Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Friendster has gotten many young people and even adults hooked. However, these social networking websites may prove to be harmful even in the comfort of your own home. It is especially harmful to those children who are not guided by their parents in with the use of the Internet. The Internet in general has become a haven for online predators, cyberbullies, pornographic content, malicious software and data theft (Dolcourt, 2007).
Young people are rarely victims of data theft since they usually do not face much risks of financial loss compared to adults. These young people are less careful when using the Internet. They are also unable to identify malicious software which is risky since it may result in data theft (Dolcourt, 2007). According to Webroot, a leading anti-spyware software developer, the increasing popularity of the social networking websites is leading to the spread of spyware. People create multiple profiles that host links that will download spyware when accessed.
Since young people are less wary of the dangers and young people are the major users of such websites, creators of spyware can abuse and are abusing it. From 2005 to 2006, the number of malicious websites has increased by 100,000. Data indicates that 89 percent of consumer’s computers are infected with at least a kind of spyware and that an average home computer has about 30 individual spywares (Hesseldahl, 2006). Pornography is another threat lurking in the Internet.
Social networking site users can usually report pornographic and other inappropriate content but not until the damage has already been done to a minor. Morality in Media (MIM) has been receiving a lot of complaints regarding the availability of pornography on the social networking website MySpace. From May 2004 to September 2006, MIM has received over 160 complaints about MySpace which includes “porn spam” or pornography even as the users have been searching for material not related to pornography.
Pictures and readings of obscenity can be found throughout the website as well as direct links to adult pornographic websites. Almost every child and teenager has been exposed to MySpace and what may seem as a harmless blog and socialization website could turn out to be harmful. More and more children will be exposed to inappropriate content in the website since MySpace has a constantly increasing number of users with over 95 million registered members and counting (Rodgers, 2006).
Such social networking websites have also been a place for people to bully, thus, the term cyberbullying was born. Bullying in itself is harmful and it could prove even more harmful when it is done online. Such an act may include threats, gossips and insults spread through the Internet. There is however no sure way to protect children from bullies but early detection could be the best solution to the problem (Dolcourt, 2007). The Internet has also become a place for sexual predators especially pedophiles that prey on unknowing children.
The Internet has become a good source of information for such online predators especially because children tend to expose personal information on the social networking websites which they believe is safe. They should however be reminded that people they interact with while they are online are still strangers unless they really personally know the person (iSafe, 2006). Data indicate that 89 percent of sexual solicitations are done through chatrooms or instant messaging and that 1 out of every 5 children from ages 10 to 17 years old have been sexually solicited while online (ProtectKids).
In an effort to keep their website free from sex offenders, MySpace has initiated a new program that would identify and ban sex offenders by searching state and federal databases for the names of sex offenders and deleting their profiles and blocking them from registering (BBC News, 2006). This effort of keeping the website safe is however futile since sex offenders are not stupid enough to put their real names in their profiles when they register and also since the registration process involves no security measures such that anyone can register fake names as the registration process will not ask for any proof of identity.
This goes to show that there is no sincere effort from MySpace to keep its website safe. In a national survey published in 2000, it was indicated that 13 percent of women have experienced being stalked in the past 7 months. Social networking websites have given stalkers more access to personal information such as addresses, phone numbers, and schedules since many teenagers make such information available on their profiles (Bazar, 2007). Social networking websites are harmful because of the existence of abusive online predators.
Pedophiles and sex offenders lurk in every social networking websites. Spyware and malware are rapidly spreading because of these websites since many young people are not cautious enough which infects their computers with different kinds of spyware and malware. These websites also hosts of pornographic and other content which are inappropriate for children and unlike other adult websites that would allow users to consent that they would wish to view the material, the children are not aware that they would be viewing content that is inappropriate for them in these websites.
Even bullies and stalkers have found another effective bullying and stalking tool with the advent of the Internet.
Dolcourt, Jessica. 30 March 2007. Top 5 Internet dangers for kids: A Resource Guide. Cnet. Retrieved July 29 2008, from http://www. cnet. com/4520-13384_1-6721368-1. html Hesseldahl, Arik. 18 August 2006. Social-networking sites a ‘hotbed’ for spyware. MSNBC. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from http://www. msnbc. msn. com/id/14413906/