Officials in Anoka County, Minnesota, served a search warrant and seized computer equipment on Wednesday that they say may have been used to create a fake MySpace page attacking a teacher at local Coon Rapids Middle School.
The site, which included child pornography as well as slurs about religion and sexual orientation, was created under the teacher's name, according to Captain Rob Bredsten of the Anoka County sheriff's office, which is investigating the case.
"It has pornography on it and talks about his purported sexual perversions. We believe it was a vendetta by a student, but we don't know why," Bredsten said. Police tracked an ID number from the perpetrator's Internet service provider to a Coon Rapids student they believe is behind the cyber attack, though no arrests have been made yet.
Bredsten said police got a tip three weeks ago after someone in another state saw the site and reported it to school officials, who contacted the sheriff's office. As word began to spread, the victim discovered the site when he heard students talking about it, and he reported it as well. Police never suspected the teacher had anything to do with the page.
"He absolutely said it was not his," said Bredsten. "When we first heard about it, we didn't believe it was his because no one would identify themselves like that [on the site] and we figured it was someone setting him up." Police are still waiting to speak to the owner of the computer and search its hard drive, as well as investigate whether other people may have been involved.
Bredsten said the potential charges that the suspect or suspects could be facing are serious. Minnesota has a felony harassment statute, as well as felony laws regarding the possession of child pornography and potential penalties based on a bias crime. While they are not high-level felonies, jail time is possible if a suspect is convicted.
A spokesperson for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Brett Johnson, told Minneapolis' KARE-TV that any students involved in the illegal activity could face long suspensions or possible expulsion.
Less than a year after Intermix Media (which owned MySpace and approximately 30 other Web sites) was acquired for $580 million by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., MySpace recently began tightening security on the site, which is home to approximately 70 million personal Web pages. Responding to concerns from parents and child-safety advocates, the site hired former Microsoft security expert Hemanshu Nigam as its first chief security officer. Nigam also previously served as a federal prosecutor against Internet child exploitation for the U.S. Department of Justice and an adviser to the White House on cyber-stalking, according to The New York Times.
MySpace also announced that it would launch an advertising campaign in conjunction with the nonprofit Advertising Council and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children aimed at educating parents and young people about Internet safety. The public service announcements — which will caution kids to be wary of strangers who approach them online — will run on MySpace, Fox television channels (the network is owned by News Corp.) and the company's other Web sites.
The Minnesota case was the latest in what has been a steady stream of recent MySpace-related illicit activity. In New Jersey, seven Parsippany High School students will begin serving five-day suspensions on Monday for setting up two MySpace accounts filled with photos and "vulgarities" about classmates and teachers, according to the Asbury Park Press. The students reportedly used cell-phone cameras to photograph classmates and school employees without their permission, a violation of their school district's policy. All seven admitted to involvement in the sites last week and agreed to remove the pages. School officials did not describe the content of the sites, but said the students couldn't claim free speech to avoid punishment because the photos were used without permission.
And in McMinnville, Tennessee, former elementary school teacher Pamela Rogers, 28, who spent six months in jail for having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student, was arrested Tuesday for violating her probation by apparently communicating with the victim through a MySpace page. Rogers was arrested and released on $10,000 bond and will be back in court July 12. She cut a deal last August to serve nine months of an eight-year sentence and was released in February on good behavior. Under the terms of the plea agreement, she was ordered not to contact the victim or his family and not use the Internet without permission from her probation officer.
According to The Associated Press, authorities said Rogers violated her probation by setting up a MySpace page that featured pictures of herself in a bikini, as well as a blog with what they said was communication between the teacher and the victim's 17-year-old sister and a cryptic message to the victim in which she addressed his basketball jersey number and said he was her hero.
Last month 20 middle school students in California were suspended for viewing a classmate's MySpace page that included graphic, anti-Semitic threats against another student (see "Twenty Students Suspended In Latest Round Of MySpace-Related Busts")