Today, the Associated Press reported, that four families filed separate lawsuits against News Corp (MySpace), claiming that their 14 and 15 year old daughters were sexually assaulted by pedophiles they met on-line. The families, located in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, are seeking millions of dollars damages, claiming that MySpace didn’t initiate strong enough security measures to protect their children from solicitation from adults. Jason A. Itkin, a lawyer with Arnold & Itkin, one of the law firms representing one of the suits said:
“In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users… Hopefully these lawsuits can spur MySpace into action and prevent this from happening to another child somewhere.”
These lawsuits aren’t the first of their kind. In June 2005, a mother in Texas sued MySpace and News Corp for $30,000,000 in damages, claiming that her 14-year old daughter was sexually assaulted by a 19 year old man, who it is alleged, lied to the girl by claiming he was a senior in high school and luring her into a false sense of trust.
In response to the lawsuits filed today, Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace’s chief security officer, issued a statement saying:
MySpace serves as an industry leader on Internet safety and we take proactive measures to protect our members… We provide users with a range of tools to enable a safer online experience.
Nigam went on to discuss the responsibility of users and their parents to “engage in open family dialogue” about on-line safety, transferring valuable off-line lessons to on-line interactions. The most recent step in the right direction came when MySpace announced that it would introduce parental notification. (I’ll be interested to see how that works.)
While it is a sad reality that creepy people (including sexual predators) exist and that pedophiles use social networking sites to target children, I agree with Nigam. Social networking websites must take security seriously. However, it is right to blame social networking sites for the criminal activity of their members. Doing so devalues the importance of parental responsibility, stifles technical innovation within social media, and perpetuates what is already an overly litigious culture in America.
Criminals are to blame for their own criminal behavior. Parents have the responsibility to educate themselves and their children about the dangers that exist on-line and talk about how to avoid them. The tough part is that because technology and “what’s cool to kids” changes quickly, it is difficult for the average parent to keep up to speed.
Organizations like Perverted Justice are doing their part to seek out on-line predators. I wonder whether the world would benefit from a new, multi-national public-private partnership, whose aim is to educate parents and kids about the dangers that exist on-line (how to avoid them, how to report suspicious or unlawful behavior, etc.). Regionally, members of this partnership could focus on developing legislation that protects kids. I’d like to believe that this idea could work, but I’m realistic enough to know that it would be an uphill battle, likely fraught with bureaucracy and red tape.
Citizens of the world have identified a problem that is crying out for a strong, targeted, and evolving solution. While I don’t propose to know what the answer is, suing MySpace isn’t it.
If you have ideas, post a commment.