New MySpace Lawsuit Ignites More Questions: “Who is Responsible For Safety of Kids On-Line?”

January 18, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Social Media

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.

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  • [this is good]

    spot on.

    children need to be protected both by society and parents from the dangers of online… but not just online. in my mind the same applies to questions of fast food advertising, road safety, education etc..

    we all have a responsibility to provide children the safest environment possible so that they can play outdoors, go online and do what kids do without fear.

    that said, if i had to decide on one group that ultimately has to take responsibility, and i believe we need to be clear where the buck ultimately stops, it is the parents. allowing them to abdicate their responsibility by suing myspace or expecting the health system to pay for illnesses related to obeseity is a dangerous road to go down.

    i know it may sound harsh but without clear ultimate responsibilty everyone is responsible and therefore no one.

  • [this is good]
    I agree. Education is the only practical solution to the problem. Technical solutions like content filters and parental controls will never be successful for any length of time because technologies are constantly changing and both children and predators are constantly working to circumvent them.

    Likewise, law enforcement is an ineffective solution, as it is generally better at punishing than preventing. Also, the need to keep up with constatly changing technologies can be a drain on budgets.

    Changing technologies are in some ways fairly irrelevant to education, though. Parents need to be taught that there are risks in any online environment, just as there are risks in any real-world environment. And children need to be taught that the warnings they are given about strangers are doubly true online: a stranger online is like a stranger wearing a mask, and shouldn't be trusted.

  • …but we must not forget (or certainly i believe) that we ALL have a responsibility to do what we can to protect children (wherever they may be), whether as individuals, law-makers, consulants or shareholders of myspace.

    my point is that we need to be clear where ultimate (not exclusive) responsibily sits. slight but important difference.

  • [this is good]
    The law already clarifies that parents are responsible for their children, including their safety and their activities. These parents are providing the computers and the internet services to these young teenagers and they most certainly can take them away from them or restrict their access. These teenagers are spending multitude of hours on the internet, unsupervised. Where are their parents? It is not my job to make sure other kids are safe – my job is to ensure my kids are safe.

    There are 1000's upon 1000's of these girls' myspace sites that are full of indecent sexually provacative material, fitting actually to a prostitute soliciting. These kids are posting what many would call pornography. Innocent little children? Excuse me please. Many of the girls are lying about their age, falsely presenting themselves to be adults. I think that is called fraud. And their parents allow it all. Next we hear that they met some older guy (he gets labeled predator), given him their phone number, gone to meet him without their parents knowledge, and then had sex. Sometimes it is forced, but many of these cases are about consentual sex where laws of age of consent are broken. These are not innocent children, they are juvenile deliquents whose parents allow them to play in the biggest bar in the world with no rules while they are convienently elsewhere. So the kids are getting into trouble as a result. Well kids do that when they are not properly attended to. The internet has been around long enough – everyone knows the potentials of meeting a bad person. When this stuff occurs, those parents should be investigated by welfare and juvenile authorities. And those teenagers who are engaging in such activities should be investigated by juvenile police as well. Wouldn't that be a wake up call to all parents and teenagers?

  • TroyK

    One thing that is also going on and I think will get much much worse with time. People taking someone's picture and pretending to be them. You can create a bad situation on many levels like that. My son is 13 and a neighbor kid put his picture on there with his name and zip code. He declared he was “gay and proud” and “horney as fuck#$”. This can be devastating to a 13 year old, or anyone else for that matter. I am on day four of trying to get it removed. Imagine if someone puts a picture of your child in front a predator and lures him in. A whole new way of creating crime and it wouldn't be near as hard as one may think. We MUST come up with a system to handle this and MySpace has to respond to problems much fast than they do. Four days + is just ridiculous.

  • Well, I guess the answer for that is us parents. Although it’s the websites owner’s responsibility to keep their users safe in using their website we still need to guide and keep an eye to our kid’s online activities to make sure that they are always safe.



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