and social networking websites which have become increasingly popular. The consequences of children browsing the internet has long been a controversial issue, however, as I will show, with Blogging and Social networking sites those issues rise a step further because of the nature of those sites and the information posted on them. I take a particularly close look at which has grown exponentially over the last year and has practically become a phenomenon with over 60 Million registered users, most of them teens. There is a lot of controversy about safety issues of children/teens using MySpace.

    I will start by surveying the safety issues of children using the Internet. I will then define and explore the background and history of blogging and social networking websites such as and and how such websites relate to the topic of children on the Internet and why they deserve a closer look. I will then discuss various controversial issues such as whether access to these kinds of sites should just be blocked entirely from schools and public libraries. I will also discuss additional actions that can be taken to protect children and argue as to whether these actions are effective or not.

I will first define the main terms I will be using. Some define children as those who have not reached the age of puberty (around 13) yet. Some use a legal definition and define children as someone who has not reached the age of legal majority, which in most states is 18. For this essay, I will be using the latter. I will define “Social networking site” as a website that provides a virtual community in which people can socialize. Finally I will define a blog as a diary or journal that one posts to the web, and blogging as engaging in the act of publishing such journals.

    Social Networking and blogging have recently seen a sharp rise in popularity. Having a profile or blog is considered “in” nowadays. I have a blog, and I would say that 90% of my friends also have a blog or an online profile of some sort on a social networking website. MySpace is the most popular social networking site. According to the Wall Street Journal, it has over 54 Million registered users, with 19% of the users being under the age of 171. I will focus on MySpace in this essay since it is the most popular and I have found lots of controversial discussions and articles about it, but there are also many other popular social networking and blogging websites such as LiveJournal (Approximately 10 Million users), Friendster (27 Million),  Tagged (2 Million), and Xanga (40 Million).(2)

    Children go to MySpace looking to socialize and make friends. There are two main problems. The first, being that the children can get exposed to inappropriate materials and influences. This has long been a general problem of children using the internet, not just with social networking sites. 2 good examples of this problem:  a child trying to buy a x-rated video game in a store would get refused. However on the web, a child can access obscene material without an adult observer. Another example is that in a park or playground, a parent or guardian could observe if a stranger were to approach the child and talk to him. However, a potential child molester in a chat room is not as visible to the parent. Schools and public libraries are no longer safe haven for children because of the internet terminals which can be used by the children to access such materials. I will summarize this problem with a quote from the book “The home used to be a safe haven from such material; Parents could relax when a child was playing in his or her bedroom. Now they might wonder what the child is looking at or with whom he or she is chatting”(3)

    To illustrate this problem, I used MySpace’s search engine to search for groups (groups in MySpace are like clubs of members discussing a common topic) discussing some topics that would normally be deemed inappropriate for children. I found approximately 20,000 groups dedicated to various sexual topics and 5,000 groups discussing drugs such as Marijuana.  For example, one group I found is called “UPS”- and no this is not the United Parcel Service. The UPS group on MySpace stands for “United Pot Smokers” and it’s motto is “Where All Pot Smokers Can Come And Chillax”. That group had 6,000 members in it. Another group I found called “Sex, Drugs, and Rock N' Roll Baby” with the motto “Drugs do the body good” had 7,000 members subscribed to it, discussing various topics related to drugs and sex. Another group, “The Pain Room” dealt with Sado Masochism. Certainly not topics parents would want their children exposed to. Some of the groups had a warning displayed before entering their page: “This group may contain materials of a mature subject matter. It is inappropriate for members under the age of 18. Do you want to proceed?” I courageously clicked the “Ok” button knowing that I had to report on it for this essay. That message would not effectively prevent children from browsing those groups. On the contrary, it might spark their curiosity even more.

    ABC News brings up a second problem with websites such as MySpace. “Often teens looking for new friends post profiles, not realizing that their personal information can become fair game for Internet predators.”(4) The nature of the information posted on MySpace is what needs attention. People post their Profiles with information such as photos, favorite hobbies, interests and such. Furthermore, they post blogs which in many cases outlines all their plans: What they did yesterday, what they are going to do today, where they are going to go party and so forth. In the old days, sexual predators would have to work hard to gather information pertaining to the habits of the victims that they needed for a successful assault. Such predators would have to observe the child, stalk them, follow them around undetected to get their daily routine. But now, all a potential molester has to do is to go on to MySpace and all the information is available on the child’s profile and blog, messages such as “I am going to go to Joey’s party tomorrow night” which would help a molester plan a successful assault on the victim. I found many reports of sexual assaults that were initiated through MySpace. The Wall Street Journal reports of such a story where 5 men in their 20’s pretended to be teens and contacted 11-year old females, ultimately assaulting them. ABC news reports of seven girls, ages 12 to 16, being assaulted by men they met through MySpace. Newsweek5 reports of a 14 year old girl being assaulted by a 26-year old man whom she met through MySpace. And so these kinds of reports are endless.

