Last updated 2/8/2007 at Noon
Since a person can be truthful about their identity as easily as they can fabricate one on social networking websites such as MySpace.com, it makes those sites popular with both friends and felons. On these sites, children, as well as adults, post pictures of themselves for the world to view - in addition to their personal information, hobbies, special interests, preferences, and more.
Described as “very voyeuristic, easy to navigate and a window into someone else’s life,” law enforcement officials say, “You don’t really know who you are talking to, unless you physically know the person.” Because many children desire to have as many friends as they can collect, it is not uncommon for them to add individuals they may not know in person as “friends” to their site.
“It’s not that you don’t want to trust your kids; you just shouldn’t trust everyone else,” said Dan Pearce, a special agent with the Computer and Technology Crime High-Tech Response Team (CATCH), at a special presentation January 30 sponsored by the Fallbrook Citizen’s Crime-Prevention/Neighborhood Rehab Committee. The CATCH team is a multi-agency task force formed in June 2000 to apprehend and prosecute all criminals who use technology to prey on the citizens of San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside Counties.
Pearce said that because sites like MySpace.com can be used for good as well as bad, they can compromise the safety of youth. He said that makes it vital that parents set and enforce rules in regards to children using the site because of the number of sex offenders that peruse it daily. Banning the site completely from use is not what Pearce is suggesting though.
“We’re not here to tell you to shut MySpace off in your house, because there are a hundred others like it,” Pearce said. “There are lots of positive aspects to it for schools, church groups, and more. People can share valuable information (files), photos, videos and blogs.” It is invaluable in sharing photos of events, information and memories with friends and relatives internationally.
“MySpace has a legitimate use and is a valuable resource when used the right way. It is perfect for groups with like interests,” Baclagan said.
Pearce explained that the dark aspects of these sites have a greater chance of emerging when private messages are sent back and forth between users. It is through this method that some unsavory situations take root. Individuals can also search for MySpace users by zip code, and because pictures of the user can be viewed on the site, physical safety may be compromised. Baclagan said these sites are irresistible to child predators.
“Cyberstalkers take time to get to know their victims,” he explained. “In some cases, they take months to get to know your kid, their daily activities, and their schedule. They will wait until they have an opportunity to make a move.”
Statistics gathered by law enforcement officials in regards to MySpace are notable, and disconcerting.
“We have determined that only 12% of MySpace users are under the age of 18,” Pearce said. “On the other hand, 41% are between 35 and 50 years old.” He stressed that while many use the site in an appropriate manner, some have different motives.
“People have the right to share, as long as they don’t cross the criminal line; that’s when we get involved,” Baclagan said. “Sometimes threats are posted on the site. It’s up to us (and you) to police this community.” Pearce and Baclagan gave examples that included young people being targeted for gang retaliation.
The duo advises parents to have their children set their MySpace profile to “private,” so that people are restricted from viewing their profile unless they have been given permission.
In addition, Baclagan encouraged parents to dialog more with their children. “When you think your kids have met a new friend, ask questions,” he said. “Our statistics show that 14% of kids have met someone in person that they first met through the Internet.”
Now owned by Fox News, MySpace.com boasted 152 million users internationally as of January 30. The company has boasted tremendous growth since November of 2004 when they claimed 4.9 million users. MySpace is free to use and to create a personal profile on. Financial benefit to the company is derived from the advertising sold on it.
Prior to the Internet crime specialists presentation, Phyllis Sweeney welcomed the over 120 people that attended the informational session and reviewed the progress made by the Fallbrook Citizens Crime Prevention/Neighborhood Rehab Committee, founded by Pat Braendel.
Braendel thanked residents for their interest in topics relating to the quality of life in the Fallbrook community and said she hoped residents would come forward to be a volunteer mentor for local young people ages 9-14 through a successful program that has been launched. Individuals, including college-age students are encouraged to become a mentor. A standard background check is all that is required.
“All it takes is a 1-1/2 hour commitment one day each week for 12 weeks,” Braendel said. For information on becoming a mentor, contact Ms. Braendel at (760) 728-3400.
Tips for Parents
1 “Learn to use the tools; if your kids are using it, get on MySpace and learn more about it;”
2 “Do not allow a child to use a computer in an unsupervised area, like their bedroom; put the computer in a common area where you can supervise it;” and
3 “Download Internet filtering software on the computer they use.”