Young teens targets for Internet predators

By Paula Cronic:PNT Staff Writer

Tiffany Kendrick and Ashlee Banister said they’ve received messages from older men on their Web site asking for more pictures of them or their phone numbers.
“Sometimes there’s creepy older guys that want to talk to you,” said Kendrick, 14.

They said when contacted by someone they don’t know, they automatically delete those messages. Kendrick and Banister, also 14, said they created their accounts when they heard of the Web site through friends and use the site as another way of sending messages to their friends.

The MySpace Web site allows for anyone 14 or older to sign up for an account and socially network with friends through messages and comment boards, post pictures and writes blogs about any subject of their choice; all while being unaware of exactly who is viewing their page.

Matt Chandler, 9th Judicial District Attorney, said the basis of MySpace is for people to meet each other through cyberspace, and if used properly, the site is merely an entertainment tool. However, if used incorrectly, he said it can lead to a potentially hazardous situation.

“You never know exactly who you’re communicating with on the other side,” Chandler said. “We are seeing, and law enforcement across the country, are seeing predators use the computer screen instead of a crow bar as a way of getting into a child’s bedroom.”

Some Portales parents who know of the site disapprove and do not allow their children to use it.

“It doesn’t seem safe to me, people put really personal things on their profiles, I would not allow it in my house,” Shana Hernandez said.

Alicia Johnson feels the site is a place where people go to target children.

“There’s too many predators out there looking to see who a child is and how much information they can get from them,” she said.

Johnson knows about the site because her 19-year-old daughter has an account. Johnson said she does not want her youngest daughter, who is 13, to have one because of the dangers she feels the site could cause.

According to an recent article on FOX News’ Web site, it was reported that MySpace, which is a division of News Corp., has begun running child-safety banner ads which give suggestions to those on the site about how to stay safe while interacting with others online.

Also, anyone who is under 14 will automatically have their profile set to private. That means people who aren’t on their friends list aren’t allowed to view the profile, however they can still send messages to the user.

But even with the precautions the site has taken, it still isn’t enough for some. The Portales Recreation Center has public computers that block the site, according to Director Johnny Ledbetter.

“We definitely don’t want (the children) on MySpace,” Ledbetter said. “I told my own daughter, who actually had an account, not to go on there.”

Safety tips are located on the MySpace Web site for it’s users, which has reached to over 60 million people worldwide. MySpace also has tips on their Web site aimed at parents, including a place where they can go to request their child’s profile be removed.

Safety Tips for Parents
l Talk to your kids about why they use MySpace.
l Be aware of how they communicate with others and how they represent themselves on MySpace.

l Make sure they are posting their correct ages.

l Remind them not to post anything that could embarrass them later or expose them to danger

l Because people aren’t always who they say they are, ask your children to be careful about adding strangers to their friends list.

l Harassment, hate speech and inappropriate content should be reported