A Texas 14-year-old and her mother have sued MySpace for US$30 million after she was raped by a man she met on the social networking site. Pete Solis, who faces felony sexual assault charges, courted the girl via her MySpace profile. They proceded to exchange phone calls and e-mails prior to meeting in May. Solis reportedly picked her up at school, took her to dinner and a movie, and then sexually assaulted her at a South Austin, TX apartment complex.
MySpace’s age verification practices come under attack by the plaintiff’s attorneys. The site requires users to be at least 14 years old, asking for name, date of birth, e-mail address, sex, and country of residence. However, it does not attempt to verify the information, which is the basis for the lawsuit.
In a statement, MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam said that the site takes "aggressive measures" to protect its members and encouraged all Internet users to use "smart web practices" and "have open family dialogue on how to apply offline lessons in the online world."
The sexual assault is not the the first to follow a MySpace meeting. Two girls, aged 13 and 14, have been the victims of similar assaults by older men they met on MySpace. However, this appears to be the first time the social networking site has been sued as a result.
MySpace has come under increased scrutiny lately. Federal legislation was recently introduced that would regulate access to that and other, similar sites from public computers in libraries and schools. Sponsor Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) has called social networking sites aimed at younger users a "feeding ground for child predators," and it’s all but certain that this case will provide more ammunition for similar criticism of the site and strengthen calls for regulating access to it by children.
Whether MySpace is found to be liable—in whole or in part—for what happened to the plaintiff hinges on whether a jury believes the site is liable for what happens in real life, outside its borders. While what happened to the girl is horrific, the site will argue that it is not responsible for the girl’s choice to meet up with her attacker.
If nothing else, the case serves as a grim reminder for parents everywhere to do their utmost to stay on top of their chidren’s activities, both online and off. Kids are prone to making bad judgments—it’s part of the process of growing up. Shutting off access to MySpace for young teens is more likely to shift the problem elsewhere than prevent kids from making bad choices.