My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

Relevant links:

Archive

is MySpace safe for predators?

Things on MySpace have taken a funny twist. At first, the media was all about the harm predators on MySpace could do. Yet, in the last month, the media has taken a new angle and is now reporting stories about how law enforcement has used MySpace to lure out predators and take a bite out of all sorts of other crimes. While Dateline’s perverted justice reports poorly convey the likelihood that teens will respond to predators, they do show just how stupid predators are about believing that they are talking to teens. Following this same model, LAPD and other police groups have been logging on, pretending to be sexy 14 and 15 year olds and happily responding to all sexual predators who approach them, without making their profiles private. I’ve lost count of how many predators have been lured out by these raids. Of course, my favorite is Brian Doyle, a high-ranking homeland security official.

I find this turn of events really cool because no cop could pretend to be a 14-year old and go see a priest or turn up in a school to see if they’d get molested. Online, they can! Cops: 1, Predators: 0. People often tell me that online worlds make it easier for predators to find kids, that they couldn’t lure kids in otherwise. Sadly, the arrests have showed us that this too isn’t true. So many of the people who have been arrested have been pediatricians, teachers, rabbis, etc. :-( They have access to kids and i don’t even wanna think about how many they’ve fondled. Luckily, the online arrests are stopping them both online and offline! I hope that the cops keep it up.

While predators have been arrested, i’ve stopped hearing about teens getting themselves into trouble. At this point, MySpace is safer for teens than for predators! This makes me smile. If anything positive can come out of all of this moral panic predator hype, it will be an increase in predator arrests and a decrease in the frequency in which predators reach out to youngins for fear that they might be cops. Predator arrests are making the world safer for teens everywhere. Tis a much better approach than asking teens to go further underground. MySpace is so much safer than the AOL/Usenet/BBS world of my day. I’m super glad to see both law enforcement and the folks at MySpace work to rid the world of predators rather than trying to stop online interaction. I really really hope that parents and legislators follow suit.

Of course, teens still do stupid stuff on the site. They bully each other, put up risque photos of themselves without realizing that teachers are watching, spread gossip, etc. There are also quite a few teens who are trying to get dates with folks in their early 20s, even when that’s illegal. But, for all of the fear of predators, things don’t seem to be getting worse.

Unfortunately, though, lying also appears to be on the rise. The problem isn’t the predators. With parents banning participation or stalking their kids’ profiles, teens are being smart. They’re creating new profiles and lying through their teeth. ::sigh:: An entire generation adept at lying to cope with super publics and fear of mom. (Of course, this is precisely what has saved my ass from the ghosts of Usenet past – mommy fear stopped me from using my own name and now you can’t find those old posts!)

On a related note, i want to take a moment to discuss Justin Berry. For those who don’t know he is, read the NYTimes article. Make sure you read the ENTIRE article. Seriously. I’m really stoked that he’s been standing up to Congress for how bad law enforcement is around child porn. That said, i’m a bit concerned that folks think that what happened to him can happen to anyone. There’s no doubt that he got himself way in over his head and that people took advantage of him. But the worst part is that his own father took the worst advantage of him, really pushing it over the edge to pimp him out, drug him up and make certain that the cash kept flowing. Prior to his father’s involvement, he wasn’t having sex on camera, he wasn’t doing cocaine, he wasn’t having sex with the men who who paid for his cams. He went to his father when he realized that he had gotten in over his head. Rather than helping him get out, his father pushed him down further. This sickens me beyond any of the webcam stuff. While we’re going after predators, can we please please please go after the sick parents who are molesting and taking advantage of their children too? This part of the story gets too little attention, but most molested children in this country are abused by the hands of their own family members.

Print Friendly

22 comments to is MySpace safe for predators?

  • alan macleese

    danah boyd: i hear you seek out trouble and are concerned about myspace. My name is Alan MacLeese. Google catbird forum or simply Alan MacLeese and see the dirty big secret of MySpace starting to unfold. Read trent lapinski’s blog, i am living in Maine, he is in L.A. and we are working together and this story is going to pop and you should know about what’s going on. good luck in spreading word.anm

  • MR. T

    I applaud the police nabbing these offenders but I have to smirk about how adult users of Myspace using “Fake” ages(12 or 14 for example) to get privacy for their sites. Am I wrong but isn’t this funny?

    I wonder what secrets lay hidden behind them, away from prying eyes . . .

  • if there is one thing the media loves more than talking about how kids arent safe on the internet it’s how the cops are using it to catch predators. i wonder how much of this will end up being the “2 Live Crew Phenomenon” and drive even MORE people to that site, or whether PredatorSpace will cave to the pressure, put in some mommy restrictions and become an un-cool multimillion dollar waste of server space.

  • I’m surprised that people tell you predators “couldn’t lure kids in without the Internet.” Predators have been in the news forever, long before the Internet existed.

    But I’m also surprised that you think it’s incorrect that “online worlds make it easier for predators to find kids.”

    Isn’t it true that the reason for the immense growth and popularity of sites like MySpace is that they make it easier for people to find and interact with other people they’d like to contact?

    If MySpace makes it easier for teens to find each other and build online communities, isn’t it also true that MySpace makes it easier for predators to find kids?

