Thousands of Sex Offenders on MySpace! by Annita Woz

Due to the nature of this post, no pictures are posted with today’s blog.

A recent CNN reports states that 2,000+ sex offenders from North Carolina are registered users on the popular social networking site  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 posted information like interests and education, when approved as a “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 younger than 18 are on these sites with or without parental permission.  Heck, I know many parents who are on, who have allowed teens to sign up as well,  and then 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 and 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. Would users find these social networking sites fun or interesting if everyone limited posts to simple and safe commentary? Probably not.

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 (in Florida) 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.  

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? 

### by Annita Woz for Empowering Parents March 10, 2009.


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