What Should Parents Know about Teen Web Sites?
(11/10/05 -- RALEIGH) (WTVD) -- A few weeks ago, 14-year-old Matthew Phelps thought about joining the teen Web community Xanga.com. After surfing the site, he decided not to sign up.
"Sometimes you can get some pretty disturbing things," Phelps said.
His mother, Pat Phelps, had heard about some of the material, but saw it only recently.
"It is really, really shocking," she said.
Phelps is talking about some of explicit material teens post on the Xanga.com site. It promotes itself as a teen Web site. On its home page, visitors can find the mission statement, which reads: "Xanga.com is a community of online diaries and journals. You can easily start your own journal, share your thoughts with your friends and meet new friends, too." But it is obvious that kids are sharing more than just their thoughts. One North Carolina teen's blog showed a number of provocative pictures. Below them are comments about sex and drinking. The site has since been shut down by its owner, but Pat Phelps worries.
"I wonder if their mom and dads know," she said.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper says the problem is that most parents do not know what's going on. They may check to see what Web sites their kids are surfing, but probably not what they are posting on their kids' own sites. But thousands of others are watching, and Cooper says it takes only one to exploit a child - - or worse.
"We know for a fact that child predators are cruising the Internet more than the playground looking for our children," he said. "We've seen instances where the predators go to the child's home and rape the child."
Xanga.com says it deletes potentially predatory postings whenever they find them, but Web sites find it difficult to prevent predators from going to their sites. Teens set up their Web pages with a profile describing their interests. In their journals, they talk about their day, who they have seen and where they have been. Many post pictures clearly identifying who they are. There also is an instant message feature allowing anyone to contact them.
"One of my friends I go to school with, they have 200 friends they don't even know," Matthew Phelps said.
Xanga.com's Web site states that teens on the site "have complete control over which items and areas of their portion of the Xanga Site are publicly viewable," by clicking on buttons that will make the material "public" and available to anyone on the site, or "private" and accessible only by the teen "or anyone to whom [they have] given their username and secret password."
The Web site also states that at a parent's request, Xanga.com will delete the account of a child under 13 years old and will provide the parents with a copy of any information their child has submitted. Teens Not the Only People Hanging out on Xanga Xanga.com sells itself as a Web community for teens - - a place to meet new friends and share thoughts in online journals. But teens are not the only people navigating the site.
After surfing Xanga.com earlier this month, Eyewitness News found users that posted blogs called "Pedophiles United," "Preteen Girl Lovers" and "Pedo-lovers Unite."
"One of the big problems we're having across the country is the older guy that gets online to meet a little girl to have sex with them or a little boy to have sex with them," said Kevin West, a N.C. State Bureau of Investigation agent. He says kids make it easy for predators to find them. When teens sign up on Xanga.com, they are asked to give their name, their location and their age.
Eyewitness News Goes to Xanga's Offices Eyewitness News tracked down the people who run Xanga.com in New York City. About 20 people monitor the site, which has 20 million users. Although Xanga.com claims it has a strict abuse policy, for some of the self-described pedophile bloggers have been using the site for months.
Those blogs have been removed since Eyewitness News brought them to Xanga.com's attention.
"We shut down a lot of these and a lot of it is growing pains in the company," said a Xanga.com representative. "We'll do more when we get more staff."
Even if Xanga.com does fix its growing pains, kids are using several other sites putting them at risk. Even Web sites with age restrictions can be dangerous because thousands of teens have learned to beat the system.
Agent West showed us how easy it was for sexual predators to contact a young girl. He made up a screen name and posted a fake profile, stating he was a young girl. West then went to an adult chat room and got a response within minutes.
After seeing our story, Attorney General Roy Cooper has written a letter to Xanga.com with concerns about some of the things making it onto their Web site. He also has requested a meeting with them.
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