MySpace growth continues amid criticism

Popular site is signing up new members at record pace, but remains target of concerns regarding safety of younger users.

Popular community site MySpace is signing up new members at record speed. But along with that growth, the site continues to be the target of controversy regarding the safety of its users, a core group of whom are minors.

MySpace, which has accumulated 67 million members since its launch in 2004, is currently growing by an average of 250,000 new members daily, said Dani Dudeck, a MySpace spokeswoman. That phenomenal growth rate has pushed its ranking among popular sites to a par with such notable players as Yahoo.

With that growth, however, MySpace has come under increasing scrutiny. Earlier this month, for example, two men were arrested in separate incidences for allegedly engaging in sexual contact with minors, whom they met through MySpace. One of the minors was 14 years old and the other was 11.

Ross Levinsohn, an executive with News Corp., which acquired MySpace last year , addressed the steps the site is taking to keep its younger members safe. According to press reports, Levinsohn, who was speaking Thursday before the Bank of America Media Telecommunications and Entertainment Conference in Los Angeles, noted that the site takes down offensive content, from nudity to racist material.

MySpace, which requires its members to be at least 14 years or older to use the site, also will remove user profiles that fail to adhere to its policy. Since its debut in 2004, MySpace has removed 250,000 profiles of underage users, Dudeck noted. Dudeck declined to disclose the total number of profiles that have been removed for violations of the company's policy.

Regardless, the number is likely to represent a fraction of MySpace's user base, said executives from rival community sites Friendster and Tribe Networks.

"We're probably taking down 1,000 to 2,000 a week," said Kent Lindstrom, president of Friendster. "Every community site has to deal with pornography, hate messages or violent content."

But if MySpace is wrestling with offensive or illegal materials more than competitors, it may have to do with two issues. First, said Lindstrom and Jan Gullett, chief executive of Tribe Networks, much of MySpace's trouble comes from the demographic it targets--the preteen and teenage groups, which often need more guidance about acceptable behavior. The second problem, said Lindstrom, is that MySpace adopted a hands-off approach to the site early in its evolution.

Such a policy fostered an "anything goes mentality" which created an atmosphere of permissiveness on the site, said Lindstrom.

"That goes a long way with teens and preteens," Lindstrom said. "We've always taken (policing the site) very carefully, perhaps to a fault. But on the other hand, the same kind of culture never developed on our site."

MySpace, however, contends that many of its users are much older than people realize.

"Nearly 80 percent of our members are 18 years or older, and that speaks for itself," Dudeck said.

She added that the company does not take a "hands-off approach" to its user base, pointing to its other ongoing efforts to keep younger members safe.

MySpace assigns roughly 90 employees, a third of its workforce, to the task of monitoring the safety and security of members, Dudeck said. Using search and algorithm technologies, MySpace employees will review information for such inconsistencies as claiming to be a 14-year-old member while putting information in a profile about a 7th grade teacher and class.

As a result of the site's research, members who are not 14 or older will have their profiles removed, she said. MySpace also limits the amount of information displayed on profiles posted by 14- to 16-year-old members. If those members want to let a person view their entire profile, they can accept the potential visitor's request for full access. But the individual who gains access to the full profile is prohibited from allowing others to view the profile, Dudeck said.

 

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