Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MySpace: All evil? Some good?

My MySpace friends
Originally uploaded by tr1stan.
Great read over at Wired about an undercover operation to catch sexual predators.
The computer crimes unit of New York's Suffolk County Police Department sits in a gloomy government office canopied by water-stained ceiling tiles and stuffed with battered Dell desktops. A mix of file folders, notes, mug shots and printouts form a loose topsoil on the desks, which jostle shoulder-to-shoulder for space on the scuffed and dented floor.

I've been invited here to witness the end-game of a police investigation that grew from 1,000 lines of computer code I wrote and executed some five months earlier. The automated script searched MySpace's 1 million-plus profiles for registered sex offenders -- and soon found one that was back on the prowl for seriously underage boys.
Kevin Poulsen's code compared registered MySpace accounts, along with associated zip codes, with names in the national sex offender database. As such, he was able to only hone in on offenders who used their real name on MySpace, and he was able to only target past offenders.

Of course, this is more than MySpace has been able to do. They wring their hands and wait for the laws to change.

Nothing like being proactive, eh?

In Poulsen's reporting, he notes that the offender, Andrew Lubrano, a 39-year old living on Long Island, has been in conversation with Jacob, a gay 14-year-old high school student in Virginia, who reports his age as 16 in his profile.

But, with all the possible bad with MySpace, Poulsen does note some good.
In the final analysis, I still believe MySpace is good for kids. Jacob, the boy Lubrano most flagrantly courted, provides a clear example of the site's benefits, as well as its flaws. When the teen recently got in trouble with homophobic bullies at his high school, he came home to MySpace, and quickly garnered an outpouring of sympathy and advice from his friends. Any reaction to the incidents of MySpace predation that would rob Jacob and other children of the promise of such self-expression and support is suspect.
Watch our children. And keep the predators off of MySapce...