MySpace is a thriving online community boasting over 60 million personal profiles directed primarily at younger people. For anyone between the ages of 14 and 18, having a profile on the site is nearly synonymous with having a cell phone or MP3 player. However, growing concerns over online predators have caused many to question the safety of MySpace. While the site has taken steps to improve safeguards, many users put themselves at risk by revealing personal information such as name or location, or worse, by agreeing to meet strangers. Parents can take an active role in protecting their children by ensuring they follow some simple rules.
Choose a fake name that will only be used on MySpace and nowhere else. A real name can be traced to an address and phone number, and frequently used nicknames are also often traceable. Choose a new name that will be exclusive to the site.
Get a free webmail address for the nickname, and use this address for the site only. A webmail address does not track back to your personal location, unlike your Internet Service Provider (ISP) email address. Have your child enter false information to get the webmail address so that it is not cross-referenced to his or her real name. Use this webmail address only for MySpace. Using the email address elsewhere will increase potential for triangulation between databases, which can reveal true identity or location.
Instruct your child not to share clues to his or her location. It is easier than imagined for a predator with a picture to sit outside a school and watch the children come and go, scanning the crowd for a particular face. If a MySpace profile or blog contains references by name to schools, malls, or movie theaters when your teen spends time, a fake name will be a mere inconvenience to a determined predator.
Teach children how to post or blog about experiences without revealing which school, mall or theater she or he is posting about. Once a teen understands that names are incidental anyway, it should not hamper the enjoyment of using the site to share experiences. For example, a teen can post about “the math teacher” rather than “Mr. Simon.”
A teen should never post where she or he is going to be. For obvious reasons, this is a bad idea. Children should also avoid revealing parents’ schedules or vacations.
People aren’t always who they say they are. Anyone can create a fake profile with a picture of someone else. Predators excel at manipulation and charm, and often pose as other teens. Impress upon your children that no matter how much they might like strangers they meet online, they should not extend them personal information or stray into inappropriate areas of conversation.
Do not agree to meet friends only known from MySpace. It may seem harmless to meet “16-year-old Beth” — but “Beth” may not be a 16-year-old girl at all. The key to safely enjoying the site is to enjoy it without having to venture real-life trust.
Encourage your children to tell you if an online “friend” is pushing for personal information or urging to meet. Even a nice person might be curious and ask a few nosey questions or put forth a friendly invitation to meet. However, once your teen kindly explains that she or he does not share personal information online and does not meet online friends, the behavior should stop.
Other options are to refrain from posting a profile picture and to keep the MySpace profile private. However, these suggestions may not go over well with teens. Profiles without pictures may be seen as sub par, while “private profiles” — accessible by invitation only — are mandatory for children under 16, which can make the feature undesirable to older teens. Some MySpace members choose to fill out "the survey," which asks provocative questions of the member regarding experience with sex and drugs. Many parents would likely agree this information does not belong in a public profile.