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MySpace makes new online safety push

The popular online social networking hub will begin displaying public service ads aimed at educating its users, many of them teens, about the dangers posed by sexual predators on the Internet.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Popular online social networking hub said Monday it will begin displaying public service ads aimed at educating its users, many of them teens, about the dangers posed by sexual predators on the Internet.

MySpace, a division of News Corp., enables computer users to meet any of more than 60 million members. Users put up profiles that are searchable and can include photos of themselves and such details as where they live and what music they like.

But MySpace's features and popularity with teens has raised concerns with authorities across the nation. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.

The ads were slated to begin running Monday on MySpace and through a host of News Corp. outlets, including other Fox Interactive Media Web sites, the 28 Fox Networks Group broadcast networks, Fox All Access radio and the New York Post.

The spots, which computer users will be able to see on MySpace in the form of banner ads, are part of a campaign launched two years ago by the Ad Council and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Meanwhile, MySpace announced Tuesday that it has hired a Microsoft Corp. executive to oversee safety, education, privacy and law enforcement affairs, effective May 1.

Hemanshu Nigam currently serves as a director responsible for driving Microsoft’s consumer security outreach and child safe computing strategies. He was previously a federal prosecutor who specialized in online child exploitation cases.

The new ad campaign warns parents and teens that sexual predators are increasingly using the veil of anonymity provided by online chat rooms, forums and social networking sites to target minors.

"One of the things we're trying to persuade kids to do is not to give out personal details online, don't advertise where they are and who they are," said Ernie Allen, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "The person with whom they may be interacting may not be who they say they are."

According to MySpace, some 22 percent of users are registered as under 18.

MySpace forbids minors 13 and under from joining and provides special protections for those 14 and 15 — only those on their friends' list can view their profiles.

The company uses a computer program that analyzes user profiles and flags members likely to be under 14. Hundreds of thousands of flagged profiles have been deleted, the company has said.

Still, children regularly lie about their age to get around those restrictions.

Last month, two men were arrested in what prosecutors said were the first federal sex charges involving MySpace. Two Connecticut girls involved in that case were 11 and 14, the FBI said.