Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a nationally recognized leader in the fight against online predators, criticized MySpace.com for not implementing real safety measures to protect young users of their social networking Web site from being subjected to sexually explicit images and unwanted solicitations.
Attorney General Abbott criticized today's announcement by MySpace.com to partner with Hollywood movie stars in launching national television public safety advertisements and a downloadable guidebook to Internet safety for parents instead of adopting the definitive safety measures that Abbott recommended in May.
"MySpace.com continues to resist implementing real reform measures, including age verification measures and filtering software, and instead offers window-dressing that offers no real protection to the millions of children and teenagers who use their networking sites and chat rooms," said Attorney General Abbott. "Parents have to grant permission for their child take an over-the-counter medicine like Tylenol in school, and parents should also have the opportunity to decide whether their child should have access at school to an online playground that attracts dangerous predators who are looking to rob a child of their innocence and destroy a childhood. Social networking site operators are part of the problem, and to be part of the solution they must do more than pay lip service to providing a safe environment for children."
Attorney General Abbott issued a letter to social networking Web site executives in May calling on them to strengthen safeguards against pornography and sexually explicit solicitations after his Cyber Crimes Unit arrested three men in Texas who used MySpace.com and other Internet chat rooms to solicit minors for sex.
Today, Attorney General Abbott again called on site operators to implement more stringent age verification measures to protect younger users on the networking site. He pressed operators to upgrade their resources and utilize filtering software that would provide parents with the opportunity to block access to the sites at their discretion. He also stressed the importance of records retention to assist law enforcement in tracing complaints of online child pornography or inappropriate contact.
"The incorrigible nature of sexual predators requires public officials, law enforcement, industry leaders and parents across Texas to join together to make the Internet a safer place," added Attorney General Abbott. "The law enforcement community will remain vigilant against child sex predators, but without the commitment of social networking Web site operators to put meaningful precautions in place, no child is safe from the unwanted advances of social networking site or chat room predators."
Attorney General Abbott has made pursuing sexual predators a top priority of his administration. On July 11, he was invited by U.S. Congressman Joe Barton to testify at a congressional hearing in Washington on federal legislation that would require publicly funded schools and libraries to limit access to commercial social networking Web sites like MySpace.com.
In 2002, Abbott launched the Cyber Crimes Unit, which targets online predators by assuming the identities of young teenagers in Internet chat rooms, and the Fugitive Unit, which locates convicted child sex offenders who have violated the terms of their parole and could be stalking children. The Attorney General's initiative has resulted in over 470 arrests of such offenders. His office also has obtained convictions against 45 men on child pornography charges.
On May 18, the Cyber Crimes Unit was awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention to establish an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The grant will help the Unit expand its efforts to protect children and partner with law enforcement agencies across Texas to fight against online child exploitation.
In March, Abbott launched a series of town hall meetings to educate parents and teenagers about the kind of criminal activity that goes on in connection with Internet diaries, chat rooms, and social networking Web sites. Hundreds of concerned Texans have turned out at venues across the state to participate in the interactive presentation about the risks of online predators and the steps parents can take to protect their children online.