Welcome to the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter and thanks to everyone who's just subscribed! Be sure to put our return address ( on your ISP's allow or white list so its filters won't block the newsletter. And post in our forum or email me anytime.   New! See our book, MySpace Unraveled.

August 3, 2007

Dear Subscribers:

Here's the lineup for this last full week of July:

~~~~~~~~~~~~Support the Newsletter!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Help support Net Family News: Make a donation
to our free public service, via Network for Good's online fundraising system
for nonprofit organizations. Contributions are tax-deductible.


Sex offenders in MySpace: Some context

Last week Larry Magid and I co-wrote a commentary that ran in the San Jose Mercury News Sunday. Hundreds of news outlets worldwide had picked up the story that MySpace has deleted the profiles of 29,000 registered sex offenders. The news may have been shocking to a lot of parents of teen social networkers, so we felt parents deserved some perspective on this. Here's a slightly condensed version of what we wrote....

Finding and expelling sexual predators from social Web sites - something MySpace says it now does routinely - is a good thing. Other social sites are similarly cooperating with law enforcement. But this announcement from North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (see General Cooper's "Protecting Children from MySpace," a link under "What's New" on his page) was only possible because MySpace took the initiative to develop a law-enforcement tool the federal government called for in a recently passed law but failed to create: a national sex offender database that MySpace then donated to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for broader use.

Beyond the Web. Sex offenders aren't just in social-networking sites online. They're in chatrooms and newsgroups, on discussion boards and file-sharing networks. They've been on the Internet since before there was a World Wide Web, long before social networking took off. Now social sites are helping to expose their online activities.

The numbers. Let's put the 29,000 profiles in context: More will probably be found, but there are more than 190 million profiles on MySpace at the moment. Now let's move from the Net to "real life." There are 602,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. That's just registered ones - those who've been caught and convicted. The vast majority of child molesters are not strangers whom children meet online. Very, very few are strangers in real life even: According to the California Department of Justice, "90% of child victims know their offender, with almost half of the offenders being a family member. Of sexual assaults against people age 12 and up, approximately 80% of the victims know the offender."

Actual cases. Last spring I was looking for a solid figure for sexual exploitation of minors in social-networking sites after hearing Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's reference to "the towering danger of sexual predators" (see "Predators vs. cyberbullies"). General Cooper's office told me there were approximately 100 known cases in MySpace in 2005, but that number was based not on government statistics but a Lexis-Nexis search of news reports. That's 100 cases too many, but an extremely small proportion of the 12 million teens who use such sites, and it pales compared to the number of kids molested by acquaintances and family members.

No kidnappings. In all those cases, a teenager willingly got together with someone he or she met online and, contrary to what many people think, the kids often knew what they were getting into and, in every known case, went to meet the offenders themselves. This doesn't excuse these crimes in any way, but parents need to understand how this victimization works and what signs to look for....

Who's actually victimized. At a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, gave a profile of what he described as a fairly typical victim of online predation: "Jenna" was 13 and "from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chatrooms, had the screenname 'Evilgirl.' There she met a guy who, after a number of conversations admitted he was 45. He flattered her, sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And eventually he drove across several states to meet her for sex on several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested, in her company, she was reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement authorities" (see the full story). "Jenna" is not a typical teen or social networker; she's a typical victim of online predation, a high-risk teen offline, representing somewhere between 2% and 5% of online teens, Dr. Finkelhor indicated in a recent briefing on Capitol Hill.

Social networking's very individual. Whether it's a positive or negative experience depends on who uses it. The vast majority of our online kids are for the most part using social sites to socialize with their friends at school. Some are decorating their pages and learning graphic design, writing software code, playing with digital photos, producing and editing video, and so on, all in a very collective way. Unfortunately, some teens are seeking the wrong kind of validation online for destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, cutting, and substance abuse. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline told us over a year ago that MySpace was its No. 1 source of referrals, so teens are also getting help in MySpace for depression, domestic violence, loneliness, and substance abuse, as well as suicidal thinking, through the work of 120 crisis centers nationwide whose work the Lifeline coordinates.

Cyberbullying affects a lot more teens. So far two nationwide surveys in the US have found that about one-third of online teens in this country have been victimized by cyberbullying (one in Canada put the figure at about two-thirds for Canadian kids!). That's at least 8 million young people in the US (this too in "Predators vs. cyberbullies"). This peer harassment needs to be addressed, which will certainly happen at home and in school, as we teach our kids to be good friends and "citizens" online as well as off.

So let's keep these scary predator announcements in perspective. We want parents to have the facts so they can remain calm. When parents (and officials) overreact and start banning things, kids just go underground - as they have since the beginning of time. Only now they can do so online too - on hundreds of social networking sites, in IM, on phones and all sorts of other devices and at proliferating connection points in parks, libraries, cafes, and at friends' houses.

