MySpace and U.S. Attorneys General Agree to Fight Sexual Predators

MySpace has reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 49 states—Texas sat out—to protect children from sexual predators on the site.

The attorneys general are all congratulating themselves, as is MySpace—and there’s a lot of commentary out there. To me, this all seems like much ado about nothing.

The measures—details here—won’t do anything to stop child predators on MySpace. But, on the other hand, there isn’t really any problem with child predators—just a tiny handful of highly publicized stories—on MySpace. It’s just security theater against a movie-plot threat. But we humans have a well-established cognitive bias that overestimates threats against our children, so it all makes sense.

Posted on January 17, 2008 at 1:12 PM18 Comments


Blaise Pascal January 17, 2008 1:46 PM

Pedantic note: It’s “Attorneys General” not “Attorney Generals”. The “general” is the adjective modifying the noun “attorney”. It’s wrong in the headline, but correct in the article.

Nik January 17, 2008 2:01 PM

Huge flaw 1 – Kids can use an email address their parents don’t know about and register as 18+.

Huge flaw 2 – Adults can register as kids. Could even enter your address into the minor registry and be forced to do so.

spider January 17, 2008 2:35 PM

Interesting. I understand the whole “congitive bias” thing, but I think the number of cases has actually been underreported. From my circle of friends, two of their underage daughters have been solicited on myspace, both resulting in sting operations by local police. Neither of which was ever mentioned by local media. However, that sort of shows you how well existing means of taking care of the problem work.

I realize my experience may not be representative, but I think there must be more cases like those two that aren’t hyped nationally or even locally.

Anonymous Scouter January 17, 2008 3:01 PM

We see this kind of theatre so very often. Where I live Scouts requires leaders and volunteers to go through criminal background checks. Schools do the same thing. The rationale is to protect youth. But exactly from who or what are they being protected?

Many people often think this is to reduce abuse. From time to time it hits the news that someone involved with youth is implicated in abuse or child porn. From what I’ve read, these people didn’t have prior convictions. The background check would have been clean.

I have seen a couple of false positives that got cleared up after causing much alarm.

I’ve also seen good volunteers lost because someone in the adminosphere lost forms and sent out no contact letters.

The people who remain involved do so because it’s fairly simple to do, it’s paid for, and they care more than they are annoyed. But none of the people I know who put up with it really believes it catches anyone. I’d love to see an object analysis of its effectiveness.

Perhaps it makes the parents feel better.

Timothy Clemans January 17, 2008 3:09 PM

MySpace’s security has sucked from day one and still does. Heck they even store their users’ passwords in such a way that they are able to tell people what their passwords are when they forget them.

Krisko the biploar beagle January 17, 2008 4:01 PM

“Attorneys General” or “Attorney Generals” – picky picky, either way they are still just a bunch of lawyers, down there with used car and insurance salespeople and other bottom feeders …

Brannosuke X January 17, 2008 4:25 PM

While myspace is trying to do something even slightly equivalent of protecting kids, they still have to make sure that kids are actually typing in their real address and to make sure that adults are adults and kids are kids. To me the only way to really esure kids safety online is to have parents be parents and should up responsibility for their kids by watching them, making them show their myspace pages, and let the kiddies know who pays for the internet access. As for my space, they should require parents to give proof of consent before their kids sign up for an account. This could be done by parents filling out contact info or turning it into a pay for use website.

WillowCreek January 17, 2008 4:29 PM

Very recently, the Mayor of Claton County, Missouri, who is also a Minister of a local Church there, was criminally charged for soliciting children for sex on the Inernet.

This is not the first time we have heard of such horror stories and one has to wonder just who it is that we are really voting into public offices.

derf January 17, 2008 4:40 PM

A little education to parents and a little able-bodied parenting would go a long way with the Myspace problem.

“Now Jane, arranging to meet or offering up sex with some guy you met on Myspace is probably not a good idea.” Problem solved.

Joe Patterson January 17, 2008 4:47 PM

This I find interesting:

“Users under 18 can block all users over 18 from contacting them or viewing their profile”

That could be fairly popular with kids, especially considering their parents will most likely be over 18.

(side note, I wonder why it is that this PDF is set not to allow copying? Not only is it fairly pointless, even if it did work, why would they want to?)

Codger January 17, 2008 5:15 PM

Appendix A: Preventing Underage Users, point 1 : “Browse function – limit to 68 years and below.”

Does that mean Grandma can’t check up on the grand kids?

Anonymous January 17, 2008 10:41 PM

“Users under 18 can block all users over 18 from contacting them or viewing their profile”

So we only want kids sexually assaulted if it’s by 17 year olds?

greg January 18, 2008 1:33 AM

A lot of these “kids” are 15+. Thats a teen not a kid. What about if someone older than 16 talked to them at the mall?

The whole thing is stupid. As a Dad of a almost 16 year old girl, i can assure you they can get into plenty of trouble with peers there own age.

Sooner or later they have to learn there own lessons of life. You can teach them plenty, but its up to them to learn.

Richard C. January 18, 2008 3:59 AM

@Bruce: “…But, on the other hand, there isn’t really any problem with child predators — just a tiny handful of highly publicized stories — on MySpace…”

A recent BBC Panorama investigated some of these sites, and their conclusion was that it was relatively common for children to be targeted.

As it’s the BBC, I must admit to giving this a status above “sensationalism”.

Colossal Squid January 18, 2008 5:09 AM

“As it’s the BBC, I must admit to giving this a status above “sensationalism”.”

Since a previous edition of Panorama gave us ‘the hidden dangers of wifi’ which was widely debunked, I’d take this with a grain of salt.

Also I’d point out that children are still many times more likely to be abused by parents or close relatives than they are by the MySpace boogeymen.

Brianary January 20, 2008 10:45 PM

“Security theater for a movie-plot threat” seems a bit awkward for something we’re going to use quite a lot. How about “hysteria show”?

overloaded July 12, 2008 11:07 PM

Yes but as a step mother of 6 children and a real mother of 4 other babies i would want extra help. Most of the people i worry about are there own age and relatively near their age. So with all of these children i can not be right there all the time. Although they are great kids and show us all the things on their MySpace accounts i still worry.

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