    On the other hand however, MySpace does have the advantages. The social networking allows children to express themselves and gain new friends. Children that are more shy in the “real world” might find it easier to express themselves online and this can be a positive experience for them.

    Another argument in MySpace’s favor is that with a community of 60,000,000 users, the percent that does go wrong is comparably small. Wired news brings some statistics to put things in perspective. The number of incidents reported linked to MySpace are actually dwarfed compared to similar cases nationwide. According to the FBI reports that 47 cases of statutory rapes linked to MySpace with a population of over 50 million dollars. Compare and contrast to the State of California in the 90s with 62 cases of statutory rape reported in the Late 90’s with just a little over half of MySpace’s population (33 Million) .(6)

    I will discuss two main ways of dealing with this issue: The first is with legislative laws and regulations, and the second is with education. The Child’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is supposed to deal with some of this issues. It requires websites that collect information from children to have the parents fax a consent form before allowing the child to register7. However I believe this is not effective: First, under COPPA a child is defined only as up to the age of 13. Second, it is easy to lie about the age in the registration form to go around this rule. In addition to COPPA, various other legislative actions are being discussed. In Congress, a bill is being pushed called “DOPA” or “Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006”8. The DOPA bill would expand the COPPA act. DOPA would require schools and libraries to block access to any website that “allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users” and that “offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as forum, chat room email or instant messenger.” While the bill does not mention MySpace explicitly, it is obvious to me that MySpace is the main target here. I do not believe such bills will be effective since they are too broad and there are too many websites that would answer the criteria below and it would be hard to block them all. Also, children might be able to find ways to bypass such filters by for example using proxy servers. In addition, this law would only block access from schools and libraries, children will still be able to access these websites at home.

    I believe a better solution would be in educating both the parents and the kids regarding the risks of using such sites. Parents should make sure kids know not to post specific stuff in their blog such as daily routines and where the kids will be going. This will allow children to still be able to express themselves online but reduce the risk of falling victim to sexual predators.

Summary: I introduced the safety and privacy issues regarding children and the Internet,  and I defined what Social Networking and Blogging sites and why they require a closer look when it comes to these safety issues. The personal nature of the information being posted in such websites increases the risk of a child falling victim to a sexual predator. I presented with some suggested measures to reduce these risks, focusing on legislative methods and educational methods. I believe that the advantages of social networking websites such as outweigh the disadvantages of the risk of crimes because of how Social Networking websites allow children to interact and express themselves and make new friends. I also showed how compared to the rate of similar crimes nationwide, the crime cases related to MySpace are not so many and are just emphasized by the media. I believe the real solution lays not in law and legislation but rather in awareness and education.

1.ABC News. 2006. What are Teens Hiding in MySpace. May 18, 2006.,70254-0.html (Accessed May 21, 2006)
2.Angwin, Julia and Steinberg, Brian. 2006. News Corp. Goal: Make MySpace Safer for Teens. February 17, 2006, Page B1. The Wall Street Journal Online. (accessed May 10, 2006)
3.Baase Sara. 2003. A Gift of Fire. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.
4.Hughes, Donna.  1998.  Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace. Grand Rapids: Fleming Revell.
5.Poulsen, Kevin. 2006. Scenes from the MySpace Backlash. Feb 27, 06. Wired News.,70254-0.html (Accessed May 14, 2006)
6.Schrobsdorff, Susanna. 2006. ‘Predator’s Playground’?. Newsweek.  Jan 27, 2006. (accessed May 10, 2006)
7.Waltermann, Jens and Machill, Marcel. 2000. Protecting Our Children on the Internet. Gutersloh: Bertelsmann Foundation Publishers, 2000.
8.McCullagh, Dennis. 2006. Congress targets social network sites. CNET May 10, 2006  (accessed May 17, 2006)

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