October 17, 2006
Sex Offenders and MySpace

The pervasive presence of News Corp.'s MySpace in the lives of Americans is growing all the time, and for the 20-somethings and teenagers who drive a lot of the subscription to this free social networking service, MySpace has helped transform the way people communicate with one another.

I've written in the past here about the social concerns surrounding MySpace, particularly when it comes to the safety of children. While social conservatives and censors always bring up concern about the welfare of children who might watch something (as with the recent Senate commission regarding screens), the same types of trends take place on MySpace.

And, although many of these act as masks to pass on greater concerns about unmanaged or unmonitored conversations online, leading to dangerous legislation,
there are also legitimate concerns about the safety of children on MySpace when it comes to online predators.

With that, the recent piece by Kevin Poulsen in Wired about his investigation of a convicted sexual offender toward children who was targeting children online through MySpace and his working with a police force to bust the child molester (for what turned out only to be a misdemeanor) provides a detailed account of some of the dangerous activities that can take place in an online space (or any other space for that matter).

The piece is worth looking at but still reminds me of the words of Henry Jenkins in reminding everyone that nothing physically dangeorus can happen on MySpace but only in the "real world," if these children happen to meet these adults in person.

Finding the right balance between minimal protection for minors and the ability of adults to express themselves free is always a challenge. It seems our goverment all-too-often relies on too many options of blanket censoring, but those of us who are skeptical of such "censoring" activities must also remain aware of the very real dangers that also exist out there instead of painting this picture in black-and-white.

Poulsen's essay and MySpace research are well worth a read.

Thanks to Joshua Green for passing this along.