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Vincent Bove Article

Published in:

The New Jersey Police Chief, January 2008

MySpace and Internet Security Concerns for
Educators and Law Enforcement

By Vincent J. Bove, CPP

Millions of young people, as well as parents, educators and law enforcement personnel, use various websites for social networking, communication and research resources. Those entrusted with the care of our youth must also use it to understand the pulse of their schools and communities. When used safely and wisely, the internet offers remarkable opportunities for learning, communication, and self actualization through research and study. Positive activities include:

  • Surfing the web
  • Email, instant messaging, webcams, video conferencing and webinars
  • Newsgroups, bulletin boards, blogs, vlogs, online communities, TV View on Demand
  • Educational research
  • Sharing photographs and video

A recent educational initiative of the North Jersey Regional Crime Prevention Officers Association (NJRCPOA) addressed MySpace and Internet Security Concerns for Educators and Law Enforcement in the state of the art auditorium at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey. I was privileged to conduct the standing room only presentation for this event which was made possible by NJRCPOA President Lt. Patrick Fay of the Hackensack Police Department and with the support of Sheriff Leo P. McGuire of the Bergen County Sheriff's Office.

The agenda covered:

  • Laying the Foundation
    • Shattered Communities
    • Crisis of Leadership
    • Culture of Violence
    • Filling the Void
  • Internet and Online-Community
    • Overview
    • MySpace Concerns
  • Parental Presence
    • Warning Signs
    • Communication ("An ounce of prevention")
  • American Military Personnel Tribute
    • Remember, Reflect, Resolve
  • Conclusion

Many organizations were represented from throughout the state and participated through lively interaction and discussion.

What is MySpace?

MySpace is an online social networking site that was started in 2003 by Tom Anderson. Revenue is generated through the site’s advertising. It is a phenomenon that continues to grow with membership estimated at over 100 million users.

It is free to join and there are no credit cards or ID verifications necessary. Although members are technically required to be at least 14 years-old, MySpace is susceptible to members under the age of 14 as well as pedophiles who lie about their age. In a culture where too many parents are not connected with their children, MySpace presents issues for concern when parental supervision, guidance and direction are lacking.

MySpace Basics

Getting started is as easy as visiting www.myspace.com and filling out a form, especially since it is free and nothing is verified. Photos can be easily uploaded for sharing. After a few basic steps the visitor has a home page, many of which are remarkable works of art—complete with photos, film clips, and musical backgrounds.

Members can invite other members to be friends or can invite non-members to join by typing in their email address. Members can receive email to their MySpace inbox, send bulletins to all there friends, and make comments on other friends' profiles. Privacy settings, if utilized, can make the whole profile private and/or set comments to be approved before being posted for public viewing.

Parents, educators and law enforcement officials can search for a participant by name, screen name, email address or via a person's friend's name. Browsing can also be done be school, age group, purpose (dating) or location and can be pinpointed to within miles of a location.

Accounts can be deleted by clicking on account settings and then "Cancel Account". Pictures can also be deleted from an account but it must be remembered that deletion from a profile does not mean that pictures are completely removed since they might have already been downloaded, saved or forwarded. This is a prime example of the phrase that "it can come back to haunt you."

Why Should Anyone Care?

For parents, educators and law enforcement, it is critically important to be involved with MySpace and other social networking sites because:

  • Youth can often have a false sense of anonymity which can cause unnecessary problems.
  • MySpace can present admissions and warning signs of youth at risk or troubled and the opportunity for a timely response.
  • Youth often can be lured into presenting provocative expressions and photo’s depicting inappropriate sexuality, gestures, drinking and drugs. One example of inappropriate behavior was exhibited by Katie Rees, Miss Nevada USA 2007 who was dethroned of her title after racy photo’s emerged of her exposing herself on the Internet. Compounding MySpace concerns in this regard is Facebook where FOX News reported in November 2007 that a user group entitled “30 Reasons Girls Should Call It a Night” posted more than 4,800 explicit photos of young girls drunk to a stupor, vomiting and presenting themselves in compromising images that would only bring disgrace to themselves and their families. Facebook claims to have 160,000 members. FOX News had also reported in July 2007 that MySpace had found more than 29,000 registered sex offenders with profiles on its site.
  • Youth can be lured into meeting with pedophiles with high probabilities that sexual assaults, rapes and even murders can take place.

Cyber Bullying and Abuse

Just as students have bullied others in class, to and from school, in the playground or in the cafeteria, they can now do so through the Internet. The reality is that this can have an extraordinary “grandstanding” effect especially when pictures can be modified and derogatory remarks and photo’s can be instantaneously communicated to an entire school.

One example of the consequences of abuse was featured on the November 19, 2007 TODAY Show where the mother and father of a 13 year-old Missouri girl who hanged herself after a MySpace hoax romance shared their tragic story of how this led to her suicide.

Criminal Conduct

Aside from issues of harassment, there are also other criminal behaviors which can be viewed on MySpace and other Internet social networking websites including:

  • Marijuana Operatives
  • Gang membership, recruitments, affiliations, tagging and web site graffiti
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse including contacts and photos
  • Underage drinking parties

This information not only gives the pulse to what is happening in a community or a school but serves as excellent information for parents, educators and law enforcement.

In today’s technology driven world, law enforcement officials must work closely with educators and be aware of MySpace, Facebook and other online social communication networks in order to take measured intervention when necessary to prevent or prosecute crime. Through collaborative efforts between law enforcement and educators, MySpace and Internet Security Concerns presentations should be offered for parents and students at schools.

Finally, law enforcement officials are encouraged to work directly with MySpace security officials. The Law Enforcement Guide is designed to assist law enforcement with investigations involving unlawful activity on MySpace. It is available to law enforcement only by sending a request to lawenforcement@myspace.com.

[Reprinted from The Police Chief Magazine website – http://www.policechiefmagazine.org]

Safety on MySpace
By Hemanshu Nigam, Chief Security Officer
MySpace.com, Santa Monica, California

Working with Law Enforcement

MySpace understands that in addition to technological tools and education, it must make sure that law enforcement have the tools for prevention and enforcement. MySpace works with local police and investigators regarding user activity and interfaces with law enforcement agencies at local, state, and federal levels. MySpace personnel have met with law enforcement officials from around the world to find out how MySpace can enhance its cooperation with law enforcement and increase user security. MySpace has created streamlined procedures for law enforcement agencies and officials to obtain critical data that can be used to aid in investigations. It published a law enforcement guide to inform law enforcement agencies of these procedures and outline how police officers can work with MySpace regarding subpoenas and requests for information. This guide has been broadly distributed to agencies around the United States. In addition, MySpace created a one-page guide for easy reference for officers. It runs an around-the-clock hotline to receive and respond to law enforcement queries in both emergency and nonemergency cases. The MySpace safety team interfaces directly with law enforcement and helps agencies discover how MySpace can be helpful in their investigations.

Vincent J. Bove, CPP is a Board Certified Protection Professional, Board Certified Crime Prevention Specialist, Certified Law Enforcement Instructor and U.S. Department of Justice Certified Community Anti-Terrorism Awareness Trainer.

He is the 2007 New Jersey recipient of the prestigious FBI Director's Community Leadership Award and was hand-selected to serve as a facilitator and mentor for the 2007 National Conference on Ethics in America and speaker for the 2008 conference at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

"Vincent J. Bove is considered one of the foremost national experts on school and workplace violence prevention, specializing in facility protection, evacuations, terrorism prevention and leadership training." -- U.S. Senate

You can visit Mr. Bove's website at www.vincentbove.com or email him at vincent@vincentbove.com

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