Social networking sites have been urged to do more to protect their young users after MySpace announced it had identified and removed about 90,000 registered sex offenders from its site in the last two years.
The figure was almost double the number the company had originally estimated last year.
Roy Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general who is leading US efforts to improve safety on social networking sites, said the figures came as no surprise.
‘These sites were created for young people to communicate with each other,’ he said. ‘Predators are going to troll in these areas where they know children are going to be. That’s why these social networking sites have the responsibility to make their sites safe for children.’
Cooper said that MySpace and its rival Facebook – which together claim to have more than 280 million users – had to ‘do more to protect children and teenagers’.
He and Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal co-lead a taskforce on social networking. They received assurances last year from MySpace and Facebook about tougher security, and both sites implemented dozens of safeguards, including finding better ways to verify users’ ages, banning convicted sex offenders from the sites and limiting the ability of older users to search members under 18.
Blumenthal, who received MySpace’s updated numbers yesterday through a subpoena, said the information ‘provides compelling proof that social networking sites remain rife with sexual predators’. He added that while Facebook had yet to respond to a recent subpoena, a preliminary search showed the number of sex offenders using the site was ‘substantial’.
MySpace executives said they were confident in the technology they use to find, remove and block registered sex offenders. The company uses Sentinel SAFE, a database it created in 2006 with the names, physical descriptions and other identifiable characteristics of sex offenders that cross-references against MySpace members.
‘Sentinel SAFE is the best industry solution to ensure these offenders are removed from social networks,’ said a spokesman yesterday.
MySpace, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, says it has more than 130 million active users worldwide.
A spokesman for Facebook, which claims to have more than 150 million active users, said that protecting them has always been a priority.
‘We have a policy prohibiting registered sex offenders from joining Facebook,’ said a spokesman. ‘We are glad to be able to report that we have not yet had to handle a case of a registered sex offender meeting a minor through Facebook. We are working hard to make sure it never happens.’
According to Cooper, however, much more still needs to be done: ‘Technology moves forward quickly, and it’s important for these companies to stay ahead of the technology. And they’re not moving fast enough for us.’
He and Blumenthal called for tougher restrictions on people joining social networking sites.
The British government is currently looking at how to protect young internet users following a report on the subject last year by psychologist Dr Tanya Byron.