Of all the websites, one that has attracted attention recently is the social network myspace.com. Most of this attention has come from the media and illustrates every reason why the website should be shut down. The threat of predators is indeed a harsh reality, but shutting down the site is not the answer. If myspace were shut down, another better site would quickly take its place. Therefore, the approach is to teach teens how to use the site, and others like it, safely. Unless teens are educated about the adults who may be predators and how to avoid them, the problem will persist.
The key to staying safe on the internet is to make sure that your profile is secure. The simplest way to do this is by changing the privacy setting on your profile to “private.” This protects your information so that only the people on your friend list can view it. Although this is effective, it is not foolproof. Predators can find ways to view your profile if they really want to, whether through hacking in or manipulating their way onto your friend list. Because of this, you should never post too much personal information. Some people actually post their home and school addresses, date of birth, and other personal info, often letting predators know exactly where they will be and when. The most info that is safe is your first name and state. Anything more is basically inviting a predator into your life.
Another big issue is photos. I suggest completely skipping photos, but if you are going to include some, make them innocent and fun, not provocative. Also, never post a photo of a friend online without asking permission.
Most importantly, never, under any circumstances, agree to a real-life meeting with anyone you meet online. No matter how well you think you know this person, there are no guarantees that they have told the truth. A good example is John Contos, who in his myspace.com profile said he was 16. Two 16-year-old girls and a 14-year-old believed him and agreed to meet him. He was actually 27! There is also evidence that he exploited a number of girls before them.
These situations do happen and you need to be aware. You should feel free to chat with people you meet on the site, but just remember that not everyone is who they say they are. Hopefully, the next time you edit your profile, you’ll be more informed about the dangers of internet predators and take the steps to defend yourself.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.