The Web world is obsessed with Facebook. And it was only a matter of time before Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal noticed.
Blumenthal spent most of last year railing at MySpace, claiming the teen-oriented hangout was a haven for pedophiles and sex-predators (which, to some extent, it turned out to be). Now he’s moved on to Facebook, the New York Times reports. Blumenthal says his investigators are “looking into ‘three or more’ cases” of convicted sex offenders registering on the site. Expect the media to jump all over this, as they did with MySpace: Kids, sex, safety and the Internet are sure-fire triggers for any editor or assignment producer.
Is this a problem for Facebook? Sure. But a manageable one. The best plan: Copy the MySpace playbook.
For a brief period last year, concerns about predators on MySpace, amplified considerably by Blumenthal’s rhetoric, became a major question mark for the site. Now you rarely hear about it. How’d that happen?
Primarily, because MySpace officials never, ever, attacked their attackers. There’s no science or statistics that proves that kids are more at risk on MySpace than they are on any other corner of the Internet, and it’s likely that risks are no worse than in the real world. But you never heard a MySpace official say anything of the sort. Instead the company worked to placate critics like Blumenthal and Sen. John McCain, hired a “safety czar” and went out of its way to publicize moves like a deal with Sentinel Tech Holding, which helps the site police itself for registered sex offenders. Meanwhile, more quietly, the site vigorously challenged any case brought by plaintiffs who said they were harmed after using the site.
Facebook has natural advantages here – the site’s architecture, which relies on people making connections primarily through other people, makes it harder to get on the site in the first place (and to be fair, there was always a population of bottom-dwellers at MySpace – last year a Wired reporter dug up 744 sex offenders who had registered using their own names). And although Mark Zuckerberg, his co-workers, and his investors are already worth billions on paper, the company isn’t yet as big a target as MySpace, owned by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. If Facebook keeps its head down, and plays nicely with Blumenthal and his ilk, it should be just fine.