MySpace, Your Online Danger; We Take An In-Depth Look At Local MySpace Pages

April 7, 2008

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Students at Northview High School are scheduled to attend a CyberSafety presentation from the Florida Attorney General’s office today. NorthEscambia.com will begin a multi-part series about Internet safety today, and we will continue those articles each day this week.

We encourage you to read this entire article, and to read the blog linked at the end of this article. If you only read part of this story, you will not fully understand the intended message. This article and this series is written for both parents and students. For that reason, we will sometimes stop and explain something that parents unfamiliar with MySpace might not understand.

The statistics are frightening. As many as one in five Florida youth will be solicited for sex online. That’s one in five. Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the volume of child pornography. Florida ranks fifth in the nation for identity theft.

But numbers are just numbers. The numbers say that a problem exists. But that is surely in the rest of the Florida. Not here in North Escambia, right? Maybe not. If you are a parent, and you don’t know was “a/s/l” or “LMIRL” means, you better keep reading.

NorthEscambia.com decided to take a look at what Northview High School students were posting on their MySpace pages. MySpace is a social networking site for teens and adults alike. People post items about themselves along with snapshots and sometimes videos. It is probably safe to assume that almost every Northview student has a MySpace page. There are other social networking sites, but MySpace is the most popular. MySpace can be a safe and normal part of everyday life in 2008, especially for teens.

Here is how we conducted our look at Northview High MySpace pages: We used the search feature of myspace.com to search for Northview High School. Then we narrowed our search to “current students”, both male and female, ages 16 to 17. MySpace does not allow searches for users younger than 16, and nobody under 14 is suppose to have a MySpace page. That search returned over 200 MySpace pages; that is over 200 people. We picked about the first 100 and allowed ourselves up to three minutes on the profile of a MySpace user’s page in order to see what personal information we could find.

We want to make it very clear that everything we did can easily be done by anyone visiting MySpace (or even by people searching Google or Yahoo). It is what millions of ordinary users do everyday on the site. We did not send a “friend request” to anyone, nor did we contact any MySpace user by email, phone or any other means. The information on a MySpace page is provided by the user and may or may not be true.

We found that most Northview student profiles were set to private. Private means that unless a user allows you to see their page, you don’t see anything but a single photo and just a little basic information. Internet safety experts generally recommend that MySpace profiles be set to private. For a teen, a private profile is a good thing.

But we found a few that were downright frightening. We want to stress that these were not typical of the average Northview MySpace pages we viewed. We’ll take a look at those first.

We easily find a 16 year old that says he will graduate in the Northview class of 2009. His profile lists that he lives in Turkey and he’s a Pacific Islander, both obviously not true from his photographs. That’s considered a good thing on a public profile…not revealing actual facts about yourself. But it gets worse.

myspace10.jpg We are not telling you his profile name because, like a scene from every parent’s cyber safety nightmare, he lists his complete phone number. It’s a 256 number. We, of course, do not know if this is really his phone number because we did not call it. Perhaps it is a fake number, a randomly chosen number or a number of a friend listed as a practical joke. But it is a local phone number that might be easily used to contact him, or perhaps even locate his exact street address with a simple search.

It gets a bit worse from this same page. His friend says in a comment “You just call me. 221-XXXX’. Her MySpace profile is private, but there is what appears to be her cell phone number on his page.

myspace11.jpgBut it gets even worse. Another female friend with the screen name “I love you (His Name)” writes “hey babe. miss you already. call me. 516-XXXX”. There is her photo and her cellphone number. But her profile is not private. We have her cellphone number. In less than a minute on her page, we learn her name. She says she is 17 from Century. She recently moved to Florida. Two friends from her former town list their phone numbers on her page.

Then there’s the 17 year old male “from the 587” (that would be Molino). His page lists his full name. His AOL Instant Messenger screen name. His cell phone number. A friend write in his comments that he just quit McDonald’s and went to work for Whataburger in Century. Right next to his picture, he details that he will be leaving for work at 9:20 on a particular date.

Another Northview student writes in large, bold print on his MySpace page: “my name is XXXX XXXX XXXXX, i go to northview high school, i am 15, my b-day is march XX, i play baseball, and football, i wear #XX in baseball, #XX in football, that is about it but if you want to know more write me some messageor call 850-380-XXXX.”

