News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, MARCH 12, 2006

EDITORIAL not enemy, but use Web with caution

If you've heard of, chances are what you've heard has you scared stiff. The Web site has become the latest Public Enemy No. 1 for some parents, joining a list of bogeymen that includes violent video games, sexually explicit TV shows and comic books, all of which have supposedly threatened our children's well-being at one time or another.

MySpace is incredibly popular among teenagers, who use the site to keep in touch with friends and post messages and pictures. And MySpace is only the best known of many similar Web sites, including, and LiveJour

But according to law enforcement, MySpace also is a favorite spot of sexual predators, who use the site to identify victims and set up face-to-face meetings with them. As such, MySpace has gained a largely unwarranted stigma.

For evidence of the growing MySpace backlash, one need only look at the overreaction of school officials in Costa Mesa, Calif., who recently suspended 20 middle school students just for looking at another student's MySpace page, which included some objectionable content. Disciplining the student who posted the allegedly threatening message is reasonable. Punishing someone for reading the message is not.

Sexual predators existed before MySpace and the Internet. To the extent that the Internet and sites like MySpace have made it easier for strangers to meet in general — for everything from dating to political activism to online gaming — it has also made it easier for sexual predators to stalk their prey. But that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with MySpace and like sites.

MySpace has its positive side, too. It has become a place where aspiring musicians, filmmakers, artists and writers can post samples of their work and get noticed. And some researches believe MySpace actually provides a safer way for teens to socialize than traditional teen hangouts like parks and convenience stores.

Obviously, parents should warn their children about the dangers online predators pose and tell their children not to post personal information, like address and telephone numbers, for everyone to see. But the Internet and Web sites like MySpace are here to stay, which means the best solution is to teach children to use them responsibly.

Panic and overreaction won't solve anything.

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