Families from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina have filed suit against News Corp’s enormously popular social networking Web site MySpace, alleging gross negligence, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation after their underage daughters were sexually abused by adults they met via the Web site. Each case alleged that an adult member of MySpace contacted the girls through the site, obtained personal information, and later assaulted the minor. According to the filings, one of the assaults occurred in Ohio.
The famlies are represented by the Texas law firm of Barry & Loewy of Houston, Texas, and Arnold & Itkin of Austin, Texas. The suit was filed in Los Angeles County and seeks unspecified damages, and alleges MySpace offers “no meaningful protection or security measures to protect young underage users from being contacted by adult sexual predators.”
The plaintiffs include a 15 year-old girls from Pennsylvania and Texas, a 14 year-old girl from New York, and 14 and 15 year-old systems from South Carolina. In each case, the abusers are either awaiting trail or serving prison time for the assaults.
MySpace has been frequently criticized by education officials, law enforcement, and child advocacy groups warning of the dangers represented by online predators trawling youth-oriented social networking sites. Members of sites like MySpace are encouraged to post personal information in their profile pages and expand their groups of “friends” via online communications. However, since few sites validate the identities of their members, an online profile may not accurately represent the real-world identity of the account-holder: a sexual predator might pose as a teenager, or even a member of the opposite gender, in order to make contact with minors. MySpace has been increasing its education efforts to increase user awareness of the possible hazards of disclosing personal information on the site, and plans to release parental notification tools which would let parents keep on eye on the details revealed by their childrens’ online profiles. It has also announced partnerships with law enforcement to identify and remove profiles posted by known sex offenders.
MySpace has not yet commented publicly on the lawsuits.