MySpace has been under pressure from parents and government officials to boost safety precautions after a string of incidents where children have met predators online. The 14-year-old girl and her mother are seeking $30 million in damages because they say that a 19-year-old man who met the teenager on the site assaulted her.
The accused predator is now considering his own lawsuit against MySpace and its owner, the NewsCorp., because the girl was only 13 at the time of the supposed encounter, and MySpace rules prohibit anyone under 14 from creating a site.
"Suing MySpace for a sexual assault perpetrated by a predator on their network is a bit like suing the car company who made the car he picked her up with," said Anthony Citrano, a co-founder of the technology public relations firm Fama PR in Cambridge, Mass., and a blogger at CosmicTap.com. "Both of these things made the assault possible, but no sane person thinks a car company should accept responsibility for every act a person could commit with it."
Citrano goes on to insinuate that the craze is fueled by television programs like "To Catch a Predator," an MSNBC undercover sting show, in which young boys and girls chat online in order to lure unsuspecting creeps to a house rigged with cameras. "If kids follow their instincts and the same common sense they'd use walking to school or going to the mall, it is remarkably safe," Citrano argues.
Josie Swindler weighed in on the controversial suit in his blog onblog.fastcompany.com."This MySpace lawsuit is reminiscent of a relatively new and sometimes lucrative form of American justice: the consumer passing blame to a provider," Ms. Swindler wrote. "Is it the fault of Philip Morris if people become addicted to 'light' cigarettes? (A jury said it is.) Is it the fault of McDonald's if a customer if burned when she spills hot coffee? (Also yes, according to a jury.) And is it MySpace's fault when teenage girls are duped by older men? I guess we'll see what a jury decides."
A point of clarification to Ms. Swindler: In the McDonalds's suit, McDonalds intentionally kept the coffee at an exceptionally high temperature, because that made their coffee "taste better." So when the plaintiff put the coffee between her legs and spilled it, causing serious burning of her inner thighs, genitals and perineum, shouldn't the company that caused the spill to be extremely injuring bear the responsibility? A jury thought so, and rightly so.
And under product liability law, a product that is defective by design (if you use cigarettes as intended, you will get cancer) and is aggressively marketed as enjoyable is reasonably liable for the damage it causes.
So, yes, some might say that a product (MySpace) that is defective in design (designed without proper safeguards and marketed to children, it led to harm) and warnings (cautions to children about contacting people were inadequate), might be liable under a product liability or negligence theory. If so, it won't be because juries are out of control but that companies are making profits without caring for their users, the most vulnerable members of society.