By Tom Rodgers*
September 22, 2006
In its “To Catch a Predator” series, NBC TV’s Dateline teamed up with an Internet watchdog organization called Perverted Justice to fight against Internet sex predators. Early episodes of the series showcased the popular website MySpace.com, showing how pedophiles are using this site to shop for children on the Internet for sexual purposes. In these episodes, Perverted Justice investigators, working in conjunction with law enforcement, pose as decoys and make contacts through Myspace.com. As a result, dozens of men have been arrested for a variety of charges.
What is equally disturbing is the large number of On-line Obscenity Complaints about Myspace.com that have been received at Morality in Media’s (MIM) www.obscenitycrimes.org web site. Unlike the Dateline series, the MIM complaints are not about sexual predators stalking children online, but about the pornography that is readily available on or through Myspace.
MIM has two consultants who validate these complaints. Both consultants are retired law enforcement agents with experience in investigating obscenity crimes. Once these complaints have been validated, the consultants then write and submit detailed reports to the Justice Department for investigation, follow-up and potential prosecution.
MySpace.com is a site where people can find other people with similar interests and post information on blogs regarding a variety of subjects. It is sort of a cyber social club. People can go there for free and research information on all kinds of ordinary subjects like films, music, forums, comedy, classifieds, and more. They can also view pornographic pictures and videos, and children are only a few clicks away from being exposed to pornography at MySpace.
Since May 2, 2004, MIM has received approximately one hundred and sixty complaints from citizens about MySpace.com. This includes complaints where children have been exposed to unwanted “porn spam” or to pornography while searching for other content and complaints where children have knowingly exhibited pornography on their own web sites.
In an email to MIM, one concerned parent asked, “I would like to know how a website such as myspace.com is able to have pornographic material available through its’ users if the site was designed for children 14 and over… Some children under the age of 18 have soft to hardcore porn within their pages, often pictures of themselves. Myspace.com appears to be nothing but a great opportunity for children to have complete access to porn. I would like to know if and what the regulations for this site are (sic).”
Curious onlookers were also subjected to unwanted graphic sexual acts and printed information. One complainant stated, “A large number of underage users are posting and reading obscenity and pictures.” A second complainant commented, “16 year old girls allowed to discuss bestiality.” A third stated that he/she had received uninvited pornography through an instant message from some unknown person signed on through Myspace. Many Myspace web pages also have direct links to commercial pornographic web sites that offer free “teasers” (pornographic photos or videos that can be viewed without proof of age), in addition to full subscriptions that require payment. Upon checking a recent complaint on Myspace.com, one of the MIM consultants reported that a pornographic video automatically began playing as soon as the Myspace page was opened up.
It would be very difficult to find a young teen that has never heard of Myspace.com. In fact, it is surprising how many teens have actually set up their own MySpace blogs. It is the vogue thing to do. As a teenager, if you do not have your own blog then you have not kept up with the changes. It is shocking to see all the personal and potentially damaging information that people, including teens, are posting about themselves and their families on these sites.
What may seem like an innocent blog site and fun place for teens, Myspace.com can, therefore, be a very dangerous place for children to spend time. So what are the chances of your children visiting Myspace.com? The number of visitors is steadily increasing, as Myspace.com went from 4.9 million U.S. visitors in 2004 [Janet Kornblum, “Teens hang out at MySpace,” USA TODAY, January 8, 2006], to more than 50 million U.S. visitors in May 2006 [Press Release, “Social Networking Sites Continue to Attract Record Numbers,” comScore Networks, 6/15/06]. According to an article in USA TODAY [“The MySpace Invaders,” 8/1/06], MySpace had 95 million members and more than 81% of the online social networking traffic.
Pornography is invading just about every aspect of our lives. It has come into our communities with so-called “adult businesses” and into the so-called family video stores that contain the “adult sections”. It has invaded our schools, libraries, churches and job sites via the Internet. Because pornography might seem to be everywhere, there are a lot of people who believe that pornography is okay, acceptable, and perhaps even legal. But, as Roger Young, a retired FBI Agent and MIM Consultant, teaches, “Americans have been misled, misinformed, and wrongly educated that pornography is okay, acceptable and perhaps even legal, when it is not!”
In the 1973 Miller v. California case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not protect obscene materials and that obscenity laws can be enforced against hardcore pornography. In 1996, Congress updated federal obscenity laws to clarify that distribution of obscenity on the Internet is a crime; and at this point federal obscenity laws are the only legal weapon available against Internet pornography because the Child Online Protection Act, which is intended to restrict children’s access to Internet porn, is still tied up in the courts.
Most people do not want the Internet to become a cesspool of hardcore pornography. They do not want children being exposed to hardcore pornography. My question is this: When will Americans (parents in particular) get fed up with the flood of Internet pornography pouring into their communities and homes and insist that Internet obscenity laws be enforced?
* Tom Rodgers is a retired Detective Lieutenant, Indianapolis Police Department. He now serves as a consultant for law enforcement agencies and not-for-profit organizations (including Morality in Media) regarding obscenity and sexual abuse of children issues.