NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2007
“MySpace” Safety for Teens and Parents
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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http://www.safefamilies.org/download.php - Free internet filtering software
http://www.k9webprotection.com - Free internet filtering software

MySpace has become an enormously popular social networking service on the internet with a purported 80 million registered users. Tens of millions of teens and pre-teens are registered users, as are millions of adults. While the majority of MySpace users are good people, there are many miscreants who use MySpace for nefarious purposes, including many pedophiles who are continuously trolling the service for potential victims.

As with any internet service, if proper safety rules are followed, a degree of safety may be achieved online. Sadly, many users, mostly youngsters, are blissfully and innocently using the service unaware of the risks present, and gullibly falling prey to online predators.

To educate MySpace users, and their parents, My Space has released a series of safety tips for users, and another list for parents. This list can be referenced online at http://www.myspace.com/Modules/Common/Pages/SafetyTips.aspx. My Space refers to these safety tips as “common sense guidelines” that should be followed when using the MySpace service. The same rules should also apply when using competitive online social networking services such as Facebook, Yahoo 360, and other such services.

“Don't forget that your profile and MySpace forums are public spaces”. Anything posted is public for anyone to see. Users should never post identifying personal information, such as phone numbers, addresses, and current locations. With this information available to prowlers, the victim may be easily targeted. The user should also be advised not to post anything that may be personally sensitive or embarrassing, as others are sure to make inappropriate use of that information.

“People aren't always who they say they are. Be careful about adding strangers to your friends list.” Simply and sadly stated, many people with bad intentions are also liars. The 13 year old girl who is approached online by another user allegedly claiming to also be a 13 year old girl, may actually be the target of a pedophile with more than an intention just to be friends. It is a good idea to avoid meeting people in person, but any face to face meetings should be absolutely avoided, unless accompanied by a parent or trusted and reliable friend. A “monitored” meeting should only take place in a busy and very public location. The youngster should be sure that a parent knows explicitly where she is going, and who she is going to meet.

“Harassment, hate speech and inappropriate content should be reported.” Do not ignore inappropriate behavior or online content. If the user feels uncomfortable with any content, he should immediately inform his parents, MySpace administration, or in some cases, law enforcement authorities. The internet should be a fun place, and if some MySpace content makes the user uncomfortable, that inane feeling may be a warning that something dire may be present. Act; do not ignore the suspicion.

“Don't post anything that would embarrass you later.” Be totally cognizant that any posted material will be seen by countless others. Embarrassing photos, improper statements, personal comments, and other information posted may come back to haunt you later. The rule of thumb is to never post anything that you do not want your parents, grandparents, or employer to see. Do not think for a single instant that no one will see it, because they likely will.

“Don't mislead people into thinking that you're older or younger.” If the user claims to be 14 or over, but is really younger than 14, MySpace will delete the profile as a violation of its terms of service. Likewise, if a user is over the age of 18, but claims to be younger, MySpace will also delete that profile. Pedophiles often lie about their ages in order to ensnare younger victims. Pedophiles are very aware of common speech terms, abbreviations, and cultural icons of teens and will often claim to be in the same age range as their targets. There is no good and easy way to verify the identities of the other person, so always be suspicious. Pedophiles have also been known to post or send purloined photographs of younger people in order to gain the confidence of the potential victim; do not automatically believe that the photo provided by the other person is authentic.

“Don’t get hooked by a phishing scam.” Phishing is a criminal scam to steal the user’s identity by tricking him into disclosing personal information, user names, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. Often the perpetrator will entice the user to go to another website alleging free MP3 music, free videos, online chats, and other benefits. These website are often fraudulent, and exist only to get the user’s personal information for the purpose of identity theft. Some pedophiles even use this information as a front, claiming to be the victim, in order to entice other victims.

MySpace also provides tips for parents, and has posted a series of suggested guidelines for their use and implementation. These guidelines are:

* Talk to your kids about why they use MySpace
* Kids shouldn't lie about how old they are
* MySpace is a public space
* Remind them not to post anything that could embarrass them later or expose them to danger
* People aren't always who they say they are
* Harassment, hate speech and inappropriate content should be reported
* Don’t get hooked by a phishing scam

Helpful information usable by parents in discussing these topics with their kids is available online at http://www.myspace.com/Modules/Common/Pages/SafetyTips.aspx# , under the “Tips for Parents” heading.

MySpace and its competitors are very popular social networking websites with millions of users. It is possible that many of our children are using these sites to communicate and congregate. It is imperative that we as parents be aware of the risks and dangers extant, and educate our children of the risks and how to deal with them. Internet safety is no accident.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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