  • zephoria: The teens who have to lie about their use of MySpace because parents have banned it or stalk their site already have a problemmatic relationship with their parents. Surely they must feel the need to lie about lots of other things as well. For the lucky ones, there will be a reconciliation between parent and child when the child becomes an adult. A very lucky few don’t have problems that compel them to lie during their teen years, because their parents have raised them from the start with the goal of maximizing their freedom to discover and grow…

    MrT: I have seen cases of adults who set their age to 14 so they can also set their profile to “private.” The “private” setting just means your profile page can be viewed only by people on your friend list. The people they’re hiding from may just be the porn vendors who fill email boxes with invites to MySpace “adult-content” groups, or who temporarily take over people’s accounts and send out bulletins advertising porn sites on the web.

    I really don’t understand why MySpace has an age restriction on the “private profile” setting. As of a few days ago (the last time I tested it), only 14 and 15 year olds could have “friend-only” profiles. Letting anyone, of any age, set their profile to private/friends-only would give people more freedom to use MySpace as they’d like.

  • hmmm…teenagers lying to moms and changing their identities…sounds kind of familiar to me. Teenage girls esp. lie to varying degrees to their moms as part of the breaking away/forming their own identities thing. The idea of a teenage girl emeshed with her mother and *never* lying to her is not just strange, but probably an indication of a certain pathology.

    I’ve been following MySpace pretty closely for about a year now, and there’s good and bad (I wasn’t too thrilled with the Vanity Fair article on MySpace.) One thing, though, is that I don’t think there’s any bigger predator problem than if the kids were out in a town square. Predators have *always* been there, whether in the real world or in the virtual world, and vulnerable teens have always connected with them. In the past, a predator may have kept himself confined to a certain geographic radius–where, nowadays, he can venture out to another state. But, is the out of state roaming of a few really all that significant? Probably not. It’s probably just an extension of old fashioned geographic roaming.

    As long as there are vulnerable teens, there will be predators. Vulnerable teens have been around well before the internet. It’s more of a bad parenting problem than it is an internet problem. The internet, really, is a convenient scapegoat, one more reason, and way, for parents not to take responsibilty for their own bad behavior.

  • Kevin – you assume that most teens are going there to meet new people. This isn’t true. Most are just hanging out with their friends. Also, there’s a big difference between meeting people in offline spaces and meeting them in online spaces. Most teens are not translating online interactions to offline ones.

  • Bret

    im doing a news article at school and i need info

  • “Sadly, the arrests have showed us that this too isn’t true. So many of the people who have been arrested have been pediatricians, teachers, rabbis, etc. ”

    Dana, you are lying. Not a good quality for an academic.

  • Janet – if you look at the Dateline coverage, this is something that they repeat regularly in their “To Catch a Predator” series.

  • Justin Berry is a weasel. Suggesting that he is a victim is a slap in the face to real victims everywhere. He made money from his pornography sites by making adults think he was 18, and now he is making money from his appearances on shows like Oprah. Would this have had the same response had he been a 16 year old girl that filmed herself and put the videos online? Would her adult viewers have been called pedophiles? Or is it more likely this is just a twisted form of homophobia attempting to rid the net of disgusting gay pornography? It’s an interesting idea to think about…
    http://www.mogenic.com/article.asp?article_id=281

  • Lee

    Considering that I’m 20 years old and 16 year old girls are only 4 years younger than me, I don’t see it as child porn, I’m sorry.

    Just because stupid American laws say child porn is wrong doesn’t mean the rest of the world agrees.

  • i think that predtior are bad for the internet they should be not talked to teenagers preditar and they are suppose to talked to people their own age.

  • cassy

    My daughter is 14 and and she is not really that mature but is it safe ?

    my eldest daughter has myspace and she says its unsafe

    who should I got to now ?

  • Kat

    I think that if they choose to put there profile not on private that is there life they are putting in danger. I dont have mine on private….but then agian i dont stick my info out everywhere

  • not gonna put

    I think that if you choose to have a myspace, which I do! I t should be your responsibility not to put to much info on there. It might be dangerous but if you have it on private you have more control and not as much DANGER.

  • I was glad when they aired the show about the predators and i hope it will deter other people that ever had the urge that they are being watched. Now that the law is watching myspace the percentage of people acting on it will go down.

  • Katelyn

    thanks for seeing how it really is, your info was very helpful for my debate!

  • it not important

    i am doing a project on is myspace safe or not what do you think ?

  • Lisa

    I find your post troubling, as you refer to 14 and 15 year olds as “sexy”, and that you want to know if the site is safe for predators.

  • Kaitlyn Johnson

    You might want to check out the recent reports from the University of New Hampshire and NCMEC that show there is not the risk that law enforcement, the media, and others, would want you to believe. In fact, internet solicitations have decreased over the past few years. Law enforcement is creating solicitations using decoy cops in order to pad their numbers and obtain funding. I know of one case where a 15 y/o girl (actually a decoy cop) was in an adult-only chat room (which begs the question, what’s a 15 y/o – real or not – doing in an adult chat room?) and entrapped an adult. At least 90% of the “participants” in these particular chat rooms are chatbots as well. I’m all for catching the real predators, but let’s stop the hype and scare tactics.

  • i think myspace does have many risk,but as long as we aviod them we will be safe!!
    ♥ myspace lover ♥

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>