Related links

As of this writing, there were more than 600 links in Google News to coverage in multiple countries of the North Carolina attorney general's announcement. That was just the start. The story has continued to unfold, so here's a sampler of coverage:

* * * *

Web News Briefs
  1. 'Mean streets' of cyberspace

    Most people online are "kind and supportive" and respectful community members, but there are some really nasty corners of the social Web, and Janet Kornblum zooms in on the why in a USATODAY article. She quotes Silicon Valley tech forecaster Paul Saffo as saying there are two ways to stand out among the online masses - to be really clever or really mean - and it's a lot easier, unfortunately, to be mean. Maybe it'll eventually help when people get it that " Anonymity on the Internet is relative.... People who use pseudonyms while posting on websites actually may be trackable through their Internet Protocol address, a unique designation that allows computers to communicate with others on the Internet. Still, most sites won't try to track someone unless there's a legal reason, such as a subpoena." Some of Janet's sources suggest that people need to start thinking about a code of online conduct, some say nothing can be done because human behavior won't change, and other say bloggers and profile owners just have to ignore the nastiness because it's a part of the participatory Web. What do you think? We'd love to see your thoughts at

  2. Online-safety hotline for Oz

    The US has its, Canada its, and Britain its hotline at the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre. "Within weeks" Australians too "will have access to a national online child protection hotline," as well a free filtering software, Australian IT reports. The Communications Ministry put the emphasis on the education part of the $99 million (US) program, saying parents will be able to call the hotline or visit the Web site "to get individual advice about online safety." There are hotlines in many other countries, but they focus largely on reporting child pornography. The Australian government is aiming to launch the hotline "in time for national child protection week, which begins September 7."

  3. More global-socializing figures

    Once you get past's and's amazing growth figures this past year (774% and 270%, respectively, with Bebo in third place at a respectable 172%), the worldwide membership of these sites is a little less jawdropping. But that international appeal probably explains a lot of these sites' growth. Friendster hasn't grown as much, but 88.7% of its members are in the Asia/Pacific region, as opposed to 7.7% in North America. Bebo's mostly in Europe, but Tagged's membership is more evenly spread through all regions of the world. All three are based in Northern California. All this is according to comScore's latest figures. PC World's headline is "Social networking quickly taking hold globally," and CNET ran an analysis.

  4. Facebook & ID theft

    This is something for social networkers to be on the alert about: computer security and social engineering on social-networking sites (social engineering is what phishers and identity thieves use to trick people into making themselves and their devices vulnerable to hacks and ID theft). The latest warning signal concerns Facebook, which recently announced it's becoming a social-networking platform for all kinds of online services and widgets. "While thousands of applications being developed by third parties for Facebook users are enriching the social network's functionality, the Facebook Platform provides a perfect channel for distributing malicious software," CNET reports. To be fair, experts quoted in the article are talking more about the potential than actual attacks. And, "while Facebook third-party developers do not necessarily have access to Facebook members' personal details, whether users agree to install an application is ultimately a caveat emptor scenario" - meaning read the fine print before you agree to install stuff, people!

  5. Disney acquires Club Penguin

    Penguins at your house might not notice, but ClubPenguin's moving into the Disney igloo. "Disney said it would pay $350 million in cash for the website aimed at 6-to-14-year-old kids. As much as $350 million more will be added if the Canadian company's founders reach profit targets through 2009," the Los Angeles Times reports . Here's the Associated Press on this development .

  6. Music downloading unabated

    And I had thought file-sharing growth was tapering off. "Illegal music downloading is at an all-time high and set to rise further," The Guardian reports, citing the 4th-annual digital-music survey by Entertainment Media Research. Forty-three percent of respondents said they're downloading illegal songs, up from 36% last year and 40% in 2005. Meanwhile, fear of being caught has lessened. "This year only 33% cited the risk of being prosecuted as a deterrent against unauthorised downloading, compared with 42% in 2006."

  7. Videogame tournament on TV

    Watch out, Masters and March Madness. This week CBS Sports broadcast the World Series of Video Games, held in Louisville, Ky., last month. Reporting the day before the series aired (Sunday), the New York Times says that "viewers flicking channels looking for a ballgame or golf tournament may instead encounter a couple of young guys rocking out on plastic guitars, or some (literally) disembodied digital boxers throwing uppercuts, or a fanciful animated wizard casting a spell." Definitely a sign of videogames' mainstream-ization, but it is challenging making videogame play interesting on TV to people who don't play videogames. The show, the Times reports, consisted of highlights form the whole gaming series.

* * * *

Share with a Friend! If you find the newsletter useful, won't you tell your friends and colleagues? We would much appreciate your referral. To subscribe, they can just click here.

We are always happy to hear from potential sponsors and distribution partners as well. If you'd like to make a contribution or become a sponsor, please email us or send a check payable to:

Net Family News, Inc.
1121 3rd Ave.
Salt Lake City, UT 84103

That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

HOME | newsletter | subscribe | links | supporters | about | feedback

Copyright 2009 Net Family News, Inc. | Our Privacy Policy | Kindly supported by Domain Names and Web Hosting UK,, PCTattleTale Parental Control and Monitoring Software,, and