You can never be too smart on MySpace (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)
Our Dateline story Sunday night will show that good kids with attentive parents will let strangers into their MySpace lives, often sharing personal information without realizing what they’ve done.
The story is based on an experiment conducted by a Connecticut detective who wanted to test how cautious kids are online. He set up a MySpace profile and like many MySpace members posted an anime cartoon character instead of a photograph. He said his name was Matt and described himself as a 19-year-old new kid in town who liked baseball, playing pool and listening to his Ipod.
Within two weeks, more than 100 kids allowed him onto their MySpace profiles. Most of them girls. One said she wanted to meet him.
Video: Teens can be easy targets online With their parents permission, we interviewed three of the girls while the detective waited in the hall. The girls were 15 and 16. They all told us they never posted personal information and never let strangers onto their MySpace profile. Then we introduced them to the middle-aged detective who they thought was 19-year-old Matt. They were stunned when he told them all of the personal information he was able to glean.
It was a wake up call for the girls, their parents and their friends. We were concerned the kids would be upset and feel singled out, but all of them told us they wanted to educate other kids about the danger of talking to strangers on-line.
This week, the detective had some help during an Internet safety seminar. Three of the girls he met on MySpace shared their stories.
The report on MySpace airs Sunday, 7 p.m. on Dateline NBC. Click here to learn more about MySpace, including a sample profile with common errors, tips for parents and teens, and a step-by-step guide to navigating MySpace.
Why parents must mind MySpace
Earlier this year, Dateline's Rob Stafford brought you a report on the hidden dangers of posting personal information on social networking Web sites such as MySpace.com. Here are related stories that came across the wire on MySpace... all of the reports were published within the last few days:
Dateline is continuing to investigate this story.
Your kid's cyber secret (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)
MySpace.com: Never heard of it? Just ask your kids. They know.
It's a cyber secret some of them like to keep from their tech-challenged parents. I think of myself as a savvy dad, but I was shocked by some of what I found on the site. Friday night on Dateline we'll show you what you need to know about MySpace and other social networking sites to keep your kids safe.
MySpace is sort of a cyber diary, yearbook and social club. It's free, easy to join, and easy to message other members. You're supposed to be at least 14 to sign up but we found younger kids using it. Kids design their own MySpace page and most chat back and forth about school, sports, gossip etc.
What many of them don't realize is that millions of people have access to the pictures and personal information they post. Police say in some cases sexual predators are using that information to find kids. One Internet safety expert said for a pedophile, it can be "one stop shopping by catalogue."
When "Dateline" surfed the pages of teens on MySpace, we found many listing their names, addresses, even their after school schedules. Everything a pedophile would need to find them. We also found scenes of binge drinking, apparent drug use, teens simulating sex and in some cases even having it. As a parent whose kids know more about the Web than he does, it was a wake up call. Teenagers know computers but they're often too young to know the dangers.
Find out more about this story Dateline Friday, 7 p.m. Click here to tell a friend about this upcoming show.
Heated e-mails(Viewer feedback so far) | 3:22 p.m.
I am 17 and I have a Myspace page. While there may be cases of drinking and other things but I have noticed that you did not mention anything that was remotely positive about MySpace at all. Like the fact that people use it to talk to people who live far away; also people use it as a place to express themselves and to get frustrations out. I think that the next time you report on something you should show both sides ofthe story, because that is just not fair. I know that it makes a good story to show the 'horrors' of what can happen on it, but that can happen anywhere on the internet. It is just a matter of the child and the adults being responsible about it. --Jessica Underwood, Freeport, Ill.
Okay, I have not seen your report on MySpace yet, but I'm sure you will not show it in a good light. Please don't forget the fact that it's the parents responsibility to monitor what their kids do, not mine, yours or the Government. Please keep in mind that the majority of users do use MYspace to talk to friends from other parts of the country. Bands and artists use it to get their music out to the public. Please do not jump on the bandwagon of censorship and how sites like this need to be monitored by the Gov't. Again, IT'S THE PARENTS RESPONSIBILITY AND NO ONES ELSES. Please remind parents that they need to take care of their children and not leave it up to someone else. --Christy, Middleburg Heights, Ohio
Even if someone does not list personal information on their myspace profile, a predator can easily track her/him down by perusing the friends' comments, photos, etc. And - many predators create a myspace account so they can leave "luring" messages in the myspace mailbox of the person they are trying to create a relationship with - the myspace mailbox is password protected, and the messages cannot be seen by parents if they just look at their child's profile. --Anonymous
I am a teenager with a myspace. My parents have rules, like no pictures, full names, places, etc. The only people who can access mine are my friends, because I use the block feature. Myspace is fine, as long as it is used correctly. --Amy, Minn.
