For years now activists have complained about the problems inherent with free social-networking sites which , at least on the surface, appear to be widely unregulated as they are places were anyone with a broadband connection can take advantage of rudimentary broadcasting of content from famous television shows and movies, as well as chat and network with anyone, anywhere in the world. In theory, these sites have tools which they can use to limit, or modify, who speaks with whom, and prevent children from taking to adults, or adolescents to minors, and so on and so forth. Websites such as MySpace claim to enforce their rules, or utilize the tools that they have at their disposal to prevent such actions from being taken by Internet users at home that are hiding behind the shield of anonymity, when it is absolutely necessary to do so, not as a general rule. Lately there has been news of MySpace taking more of a proactive approach; MySpace says that it is going after predators on it’s website and removing their profiles, which they should. The catch is, they refuse to inform state-attorneys as to what it is they are doing to combat the latest tool that predators use to target children. The problem is that they really do not have to either, according to the law. Anyone who has watched Dateline’s To Catch a Predator knows how serious of a problem this is; adults, typically men, seem to have irresistible compulsions to communicate with and otherwise take advantage of the innocence or naivete of children. MySpace maintains that they were the first to have created proprietary software aimed at combating this issue, and is lobbying for a federal law that requires offenders to register their email addresses to make it easier for Internet sites to screen for people. Quite honestly, that isn’t as impressive as having the ability to empower regular consumers with open-source solutions that can bring the rest of us up to speed on the technical issues surrounding this problem. The best free alternatives to regulating content I’ve seen so far are in Windows Vista, assuming that consumers can wrap their minds around manipulating user accounts to control the times that computers are accessed, what sites are accessed, and take advantage of the filtering technology that is inherent right there in the OS. Chances are MySpace in general would be blocked from being accessed, or could be, because of the randomness and general lack of ambiguity about its content in general; then again so would perfectly OK sites like YouTube.
Their approach sounds good in theory, yet it would only be effective if everyone from social-networking sites, to Internet service providers, to domain registration services, and everyone else in between joined forces to prevent, or alter, the types of access pedophiles would have online. Finding a creative way to do that, in which the actual rights of the offenders would not be jeopardized, and would not result in a form of technological prejudice against offenders is a big part of the challenge that having such a law passed here in the U.S. involves. MySpace needs to at least appear to be a place where children and adolescents, young adults, are safe. Whether or not that truly is the case; is something that the general public may have to determine for themselves. Is the general public wiling to give up the ease by which they can chat on sites such as MySpace anonymously, and can we as a society give up those liberties in order to protect the innocent for which more than a simple profile whereby we give our age and a few choice details are in order. Would MySpace be willing to force individuals to update their pictures on a regular basis, recheck their profiles for changes and otherwise use information other than what they or the ISP sue to identify themselves, and does this also mean that MySpace is willing to crack down on a lot of the multimedia content that is available on their site as well? The answers to these questions, at best, require a compromise between the needs of MySpace and it’s audience, yet if they can truly find a way to do so and make it a safer site for everyone, they may have accomplished a lot more at the end of the day than skeptics would have ever imagined possible.