Popular MySpace.com has its share of predators | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Popular MySpace.com has its share of predators

William Ferchland
Illustration by Rebecca Enerson / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Cristina Soresca began using MySpace.com last year when the Web site exploded in popularity. The South Tahoe High School senior communicated through the site with friends in Santa Cruz and Southern California.

Others use it for different reasons. Teenagers and young adults use the free Web site to forge connections that could lead to casual hook-ups. Discussions, even surveys, on drugs and alcohol take place. Sexual predators loom.

Soresca said she doesn’t use the site as frequently as she has in the past. She knows of the benefits, like communication with friends, and dangers, such as solicitations from those with ill intentions.

“I’m sure if other parents knew what was on MySpace.com, they’d be a little concerned, but that’s the Internet: Anything can pop up. It just depends what you do with it,” Soresca said.

Forum for parents

St. Theresa Catholic School eased several parents’ concerns on Web sites similar to MySpace.com with a Tuesday forum on Internet safety for children.

Hosted by a member of the Sacramento Valley High Tech Crime Task Force, school Principal Danette Winslow wanted an opportunity for parents to learn about the dangers of the Internet for teenagers and children.

A member of the Sacramento Valley High-Tech Crimes Task Force spoke on a program titled “Parents’ Guide to Cyber Safe Kids” on who lurks in chatrooms, MySpace.com and other sites.

Tips include placing a computer in a highly-used area of the house, such as the kitchen or living room.

Parent Diane Yarrow, who has a 19-year-old daughter and two sons, 17 and 13, was astonished by the presentation, especially the information on MySpace.com.

“I just think it’s a pedophile’s, predator’s, whatever’s dream because there’s so much information out there,” she said.

“I was just so glad I went,” she added.

Teens lack ‘world’ view

Davis police Detective Brent Buehring, a member of the task force, stresses to students that a part of Web addresses includes “world wide.”

“They don’t have a global view,” he said. “They really don’t think where these pictures are going.”

Winslow said children surfing the Internet can easily click on pop-up links taking them to a place “where they aren’t supposed to be.”

And while parents can look over their child’s shoulder during Internet use, once the adult leaves so does the supervision.

“It’s not because we don’t trust the kids, it’s just that it’s a temptation for them and they have too much access for too many things,” said Winslow, who hopes to have another forum in the fall.

Concern has mounted on the national level. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal recently asked MySpace.com officials via a letter to provide software enabling parents to block the Web site, decrease the easiness of pornography and other requests.

South Shore schools use firewalls in not allowing students access to inappropriate Web sites.

MySpace.com has 55 million users worldwide. It allows people to easily build free Web sites with photos, interests, lists of friends, surveys and other items.

Purchased last year by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for $580 million, the site’s popularity has exploded. Frank Kovak, a teacher at South Tahoe High School who heads the yearbook class, said interest has been high enough that a page might be dedicated to the Web site.

“Obviously I endorse the idea of covering things that are on students’ minds in the context of ‘Is this something that is worth remembering?'” Kovac said.

Teen Web traffic climbing

In a study published in July of last year by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found growing Internet traffic from teenagers.

“The number of teenagers using the Internet has grown 24 percent in the past four years and 87 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online,” the report stated. “Compared to four years ago, teens’ use of the Internet has intensified and broadened as they log on more often and do more things when they are online.”

Another 2005 report from the organization detailed use of firewall protections for children whose parents don’t want them on inappropriate Web sites.

“At the same time, parents are showing higher levels of vigilance about protecting their children online, there is striking consensus among parents and their teens that the teenage population is not as careful as it should be online and that teens do things online their parents don’t know about,” it stated.

Carly Strauss believes a “huge gap” exists between parents and their children on technology and Internet topics. Strauss, a counselor at Kingsbury Middle School, hinted all students at the small school know of MySpace.com.

Apart from the sexual predator issue, Strauss is irked by other characteristics on racy pages within the Web site. There are pictures of teenagers drinking or smoking or holding devices to ingest marijuana. There’s also nudity. Since the site is used for social networking and is commonly used, Strauss referenced the amply opportunities for bullying.

Threats made

Two months go Carson High School Principal Sam Santillo requested vigilance from parents in supervising their children’s use of MySpace.com after a student was threatened by another girl.

“We did not discipline anybody about that because it occurred off school grounds,” Santillo told the Nevada Appeal. “We called everybody and said ‘You need to be involved in what your children are doing’ and that they could be using this a means to be disrespectful toward other girls.”

Strauss said Kingsbury contacted an FBI agent to speak to school parents on Internet knowledge.

“It’s totally one of those phenomenas you wouldn’t have predicted,” she said. “I think it can a be a very positive thing but it has taken a very negative spin.”

Others agreed with the advantages provided by MySpace.com. A site search for Lake Tahoe Community College revealed a student rallying others to save the physics programs. Others listed advertisements for needing roommates and textbooks.

Buehring, a member of the high tech crimes task force, also noted the good qualities of MySpace.com and similar social-networking sites such as Friendster.com, Facebook.com and LiveJournal.com.

Soresca, the senior at South Tahoe High School, blocks unwanted messages from strangers. It helps her maintain her intention of communicating with friends on the Web site without interference.

“It depends on if you want to make it a negative place,” she said.

Web alert

— 81 percent of parents of online teens say that teens aren’t careful enough when giving out information about themselves online and 79 percent of online teens agree with this.

— 65 percent of all parents and 64 percent of all teens say that teens do things online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about.

— Half of all teens and 57 percent of teens who use the Internet could be considered content creators by producing blogs or Web pages, posting original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.

Source: 2005 reports from Pew Internet and American Life Project

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