MySpace sued over predator assaults

I just read about how four families are suing MySpace after their children were assaulted by someone they met on the site. I hate this sort of stuff because something horrible happened and there is no clear answer to who is accountable and why. There are two parts to this problem. The first part is […]

I just read about how four families are suing MySpace after their children were assaulted by someone they met on the site. I hate this sort of stuff because something horrible happened and there is no clear answer to who is accountable and why.

There are two parts to this problem.

The first part is that the assailants are misrepresenting themselves on MySpace, taking advantage of MySpace’s lack of foolproof identity controls. They may be misrepresenting their age, race, or name as well as their lifestyle and personality.

In some way MySpace is at fault here because their system cannot clearly identify who is who. However, that goes for any and all web sites, too doesn’t it? The most locked down sites, the ones like Paypal that connect you with a bank account, are still not foolproof.

The second part of the problem is that the girls are agreeing to meet these people who they admittedly don’t know. They’re being taken in by the person online, and then agree to meet them offline, assuming that they’re the same charming person.

This second part, in my opinion, has nothing to do with MySpace. MySpace in no way enables this meeting to happen, nor encourages it. This is interpersonal manipulation, and could happen anywhere.

The third part (which goes without saying) is that the evil encounter takes place. Thankfully, at least some of the assailants are in jail. Hopefully they get what they deserve.

But on a larger level, could this be MySpace’s fault? Should they be held accountable? The suit claims that they were “negligent, reckless, fraudulent, and misrepresentative”. Essentially, the suit is saying that MySpace didn’t take action to head off these types of situations that it must have been aware of.

I’m trying to find an offline equivalent of this. Would it be like going to a bar and meeting someone, being assaulted, and then suing the bar because the assailant used a fake ID to get in? That might be analogous, and the bar might be at fault.

However, I don’t think there is a law saying that you have to represent yourself accurately online. Does anybody know?

The worst part about this is that there are people assaulted all the time by people they know, in situations that they have no control over, simply because the assailant is evil. It’s a horrible, horrible thing. But that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening here is preventable…teens should know better than to trust people they don’t know. It’s hard enough to trust the people we do know.

No matter where you are, online or offline, agreeing to meet someone you don’t know is a highly risky behavior. My daughter isn’t quite old enough to talk to about this yet, but when she is I’m going to make it clear that if you don’t know who somebody is, be super careful.

The result of this case might be a big deal for the future of social networking sites. If MySpace is held accountable, then we’ll probably see a whole lot of changes in privacy policing.

The question is, can a web site be held accountable for the actions of its members?

Published: January 18th, 2007

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