I think MySpace is a great parenting tool. I regularly log on to see what my kids are doing, and more importantly, what the kids they're hanging out with are doing. Yes, it's important that parents have discussions with their kids about "safe cyberplay." And, it's important to have a handle on what children are doing online. We tell our children not to post any photos or blogs they wouldn't want to come back and haunt them in 20 years, and remind them that anything on the web is being archived somewhere by someone. But for high school students, "MySpace" and similar sites fill the same social function as the "community journals" I used to share with my friends in high school. I'd hate to see hysteria wreck a great communications venue for teens. --PTOMom, Tucson, Arizona
I think that if kids are dumb enough that they put all of that personal information on a website viewed by millions of people and potential pedophiles, well, the hell with them. After all, what is natural selection for? People blame this and that nowadays and never look at the root of the problem, which is faulty parenting. no it's the videogame/website/tv show/movie's fault, not the fact that parents assume no responsiblity anymore. My sympathy goes out to the 95% of us who use these forms of media responsibly and end up getting screwed by idoits who either are looking for a cheap excuse to make a quick buck or are just dumb enough to not look around them in the first place. America, get a brain. --Timothy Jacobs, Kent, Ohio
I am so glad you are doing this story. My niece is posting sexually explicit photos of herself along with blogs about drinking and having sex. She is now 19 so her dad probably can't do anything about it anymore. But she has been doing this since she was 16. I wanted to alert her dad but he doesn't speak to us and would only "kill the messenger" if we went to him. My husband says we will wait until we see her face on a milk carton and then tell him. Not only does she put her full name on MySpace but also her city and state. Any predator could find her if they wanted to. That is what worries me. I just hope her father watches the show but he, like many other parents, will probably think this stuff doesn't even pretain to them. --Becky, Scurry, Tex.
I think this is great that you have brought attention to this site (myspace.com). Recently a co-worker of mine wanted to see what his kids were up to. I happily looked them up for him. When we looked for his daughter she came up blocked. Perhaps more parents should know about that feature so they can nudge, if not force, them to block out strangers. This way the people they add are people they already know or feel comfortable with. I think most sexual predetors would not be willing to make the effort. --Rachael Brown, San Diego, Calif.
I am an adult who uses Myspace. I am in my late 20's and find it a fairly good way to get in touch with long lost college/high school friends and keep in touch with friends who are some distance apart. The implication that only juveniles use this site is horribly insluting to myself and a great number of other responsible adults whom are around my own age. I'm sure that your report on the upcoming Dateline will be another fine example of contempary yellow journalism, designed to strike fear into the hearts of parents. --Aaron, Buffalo, N.Y.
I am teenager and also a myspacer I check all my information daily. I can see where things could be a problem because people post everything on myspace and i do mean every thing. Is there no way that it could be monitored more and stop kids from putting out all information and having pornography on their sites? I really enjoy myspace because i can talk to friends that i havent seen in years and cannot talk to elsewhere but some could be useing the site for other things that they shouldnt be. --Autumn
I hate MySpace.com! My 16 yr old has used it for at least a year. Once I found out I easily found her webpage without her knowledge or asking her questions. I then made her remove all personal information that I found. I also found out about skipping school, drugs, acohol and smoking. I confronted my daughter and thought it was over. NO! she made another webpage thinking I would only monitor the first one. Hint to all parents, look up your children's friends webpages! You will find information about your child that your child has hidden. Before you say I should not allow her on-line, realize that kids can access the internet at school, libraries, and friend's houses. So just keep checking!! --Heather, Junction City, Ore.
After Dateline's report last year on potential Internet predators, we received a lot of e-mails, asking us to look into social networking Web sites, such as MySpace. Below is a sampling:
How dangerous is the Web site Myspace.com and should teens be using it? How easy is it for predators to get information about where you live? --Peter Bicker, Medford, N.J.
I am a minor with major concerns. I recently deleted my blog on the page myspace.com because men in foreign countries would start messaging me with the intention of starting a relationship online! I was scared, so with the help of my parents, that blog was quickly deleted. I thank you for your efforts in trying to stop sexual predators online. I am helping in my community by spreading the word to be careful. Good Job Dateline! --Anonymous
I watched your story about online predators and chat rooms. I would like to know if you have done any investigation into the new wave "MySpace.com." I consider myself very aware of what my kids are doing, but when I realized that they were posting pictures and talking to people they did not know through this Internet site I was scared. You will find half of the town that I live in under the age of 16 with pictures and everything. The parents of these kids think it is okay because "Everyone else is doing it." Please check this stuff out. This is going to be the new way for predators to find their victims. It scares me to death. We need help to educate parents on this! --Linda Turner
Will you please do a story on myspace.com? I am a mother of three children and the Internet is a scary place. But I have discussed this with my friends and we all feel the same way... that so many parents have no idea what is being said on myspace.com I really think that would make a awesome story especially since dateline has been doing the undercover stuff about sex predators on the Internet. Think about it, please, or at least have a producer check out this Web site. --April Adams
Has anyone taken a good look at the goings on over at MySpace.com? There is a seemingly endless sea of 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds potentially offering themselves up to Internet predators and pedophiles. One such kid was boasting of losing her virginity at 11-to-a-21 year old. To set up a MySpace profile of your own, requires nothing more than access to a computer. This means that kids as as young as 13 (perhaps younger but 13 was the youngest I saw in the short time I could stomach at MySpace). As a mother of three kids myself I would like to know who I should contact and what can be done. Thank you for your help. --Rosario Romero, La Jolla, Calif.
Also what can you say for this new Web site that all the kids are using called myspace.com? Do you know about it? My kid came home talking about it a few weeks ago. Around the same time I had just watched your show on "Internet predators." My kid is not allowed to go on that Web site. Kids are logging on to it like crazy. What is all the hype about? I think it is very dangerous. --E
My husband and I watched this with our 13-year-old son. It really helped get the message across to our son of why you do not give any personal info on who you are or strike up a conversation with just anybody? Just last week I monitored his use on Myspace.com and he was unhappy. Now he knows why I did just that. --Rebecca Kincer, Aliso Viejo, Calif.