Hey, let’s be careful out there

25 07 2007

You can’t get a clearer statement that social networks are representative of all parts of society than the revelation that among MySpace users in the US are 29,000 convicted sex offenders — and that’s presumably just the ones who’ve told the truth about their digital identities.

According to the report, Attorney General Roy Cooper is calling for state legislation which will mandate parental consent for children joining any of the social network sites. This naturally assumes parents know enough about how the internet works in order to be able to make such informed decisisons.

I’ve never forgotten how it got drummed into me as a little ‘un that you should be wary of strangers – yet trust is so often taken for granted online – and parents presumably think that if their kids are tapping away from the safety of home, this is safe.

It’s a thorny problem to tackle and one which I don’t believe legislation is the answer to. The online industry as a whole – from content providers through to ISPs – could be doing more to educate users, of all ages, about the risks inherent to interacting with others on the web. Watch this space for when government agencies make a greater play of the mass of personal data Google stores on all its users.

Stepping back a level further, we could ask ourselves some more searching questions about being better parents full stop (and you won’t find the answers in any manual or FAQs).

Sgt. Phil Esterhaus of the Hill Street precinct couldn’t have expressed it any better…

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