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Interviewing Social Media: Advice for Parents about Social Media Safety

To learn more about online social networking, Your Teen interviewed Simon Axten, Privacy and Public Policy Associate at Facebook and Hemanshu Nigam, Chief Security Officer at MySpace.

Social Networking Safety From Experts

As we talked with these experts, their message rang familiar: parents need to parent their teens. We don’t have to be technology experts to help manage our teens online. Good old parenting skills with open, honest and frequent communication will help us guide our teens.

Understanding the technology will simply add to our ability to talk about internet safety on social media. The bottom line: parenting our teens in an electronic world is much the same as parenting them anywhere else.

Q: How do you view security?

MySpace: Safety and security are our priority. We try to mirror the physical world when we assess security in the electronic world. Our security is both proactive and reactive. For example, proactive security means that we have a community of users who want a healthy electronic environment. They report activity violating member policies and we follow up. In addition, when we see a problem, we contact the local authorities of that account holder. We also monitor profiles 24/7.

Facebook: Protecting our users is a top priority. We devote significant resources to developing innovative and complex systems to proactively monitor the site and its users for suspicious activity. Our team of professional investigators reviews all reports for the most serious types of abuse, nudity, pornography and harassing messages within 24 hours. Users can also take advantage of privacy controls by restricting access to just “friends” or creating lists of people from your larger “friend” group. We have a team of security experts and site integrity engineers always looking for ways to improve these systems.

Q: How do you monitor user profiles?

MySpace: We take a holistic approach like one would in the physical world. We use a combination of technology and person-power. We employ many former law enforcement officers and lawyers who search profiles all day for images of child pornography or other criminal activity. This material is immediately deleted and reported to the proper authorities. Our technology is programmed to scan images of humans and find “key words” alerting us to potential danger. Our network has a safety culture, so our users aren’t afraid to report suspicious behavior. Also, we have various security settings inside our pages.

Q: Is it true that once information or photos are on a user’s page they can never be completely deleted?

MySpace: Yes and no. A user can click delete and the information is no longer visible to others. However, once information or photos are uploaded onto a page, “friends” can immediately copy or pass them along. A user loses control of his information once it is copied — another good reason to choose your “friends” wisely. Also, Google will “crawl” or search for photos 24/7. Once an image is found by Google and stored as an image, it can be accessible to others.

Q: Parents worry that people on social networks misrepresent themselves. How do you handle this?

Facebook: Facebook is based on a real name culture that leads to greater accountability and a safer environment. It’s a violation of our policy to use a fake name or operate under a false identity and we encourage users to report knowledge of this violation. We have technical systems that flag and block potential fakes based on name and anomalous site activity. Users who send lots of messages to non-friends, for example, or whose friend requests are rejected at a high rate, are marked as suspect.

Q: Your policy states that users must be at least 13 year of age. How do you enforce this?

MySpace: We have technology that looks for kids under 13. Key words are associated with young children and our technology finds these words and flags these accounts. Once flagged, our staff looks at images and profiles to confirm underage usage and then deletes the account. We also look at that user’s “friend” list, as they too are often underage. We also rely on our community of users to report kids under 13. Reporting is done by email to

Q: What tips can you give parents who are unsure about how to handle social networking?

MySpace: Be a parent like you have been all along. Parents are capable of parenting in an electronic world just as they do in the physical world. Don’t stop that dialogue. Our parent brochure is available on our site, under Parents Safety Tips.

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