Thursday, March 02, 2006

MySpace in trouble -- but will the charges hold?

We all know about the news that speaks of the evils of MySpace, the dangers that lurk in that mysterious world. Slowly, cases are cropping up in which people are blaming MySpace for illicit encounters involving minors. MySpace has become a scapegoat for all the horrible things done to teens. While I understand the concerns and appreciate that people are looking for someone (or something) to blame when their children are sexually violated, I am very interested to see what level of liability will be attributed to MySpace in the courts.

If MySpace is found guilty of aiding in sexual abuse of a minor, where does the slippery slope end? Will a mall be held responsible if a child is abducted there? Will parents of a house party be blamed if a 15 year-old hooks up with a 19-year old during a party? When is the location to blame for the incident? When do we start blaming the car manufacturers for making a vehicle used in an abduction?

There are already some parallels in the legal world about who to blame when something bad happens. You can sue the bar that served a drunk person who was later involved in an accident while DUI. You can sue a school for creating a hostile environment in a sexual abuse case as long as you can prove the school knew about the incidents and did nothing. So, one could argue that MySpace is liable, as they are now aware of the environment they are creating (people who work at MySpace read the news too, unless they are managed by GW), and are not preventing "bad people" from interacting with minors.

But for now, there is only speculation. Court decisions will begin to define web sites as communities, physical spaces, or whatever when considering legal responsibilities. All we can do is wait to see how the law defines a virtual space when the only laws they have apply to the physical.

1 comment:

Allan D'Angelo said...

You are right in that Myspace is being used as a scapegoat for online predation of teens. It is no different than MTV or Fox being blamed for teen pregnancy because of their programming.

Sure there are some bad messages in the media regarding sex and there will be sexual offenders using the internet, but we cannot go around trying to ban or hold liable companies that offer legitimate entertainment or information.

The best we can do is to challenge negative messages or online predation by teaching teens about the media. This could include anything from learning about cultivation theory to basic internet safety.

But if the government just tries to have a quick fix and begins restricting the media, there is no stopping what may be banned because it is deemed "harmful to minors."