MySpace Restricting Adults’ Access To Teen Users

Move follows $30 million lawsuit, several high-profile incidents.

MySpace.com’s tagline is “A place for friends.” But in the shadow of a string of recent high-profile incidents involving teens and older users, the popular social networking site is planning to roll out a series of new rules that will restrict how some of those friends can interact. Specifically, it will limit the amount of contact adults can have with the site’s younger users.

According to The Associated Press, the new rules, expected to be announced Wednesday (June 21) and take effect next week, will bar MySpace users who are 18 or over from requesting to be on a 14- or 15-year-old’s friends’ list unless they already know either the youth’s e-mail address or full name.

Any user will still be able to get a partial profile of younger users by searching for other attributes, such as display name. That is different from the current options, which allow adults to be added to a youth’s list to view the full profile. Under the new rules, that option will disappear for adults registered as 18 and over, according to the AP. (Partial profiles only show gender, age and city, while full profiles have information on schools, hobbies and any personal details the user posts.)

MySpace already prohibits users who are 13 and under from setting up accounts and displays only partial profiles for those registered as 14 or 15 years old unless the person viewing the profile is already on the teen’s list of friends. Users under 18 will still be allowed to contact minors, and because the site has no reliable mechanism for verifying that users are submitting their real age when registering, adults could still sign up as teens and request to join a 14-year-old’s list of friends, which would give access to the full profiles.

Besides the new contact restrictions, all users will have the option to make only partial profiles available to those not already on their friends list, the AP reports. All users will also get an option to prevent contact from people outside their age group. The site will also rework its ad-targeting software to avoid showing gambling and adult-themed ads on minors’ pages and instead display safety-themed public-service announcements.

Since the purchase of MySpace’s parent company last year by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for $580 million, the site has come under increasing scrutiny for a series of incidents ranging from teens posting inappropriate material about their teachers (see “Cops Investigating Fake MySpace Page That Defamed Minnesota Teacher “ ), to death threats and photos of illegal activities (see “Twenty Students Suspended In Latest Round Of MySpace-Related Busts” ), which have led to bans from a number of schools citing fears about child predators. Of the site’s estimated 87 million users, more than 20 million are registered as minors.

The move to beef up security comes just two days after a 14-year-old girl filed a $30 million lawsuit in Texas against MySpace and News Corp. claiming she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old man she met on MySpace (see “Teen Sues MySpace For $30 Million Over Sexual Assault Claim” ). The suit alleges that the site has “absolutely no meaningful protections or security measures to protect underage users.” And earlier this month, a 16-year-old girl tricked her parents into getting her a passport so she could fly to the Mideast and marry a 20-year-old man she met through MySpace. U.S. officials in Jordan persuaded the teen to turn around and go home before the arranged marriage took place.

MySpace hired former federal prosecutor Hemanshu Nigam to be the site’s first chief security officer earlier this year and rolled out a series of public service announcements about online safety. MySpace officials told the AP that the new restrictions have been long planned and are unrelated to recent events.

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.