Sex, Crimes, and MySpace

Update: Shawn Gold from SVP Marketing of MySpace has left a comment on the thread and has assured us that MySpace is working hard. He also points out that these are problems facing the social networks.

The presence of sexual predators on online social networks is getting attention on the mainstream media. Most of the spotlight is on (supposedly bigger than Google in sheer traffic). Dateline recently ran an investigative series on the topic of online sexual predators. CBS recently aired a piece as well, that talked about 14-year-old Judy Cajuste who met a man in his 20s through and was later murdered. This is not an isolated case.

Authorities are looking at multiple cases, and in a Newsweek interview Rupert Murdoch said, “We’ve also got a third of our work force monitoring the site to prevent inappropriate material from being posted.” Murdoch’s Newsweek statement suggests that MySpace is taking the situation pretty seriously.

Robert Young, who has in the past written guest columns about Rupert Murdoch and MySpace thinks that that these developments could cause major problems for MySpace and limit its money making potential.

Guest Column By Robert Young

Here’s a quiz: What is the absolute worst question that a web community service can face when dealing with advertisers, especially inter/national brand advertisers?

Answer: “How do you intend to deal with sexual predators?”

Put simply, if that question is on the table, you can pretty much kiss major ad buys goodbye; and even if you’re lucky enough to persuade a few of them with a well-thought-out containment plan, good luck securing high ad rates.

As of this past week, this is the unfortunate predicament that Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace finds itself in.

The recent press coverage (which was surprisingly massive) will, without doubt, be a much-discussed topic among brand managers as well as media planners & buyers all over corporate marketing departments and Madison Avenue. While it may seem that I’m going over the top with alarm, rest assured that I am not. This is a *huge* problem; as large as anything that a web community will ever deal with. Now, I’m not saying anything here that advertisers don’t already know, but I sure hope that someone on Murdoch internet crew advised and prepared him of this risk early on in the game.

The root of the problem lies in the fact that there is no definitive solution to the core problem of eliminating predators within a web community. Actually, there is one way – by verifying the real identities of every member. But doing so is not practical, as it would effectively destroy the community. As anyone who has battle-scars from running a large community can attest, nearly every effort that attempts to ensure higher safety & security will have a diametrically opposite effect on the growth and attractiveness of the service to existing members and potential members alike. At the end of day, people online will generally prefer the benefits of anonymity, even when weighed against extreme risks.

Does this mean MySpace will not be able to monetize their enormous inventory of pageviews? As I wrote in my last piece, where I compared MySpace to Google, the challenge is a tough one to begin with. How does MySpace over come this challenge, and still be the money machine for Murdoch’s web ambitions. So, in conclusion, does this mean that Murdoch made a mistake by buying MySpace, after all? Absolutely not. Even if he cannot *directly* monetize the community to the levels that he had hoped for, this group of 50 million people (the new new MTV generation) is the most valuable strategic asset he owns as he transitions his empire into the digital age.

Robert Young is a serial entrepreneur. He was an exec at Delphi Internet Services (which he sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.), and founder/ceo of Freemark Communications. His past columns for include Inherent truths and value of Community; Why Murdoch Bought MySpace and Murdoch, WiMax and the Two Way Web..