Strangers and friends can prove dangerous

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It’s a staggering statistic: 90,000 registered sex offenders.

That’s how many have been identified and barred from social networking site MySpace during the past two years.

The figure, which had previously been kept confidential, was revealed under subpoena to a legislative task force of state attorneys general investigating sex offenders’ use of social networking.

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And it’s a frightening revelation.

MySpace and similar social networking sites, such as Facebook, have created a new digital universe in our society. The “digital native” generation flocks to these networking sites, where IMs and posts on comment boards have replaced after-school phone calls and notes passed in school.

But somewhere in the process, the age-old warnings of “don’t talk to strangers” have been lost.

MySpace’s efforts to track and ban sex offenders are a direct result of reports that some of its teenage users had been abducted by sex predators, so the problem is not just a theory. It’s a reality.

Talking to strangers is part of the social networking atmosphere … Adding friends, expanding your social circle are all part of the way teens and young adults today communicate.

But with that native affinity for technology also comes danger, as the MySpace sexual offender statistic reminds us. We suspect the social networking sites will have to find a way to filter out some of the danger, without crippling the functionality that is the foundation of the sites. But that step won’t solve the problem.

Ultimately, teaching youngsters about the dangers lurking on the other end of the screen lies with the parents, teachers and guardians.

In this digital age, we have to learn how to protect them from the danger of strangers and “friends.” And that is a frightening reality.