Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Space: Warning Children About Online Dangers

Yesterday afternoon, I was interviewed by CBS News for a story on MySpace. The social networking site announced plans for running new publics service announcements to educate its users about the potential dangers online. And the company hired Hemanshu Nigam, formerly of Microsoft and before that the Justice Department, to become its new chief security officer.

This can only be good, because there are dangers on the Internet, and MySpace has certainly seen its share. The big concern has been online predators, who seem to be exploiting all the information that many people have put up on my MySpace. Indeed, the new ad campaign is part of a program from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Advertising Council, and NewsCorp, which owns MySpace, Fox Interactive Media, and more.

MySpace in particular makes it very easy for people to post personal information – from pictures to music to all sorts of information, and then makes it easy to search this data. And that can lead to all sorts of problems. Of course, MySpace is hardly alone in this threat -- though it is the largest social networking site in the country -- and sexual predators are not the only problem. We’ve also seen problems on the Internet ranging from fraud to identity theft to “cyber bullying.” The Internet is the greatest conduit of information we’ve ever seen, and it offers lots of new ways for people to connect with one another, so it’s not surprising that some of it turns out to be wrong, inappropriate, or just plain dangerous.

We want our children to use the Internet, but we want them to use it sensibly. My perspective is that we need to teach our kids that the Internet is like a very large city. There are all sorts of good things, but also some bad things and a few very bad people. I’ve very concerned about anyone who posts too much personal information online, and that is especially true for children and teens.

Kids especially shouldn’t give out their home address and phone number online, and I think they should be particularly careful about chat rooms, because it’s impossible to really know who is on the other hand of a chat conversation. And they should NEVER meet with anyone who approaches them in a chat room, especially without parents around. Even with children who should know better, I think you should reinforce these rules on a regular basis.
I talked to CBS News about it, and a small bit of the conversation ended up in a couple of different stories that ran in stories in Baltimore, Michigan, and others. Here’s eWeek’s coverage of the story.

I’m not sure we need a scare campaign here, but we do need to better educate Internet users about the basic rules of safety. If the ad campaign on MySpace helps educate its users and other children about the dangers online, and teaches them to use the Internet properly, then everyone could win.

posted on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 9:14 AM by MichaelMiller


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