Today’s agreement between MySpace and nearly all the states attorneys general to bulk up protections against sexual predators will no doubt have spillover effects on other social networks as well. No social network can afford to look like it is lagging in this area and will do whatever it can to be at par with emerging industry norms in this area.
In fact, not long after I originally posted about the MySpace deal earlier today, I received the following statement from Facebook:
Facebook has always created an inhospitable environment for predators by limiting access to users’ personal information based on real-world social connections. We have led the way in our partnership with the New York Attorney General and continue our involvement with the Attorneys General of all states and other law enforcement agencies to keep children safe from those who would do them harm. We are happy to work further with the states to develop and deploy strategies to protect kids online.
I am pretty sure that not only Facebook, but also Bebo and Google, will do whatever is necessary to fight sexual predators. With that in mind, here specifically is where Facebook, Bebo and Orkut (i.e., Google) are now lagging MySpace in protections for younger users, and where they may have to spend money to catch up:
Update: See clarifications/corrections from Facebook below in italics:
1. IMAGE AND VIDEO REVIEW
MySpace proactively reviews videos and images for pornographic and sexually inappropriate content. Humans look at every image and banned images are digitally fingerprinted to prevent them from being uploaded again.
Facebook and Bebo only ban inappropriate images and video that are reported by users. Orkut doesn’t even do that.
Facebook has automated examination working on video, but they find that reports work extraordinarily well in removing inappropriate content quickly – for both images and video. They have always had report links, which MySpace was forced to add under this agreement.
2. GROUPS REVIEW
MySpace monitors group discussions for predatory content.
Facebook and Bebo regulate only reported incidents. Orkut does not review group discussions.
Re: Groups, Facebook has algorithmic monitoring for inappropriate names/themes and a variety of technical tools that automatically cull them.
3. SEX OFFENDER DATABASE
MySpace helped develop and fund a database of registered sex offenders and deletes the accounts of members who are registered sex ofenders.
Facebook, Bebo, and Orkut do not have a policy of automatically removing registered sex offenders.
Facebook has a policy of removing convicted sex offenders, and has a proposal to do real-time checks of official state databases pending with the Attorneys General for nearly a year.
4. AGE LIMIT ENFORCEMENT
MySpace algorithmically searches for underage members and deletes their accounts.
Facebook and Bebo are more reactive in their underage account deletion policies. Orkut does not enforce any age limits.
On age checks, users under 18 years of age are required to designate a high-school network and Facebook places a cookie blocking site access on the browser of anyone who attempts to sign up with an under-13 birth date.
5. “FRIEND” PROTECTION FOR YOUNGER USERS
On MySpace, older users cannot contact underage users without first knowing their e-mail and full name.
On Facebook, Bebo, And Orkut, anyone can “friend” anyone else.
Facebook also separates under-18 profiles in networks outside of schools, limits visibility to only under-18s within that network by default, and provides settings to restrict visibility and searchability even further.