Another Northview student’s page says she is 16. She works at Whataburger. She loves photography, and she’s pretty good at it. She’s a sophomore in FBLA that will be going to Orlando in April, the weekend of the 19th. We know her real name from her blogs, learn her political opinions and her thoughts about school. She has a friend who works at Whataburger from 5 to 10. We know her friend’s name, and of course know what she looks like from her photo.

There’s another that says he is a 16 year old from Walnut Hill, a sophomore that plays football (he includes his jersey number and the position he plays too), drives a white mustang, and we know his girlfriend’s name. His profile also clearly lists his first and last name.

There is a 16 year old girl that attends Northview. Her MySpace page includes hundreds of pictures, including pictures of her in a bikini (but nothing that most would consider offensive or overly revealing) and pictures of her kissing her boyfriend. She lists her full name, including her middle name. There are details of the date and time some friends will be meeting family members at the interstate and where they will be going.

myspace12.jpgLanguage is another issue on a few of the pages we viewed. A few might include a word or two that some would possibly consider offensive. But then there was this MySpace page pictured left.

The first black box covers a name. The rest of them are words that are very offensive. And, in addition to obscuring his face for privacy, we had to add the black boxes over his hands. His profile is set to private. But this page and those words will potentially forever be available on the internet. Available to potential employers, available to anyone that googles him.

So what’s the big deal? Let’s go back to those numbers we mentioned at the beginning. As many as one in five Florida youth, both male and female, will be solicited for sex online. When a MySpace profile lists some of the information we wrote about above, it become super easy to contact a teen. When a sexual predator has a name, a phone number, a cell phone number, knows a student’s school, knows where they work, knows what they look like, knows…we believe you should have the idea.

A simple message could appear in a student’s MySpace inbox:

a/s/l

That’s “age, sex, location”. It could appear to the student that the message is coming from, just for example, a 16 year old girl that attends Tate High School. But that person may actually be a 45 year old man in Mobile. Anyone can pretend to by anyone else online.

A MySpace profile typically includes information about a person like their hobbies, favorite music, favorite movies and more. The predator can use that information to become “friends” through the Internet with the student. And that can lead to five of the most dangerous letters on the Internet:

LMIRL

That’s “Let’s Meet In Real Life”. That’s the beginning of how many, many of the one in five youth in Florida get solicited for sex.

Tomorrow, NorthEscambia.com will take a look at information from the Florida Attorney General’s office about online safety.

Now, back to the Northview student MySpace pages. We did find that most were private. Without being the student’s online “friend”, we could not see those pages. But we did find some that were not private that were not frightening like those above.

We found one 15 year old female student’s page to be pretty much what you would find in high school yearbook. Happy pictures of her, her friends and her high school activities. Writings about teen life:

“im sadly single :[ i love god. my favorite show is CHARMED…i live each day trying notto make any regrets. well thats it so peace out girl scout,” she writes in her profile.

Another female Northview student writes about problems with her “backstabbing” friends. Then she writes “Life is short so don’t let those backstabbing friends ruin it! You were made to have fun, with or without them! Jesus knows something better is coming for you but it may take a little while! It’s a challenge he gave each and every one of us and he expects us to win it! He makes times hard and he makes times easy. He has planned your life already but if you dont win the challenge then it will take a long time to see what the better plans are! You need to realize that you can’t just call somebody a friend! You have to watch very carefully when you are deciding! Just take a moment to think about this and eveyrthing you have and how much strounger you are now than you were then.”

There were several other pages that were generally “clean” with the kind of ordinary conversation and information that most parents would find agreeable.

Make sure you join NorthEscambia.com for the next part of our Internet safety series tomorrow as we take a look at the Attorney General’s Office CyberSafety program that took place Monday morning at Northview. In the meantime click here to read our blog on the subject for more insight into this story.

We invite your comments on this story; email news@northescambia.com or use our online contact form.

In the MySpace screen grabs on this page, we have blurred pictures. Each item in this pictured was freely and openly available to anyone on MySpace as of late Sunday night. The black boxes cover profile names, phone numbers and profanity.

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