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Recent incidents involving Internet crimes against children have been prominent in the media. In some incidents, the crimes have involved suspects and victims who met each other on social networking or blogging sites such as MySpace, Friendster, Xanga, and Facebook.

Blogs and social networking sites have recently exploded in popularity. The number of visitors to MySpace went from 4.9 million in 20051 to currently over 67 million.2 Like most new technological developments, this brings both positive and negative implications.

The majority of the activity on these sites is legal and can be positive. Young people who are curious connect with friends and seek like-minded individuals. However, many teens are not aware they are putting themselves in danger by giving out too much personal information and communicating with people they’ve only met online.

1 Janet Kornblum. “Teens hang out at MySpace.” USA Today. January 8, 2006, http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-01-08-myspace-teens_x.htm?csp=34.
2 April 3, 2006, http://www.myspace.com.

The unprecedented amount of personal information available on blogs and social networking sites makes them a perfect place for people who would harm children to identify their victims and gain their trust. This trust can be used to lure teens into a false sense of security, making them vulnerable to “grooming” and enticement to meet in person, which could have very serious consequences.

Other dangers include exposure to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, or
identity theft.

Teens are often not aware that their words — which may have been intended for a small audience — sometimes find their way to a larger one, especially if they are controversial. Some students who have posted threatening words against their school or classmates have attracted the attention of law enforcement, while those who have posted inappropriate comments about school personnel have also been disciplined. Some universities and employers are even reviewing online postings when considering potential candidates.

  1. Never post your personal information, such as cell phone number, address, or the name of your school, or school team.
  2. Be aware that information you give out in blogs could also put you at risk of victimization. People looking to harm you could use the information you post to gain your trust. They can also deceive you by pretending they know you.
  3. Never give out your password to anyone other than your parent or guardian.
  4. Only add people as friends to your site if you know them in real life.
  5. Never meet in person with anyone you first “met” on a social networking site. Some people may not be who they say they are.
  6. Think before posting your photos. Personal photos should not have revealing information, such as school names or locations. Look at the backgrounds of the pictures to make sure you are not giving out any identifying information without realizing it. The name of a mall, the license plate of your car, signs, or the name of your sports team on your jersey or clothing all contain information that can give your location away.
  7. Never respond to harassing or rude comments posted on your profile. Delete any unwanted messages or friends who continuously leave inappropriate comments. Report these comments to the networking site if they violate that site’s terms of service.
  8. Check the privacy settings of the social networking sites that you use:
    1. Set it so that people can only be added as your friend if you approve it.
    2. Set it so that people can only view your profile if you have approved them as a friend.
  9. Remember that posting information about your friends could put them at risk. Protect your friends by not posting any names, passwords, ages, phone numbers, school names, or locations. Refrain from making or posting plans and activities on your site.
  10. Consider going through your blog and profile and removing information that could put you at risk. Remember, anyone has access to your blog and profile, not just people you know.