Internet Safety: Teens Discuss Online Use, Being Targets Of Predators

February 13, 2007 at 3:29 am

Aired KCRA 3: Tuesday, February 13, 2007

With its 50 million subscribers, MySpace.com has become synonymous with teenage socialization and communication.

The images on the site range from tame to tawdry.

If you have a teenager, he or she probably has a profile.

Six out of 10 teens use MySpace to talk with current friends and make new ones.

Four teenagers offered some insight into teenage internet use and the site they use most.

“When I do go on the computer, I do go on MySpace,” said Janet, 13.

“I am only on about an hour and a half, depends on who is on MySpace,” 13-year-old Alexandria said, referring to her nightly Internet use.

Morgan, Alexandria, George and Janet are members of the Boys and Girls Club of Sacramento.

It’s a safe place to come after school. They spend most of their time in the computer lab.

While they can’t use MySpace there, they do use it at home.

Every one of them told KCRA 3 strangers have tried to contact them through their page.

“One time this guy kept sending me friend requests, and I kept denying them, then he sent me a message saying how come you won’t accept me,” Janet said.

When a teenager accepts someone as a “MySpace friend,” they are inviting that person to have full access to their page.

There is a distinct motivation for them to extend those invitations, according to Gary Rudman, who studies teen trends.

“It’s almost become this competition where they can see who has more friends online and they may not be people they actually know,” Rudman said.

That is what worries parents and experts the most.

They’ve taught children to be wary of strangers.

But it’s different when the strangers are lurking online, posing as teenagers to target children.

University of California, Davis psychologist Anthony Urquiza said a friendly chat is part of the ploy.

“These predators are not just people who start a relationship with a teenager,” Urquiza said. “They are very calculating, and very active and very strategic in starting a relationship. They know the things to say, things a 13-year-old might be interested in, in talking about.”

“They start with ‘I understand you, your parents don’t understand you, you’re so smart, you’re so pretty, you’re so,’ whatever the child wants to hear,” said James Harris, an FBI special agent who investigates Internet crimes against children.

Harris said predators are patient, waiting and working for the child’s trust.

“Some of these guys work by getting the child on the other end to turn on the webcam and then (tell them to) do crazy things on the webcam, take their clothes off, do something pornographic, and they’re sitting at the other end recording it,” said Harris.

“That’s a new form of the production of pornography,” Harris said. “The guy could be in Ohio and the girl could be in Sacramento.”

Child pornography has become a global industry.

Images of children are being bought, sold and traded all over the world across the Web.

U.S Attorney McGregor Scott said there is a strong connection between child pornography and molestation.

“We view these cases as crimes of violence, because odds are, you are preventing future cases of child molestation by taking a pornographer and locking him up,” Scott said.

Scott said cracking down on crimes against children is the primary goal of a federal initiative called “Project Safe Childhood.”

He said it’s working — netting arrests, charges and jail time for adults who exploit children.

“We’re coming, everyday, looking for those who are doing this, and we are finding a great number of them,” Scott said.

Meanwhile, the teenagers KCRA 3 talked to have heard stories about what has happened to other teens who met strangers online, and they’re taking steps to protect themselves.

“I just really put my (first) name,” Janet said. “I don’t use my last name on there.”

“If people send me a friend request and I don’t recognize their picture, this is so and so, I don’t add them,” said Morgan, 12.

George, 13, took an even stronger stance.

“If you are not paying attention to where you are going, what you are doing, stuff like that, it’s your fault,” he said. “It’s not MySpace’s fault, or Yahoo or Google, Hotmail, or whatever you have. It’s your fault. You know better than to meet some guy or girl at KFC, or McDonalds.”

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Entry filed under: Press.

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