MySpace: Can software really make it safer?

Can MySpace be tamed?
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor
You don’t have to be an underage minor to fear MySpace.

Google News MySpace headlines today:

"MySpace phishing scam exposes details of 60,000 users"

"Suspect posts details of shooting on MySpace"

"Death row and MySpace"

"MySpace.com posting leads to man’s arrest"

Such headlines are negatively impacting MySpace corporate owner News Corp.

I asked Ross Levinsohn last October about content policing at MySpace (see “FIM Ross Levinsohn on MySpace in ‘Real Deal’ exclusive interview”): 

DB: You began your OMMA keynote by quoting William Shakespeare. The William Shakespeare MySpace profile hawks a third-party tee-shirt company with slogans like “Shakespeare Bong Company” and “These tits belong to Shakespeare.”

Will MySpace continue to allow every bit of user-generated content, no matter how distasteful, to flourish?

RL: We don’t like to hear things like that. We are leading the industry in policing content. We don’t want inappropriate content, hate speech, pornography. Under age users are policed out. We have a big staff, we use technology, manual systems to enforce the Terms of Service. We have removed a significant amount of content that is not appropriate for the Internet. We are doing a good job from where we were. We continue to work hard at it.

MySpace currently enables parents to “police out” children from MySpace: 

To remove your child’s profile from MySpace:

First login as the user with the email address & password. If you don’t know your child’s password, you can retrieve it by clicking the “Forgot Password?” link on the login box of MySpace.com. The password will be sent to the email address used to login to MySpace.

Once you’ve logged in, click “Account Settings.” Next, click “Cancel Account” (the link is near the top of the account settings page). You will now see the Cancel Confirmation Page. Click the Red button “Cancel My Account”. You will be asked to enter a reason for canceling MySpace. You may skip this if you wish. Click “Cancel My Account”

A cancel email will be sent to the email address of the user. In the email there will be a link to confirm the cancellation of the account. If you do not receive the confirmation email, please remove all content from your child's profile, and enter in the text 'Remove Profile' in the 'About Me'. This lets us know that you have taken control of your child's account;We will assist by removing the profile.

Today, parents are in absolute control at MySpace, if they so wish.

The Wall Street Journal, however, warns that parental monitoring software envisaged by MySpace, code named “Zephyr,” will “repel biggest users” and “risks alienating its young users.”

If MySpace underage friends are not already “repelled” and “alientated” by MySpace allowing guardians to “take control” of their accounts, it is unliklely that ineffectual parental “notification” software will spur a teen rebellion.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal underscored that minors can “easily evade” the software, calling it a “shortsighted and ineffective response to a towering danger to kids," as cited by USA Today:

Blumenthal and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper co-chair a task force of 34 state attorneys general that is considering a lawsuit against MySpace over safety. The group has asked the site to raise its minimum age from 14 to 16 and make users verify their age.

Cooper says the notification software "really doesn't do enough" to protect children. "You've got 10-, 11- and 12-year-old kids who are on the site — that's a problem. Parents are lulled into thinking that this is a safe site for children … but they are a mouse click away from predators and porn.

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