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Online social networks require caution

Between classes, before bed and while doing homework, students are bound to log on to MySpace.com or Facebook.com, posting pictures of their latest excursions or blogging about their latest happenings.

However, many criticize social networking sites such as these – primarily MySpace – because of the dangers of Internet predators combined with users who post too much personal information. Yet MySpace insists that safety is a high priority among its staff.

“When the safety of our users is called into question, we work with local, state and federal law enforcement in any way we can,” said Dani Dudeck, spokeswoman for MySpace, in an article in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

MySpace’s commitment to safety, noble though it may be, does not mean as much when not coupled with common sense by its users. When an 18-year-old woman invited six men whom she met through MySpace over to her house Feb. 23 in Boulder, Colo., it led to a rape and robbery. Ironically, though, detectives working on the case used MySpace to identify the suspects by using the woman’s “friends” list.

If police are using MySpace to find criminals, then it is obvious that others, such as employers, could also use the site for purposes of background checking. The pictures that many people post on their profiles, such as ones posing with their favorite bottle of alcohol, may not fly with a potential employer or grad school recruiter who comes across the profile. Even MySpace itself cautions in its oft-overlooked safety tips to “think twice before posting a photo or info you wouldn’t want your parents or boss to see.”

Like anything else, MySpace is a great, fun tool when used for what it is meant for: meeting new friends. Yet as the young woman in Boulder – and surely many others – have learned, not everyone logs on to MySpace with the best of intentions.

Posting personal information, such as place of employment, location or one’s full name, on profiles makes it easier for those of ill will to locate prey. Taking such measures may seem obvious to some and excessive to others, but it is for those who feel these measures are excessive that the message bears reinforcement, because an individual is worth much more than a MySpace profile.