MySpace.com has taken a lot of heat lately, after a number of documented instances of men chatting up young girls on the social networking site, arranging to meet them in person, then sexually molesting them. This is obviously a very serious problem that extends far beyond Myspace.com, to every other web address that allows strangers to anonymously talk to kids.
MySpace.com has more than 60 million members, and the website (owned by the parent company of FOX News Channel) does have significant measures in place to try and protect users from predators and pedophiles, but the very nature of the Internet makes it nearly impossible to insure everyone is who they say they are.
The key, according to Internet safety guru Parry Aftab, is to think before you click. Don't post stuff on the web you wouldn't want your parents or teachers to see; because it's likely they WILL see it. Don't put your address or phone number or other personal information on the web that could help a sexual predator identify you, where you live, where you go to school, or where you hang out. Most important, NEVER arrange to meet a stranger in person who you met online. You may find out the person claiming to be a 17-year-old girl is actually a 45-year-old man who won't take no for an answer.
"Kids are doing things online that they don't do in real life," Parry told me. "We need to teach them that online is real. They have to be accountable for what they do... and they have to be able to live with the consequences of their online actions."
"The cool thing about this," she also told me, "is our kids are in full control. It is 100% preventable if our children agree never to meet somebody offline and they agree never to share too much information that will allow somebody eventually to track them down."
Lots of teenagers feel invincible and think they know it all, and thanks in part to the internet, kids today may well be far better informed than previous generations. But the Internet is open to everyone, and that includes some nasty people bent on molesting or killing. Again, some simple advice: think before you click.