MySpace: PR Nightmare in the Making
MySpace’s phenomenal popularity with the teens and early twentysomethings generated a $580 million acquisition by the seventysomething Rupert Murdoch. Here are some truly impressive recent metrics on the site (according to comScore):
- 24.2 million unique users in October 2005
- 11.6 billion page views in October 2005
- More page views than any destination other than Yahoo!, AOL and MSN.
- Twice the page views of Google
But what goes up …
Now the MySpace backlash has begun. Numerous stories about stalkers and sexual predators using MySpace to target teens have started to appear. While most users of MySpace at this point won’t care about such stories, this is a PR nightmare in the making that threatens to take over the MySpace "success narrative."
Hence the consideration of a "MySpace Safety Czar." According to an article that appeared in the WSJ on Friday:
News Corp. is scrambling to make MySpace a safer place for young people. News Corp. plans to appoint a "safety czar" to oversee the site, launch an education campaign that may include letters to schools and public-service announcements to encourage children not to reveal their contact information. It also is considering limiting access to certain groups, such as "swingers," to those over 18; blocking search terms that predators could use to locate kids; and encouraging users between 14 and 16 to make their profiles "private," meaning they can only be viewed by people they already know.
"We’re going to take some pretty dramatic steps to provide industry-leading safety," says Ross Levinsohn, president of News Corp.’s Fox Interactive Media unit, which includes MySpace.
As the Journal points out those measures might strike at the "cool factor" that has made MySpace such a hit among teens, who can be fickle and might not like the introduction of controls or restrictions. We’ll see if the site can navigate this rough patch and regain control of its own story.
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A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with my IP attorney regarding the issue of minors on a website that I have in development. One suggestion was to request users to provide credit card information during the registration process. No doubt this would put a big damper on growth, but, it makes sense in that minors don’t have credit cards. Minors would be forced to set up an account with a parent’s credit card bringing minors’ parents’ into the loop. MySpace could also consider providing parents with a master code and mailbox. All communication between the parent’s child and outsiders would be copied into the parent’s mailbox for subsequent review. Any communication sent to outsiders from a parent’s child would have a header/footer warning recipients of the child’s communication that the child is a minor, child’s communication is copied to the parent’s mailbox, and any suspicious communication with the child will be forwarded to the MySpace Safety Czar. Deterrence is a double edge sword. Better to sacrafice some growth in order to preserve growth overall.
The majority of popular, open online "communities" face similar "PR nightmares": EBay & Craigslist are battling commercial scams and counterfeit goods, Monster.com is tackling identity theft, colleges are contacting Facebook regarding student privacy and harassment, the Google blog site is beset with spam…
Unfortunately, as the adult content industry has discovered using credit cards to verify online identity runs smack into the massive problem of stolen credit cards (an industry itself).
Myspace.com and other sites should utilize simple systems like PhoneConfirm.com that are already in use by EBay and others who tie the location of a computer to a hard-wired phone line during the time when a user is setting up their account.
During account sign-up user supplies a hard-wire phone number (system can tell if its cell phone or hard-wire) which is automatically/instantly called and a PIN number spoken by an automated voice over the phone. This ties the computer/user to the location of the phone.
1. Discourages predators and fraudulent sign-ups because they know phone numbers can easily be traced to addresses.
2. Easy to create blacklist of phone numbers that are associated with underage users etc…
3. Stops "identity theft" fraudulent profiles etc….
4. Allows sign-ups without a credit card, which turns off many users