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Jan 26, 2005
Click here to report online predators
State seeking cooperation of social networking sites

Attorney General Anne Milgram continued her attack on sexual predators who troll social networking Web sites for possible victims, announcing a program to make it easier for targets to report inappropriate activities.

The need for such a program became clear after the state found the sites routinely failed to investigate complaints that minors were being solicited online for sex and that pages on the sites contained pornographic and violent images, Milgram said.

"This is a real problem because we know there are dangers that lurk on the Internet and we know we need to allow users ... to have a way to make a report and that they are taken seriously," Milgram said. "We also found there were major difficulties in making those reports."

Two companies, including the New Jersey firm, have agreed to place a button on every page that users can click to report questionable activities. The companies have also agreed to follow guidelines created by the state on how to follow up on those complaints, including the notification of authorities when appropriate.

So far, however, most social networking sites have rejected requests to join the program, including MySpace, Facebook and Friendster, which have about 200 million members combined. The companies did not return calls.

Milgram hopes the sites reconsider, saying "It's critical that we work together to reach our goal."

By comparison, myYearbook and five multicultural social networking Web sites operated by Community Connect, the other company that has adopted the program, have 22.5 million members.

Social-networking sites, popular among young adults, teenagers and children, have been under pressure from authorities to do a better job patrolling their sites to watch out for child predators.

As part of that effort in New Jersey, the attorney general issued three subpoenas to Fox Interactive Media, the owner of MySpace, this year asking them to identify all convicted sex offenders who live in New Jersey and use the site.

MySpace came back with 268 names, which were sent to the State Police, state Parole Board and state Probation Services to determine whether the offenders broke any laws or conditions of their supervised release.

The Attorney General's Office is also in discussions with Friendster, Facebook and seven other social networks to follow the lead of MySpace and check their sites for registered sex offenders. MyYearbook has not determined how many sex offenders are using its site.

Attorney General spokesman David Wald acknowledged yesterday nearly all the registered sex offenders visited MySpace legally. Only two offenders -- one on parole, the other on probation -- were charged as a result of the investigation.

Milgram said the offender on probation was arrested after officers inspected his home computer and found child pornography.

The offender on parole was charged because he was prohibited from using the Internet as part of the conditions of his release, said state Parole Board spokesman Neal Buccino. Typically, only offenders whose underlying crimes involved a computer or the Internet can be barred from using them when they are on parole or probation.

Parole Board Chairman Peter Barnes Jr. has asked the board to consider banning all sex offenders from establishing profiles on any social networking site, Buccino said. Those who do could face up to 18 months in prison under the proposal.