A benevolent programmer at Wired Magazine used his skills to create a script that crawled through the MySpace user directory looking for registered sex offenders who are using the site. Guess what he found? Over 744 sex offenders, over 400 of which were registered child sex offenders using their real names on MySpace. His search technique was only good enough to locate people using their real names who identified their zip code within 5 miles of their real address. They could have beat his system by using a fake name, fake picture or fake zip code. Not very hard to do.
There is real danger with these sites. Criminals are using these sites for their own malevolent purposes. In the article, the author argues that MySpace is still a good thing for kids, but warns:
It’s all up to MySpace. We can’t count on parental supervision; howmany teenagers looking for a space to hang out in with friends will accept one occupied by parents? We can’t count on peer policing; nobody reported Lubrano for his inappropriate comments.
We definitely can’t count on teenage street-smarts. Swagger isn’t judgment. Young Jacob is a smart guy, but even after he politely rebuked Lubrano for hitting on him, he made plans to meet the man at a Pennsylvania amusement park.
His argument is one for technical solutions, perhaps influenced by his own “success” of finding predators electronically. However, there are much bigger questions to be answered here: what kind of men are we raising who could do things like this? What kind of situations are we exposing our children to if they are able to go meet strangers in real time? What kind of decision-making are we teaching if our children can’t understand these risks?
I am an educator and have always believed that education is the answer. However, just educating children on social-networking is not enough. We must also be educating on how the media portrays men and women, how our own biases impart patriarchal views of women and how all of this is contributing to the violent world to which they are constantly exposed.