Prime space for predators

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 2, 2007

By now, most parents should be well aware of the dangers of Internet predators using the online world to troll for unsuspecting victims. But the extent of the problem may still come as a sickening jolt.
Under pressure from several state attorneys general, including North Carolina’s Roy Cooper, recently revealed that 29,000 documented sex offenders had established profiles on the phenomenally popular Web site, where teens post information about themselves and often form relationships with other MySpace users. At least 245 of the sex offenders were registered in North Carolina.
Bear in mind that some known offenders probably were able to avoid detection; MySpace has about 70 million monthly visitors. And it’s only one of a rapidly increasing list of online networking sites where predators can hang out and chat up vulnerable youngsters.
While 29,000 is a small percentage of the millions of MySpace users, the number underscores the importance of better regulation of sites frequented by children. At the urging of several states, including the threat of legal action, MySpace and other sites appear to be taking safety issues more seriously and are banning known offenders from their sites. MySpace also has created guidebooks for kids and their parents, as well as setting up a hotline to report suspicious activity. In North Carolina, Cooper has proposed that convicted sex offenders be required to provide authorities with their e-mail addresses and any additional online identifiers, a step already being taken in some states.
Meanwhile, it can’t be repeated too often: When it comes to reducing online risks, vigilant parents are the first, best line of defense.