Sex Offenders on Myspace: What Do You Tell Your Kids about Online Predators?

Posted March 13, 2009 by

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A recent CNN report states that 2,000+ sex offenders from North Carolina are registered users on the popular social networking site MySpace.com.  MySpace was ordered to turn over the names to officials and Facebook was also asked to do the same.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with MySpace or Facebook, here’s the skinny. Both are Internet sites where users can post information and pictures about themselves and allow other people on the site to view those pictures and read the information if they accept them as their “friend”.  Some users have more than 500 friends, and it is a common to compete to have the most.

Though the rules include age verification, many users younger than 18 are on these sites with or without parental permission.  Heck, I know many parents who are on and have “friended”  their kids for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on them. Clearly this contradicts all parenting advice that we should not be our child’s friend, but we do live in a technology age…so perhaps this is part of it?

I actually cannot think of a better way for a sexual predator, a pedophile even, to troll for information on children or vulnerable adults, since many users are unaware of — or forget to use — the built-in security cautions that can block access to private information.

Sexual predators typically target and plan acts of abuse. They are patient, persistent and often obsessed with those they are pursuing.  After identifying a victim, the predator, who sometimes poses online as a teenager, tries to develop a relationship that will ultimately become sexual.

Add this personality profile to thousands of unsuspecting, invincible, young technology users operating on social networking sites, and you have a recipe for very unsafe situations.

Worse, the loopholes in the law prevent authorities from prosecuting these registered sexual offenders.  In Florida for example, “The language of the Florida law says it is illegal to use a computer for soliciting, seducing or luring a child for sexual contact to a minor who resides in this state.” That means a suspect can communicate with a minor outside Florida, and not be tried on state charges. Officials at the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office are working to get an amendment to the statute that would either eliminate those words or add the phrase “any other state.”

I can’t think of any other loophole that should be closed faster nationwide than this one!

On Facebook and Myspace, I’ve seen phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses and cell phone numbers posted for all to see. Sometimes the user profile gives information on where people work– and more. I have seen members post a phone number and tell their friends to call them so they can get together. When I asked a college student why she was posting her cell phone number on the site she said, “they have my whole name on the page already and can easily look up my address and phone number anyway.”  Good point, but why make it any easier than it is? Beyond that logic, I was at a loss for how to deter her from doing this again.

How do parents handle social networking sites and what do you tell your children about security and safety on these kinds of sites?

About

Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at annitawoz.wordpress.com

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