Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Texas Takes a Stand Against MySpace

Texas is the last state standing, refusing to sign an agreement with in regards to protecting children from online predators and cyberbullies.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott stated in a letter to Chris DeWolfe, Chief Executive Officer of MySpace, his reasons for Texas' refusal to sign.
"We are concerned that signing would be misperceived as an endorsement of the inadequate safety measures contained therein," Abbott said in his two-page letter. "Doing so would give Texas parents and their children a false sense of security."
From Digital Trends:
Social networking powerhouse MySpace has reached an agreement with 49 states' attorneys general to implement a wide range of online safety principles designed to enhance the safety of minors using the site. Among other changes, MySpace will set up a registry that parents can use to prohibit their children from setting up an online profile, and will change the default privacy setting for profiles of 16 and 17 year-olds on the service from "public" to "private," so they can only be contacted by people they know. MySpace and the states are also hoping their Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Sites Safety will be adopted as a standard by the wider social networking industry.
Abbott's letter to MySpace stated he hoped his office and MySpace will continue negotiations and that they will be able to reach an agreement.

Abbott contends that MySpace's new proposals fail in one key area, that of age verification from potential MySpace users. The case of Megan Meiers highlights this problem.

Megan, a young teenager from Missouri, thought she had met a 16-year-old boy named Josh on MySpace. After several weeks of online chatting, the tone of the relationship changed when "Josh" became abusive towards Megan.

On Monday, October 16, 2006, Megan signed on to her MySpace account. When her mother called her from a dentist's appointment, Megan was in tears.

"They are posting bulletins about me." A bulletin is like a survey. "Megan Meier is a slut. Megan Meier is fat."

Megan committed suicide that day, hanging herself in her closet. The quiet tranquility of the neighborhood was shattered by Megan's death. It was six weeks later that Megan's family learned that the supposed 16-year-old "Josh" was really a middle-aged woman who lived four doors down, her daughter, a one time friend of Megan's. DBKP - MySpace Cruel Prank

The Texas Attorney General is committed to prosecuting online sexual predators, his stance is that MySpace's agreement doesn't go far enough, guaranteeing age verification.

We're not sure how any online site would be able to absolutely, positively, verify someone's age. Some sites, such as buying cigars or looking at adult "material," all one has to do is check a box stating they are "over 21." As if this tiny box will protect anyone from an online sexual predator or cyberbully.

The Attorney General's office has a website with tips for parents on protecting your children online: CyberCrimes Unit

The FBI and local St. Charles County Prosecutor in Missouri investigated the Megan Meiers case and decided to not bring any charges against the neighborhood woman. Several cities and towns in the area passed online cyberbully statutes in the wake of Megan's story.

As for Texas and MySpace, the Attorney General makes a valid point. If MySpace is still unable to verify someone's age then online sexual predators will be able to join the popular site, looking to lure young children into relationships.

In the end, parents need to be at the forefront in educating their children on the dangers of being online, of sharing personal info, of allowing strangers to strike up a "friendship."

Imae - MySpace
Source - Lubbock Online
Source - MySpace Cruel Prank Leads To Teen's Suicide

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