|News Corp. Sets
Campaign Follows Criticism
Of MySpace Internet Site;
Spots Will Target Teens
By JULIA ANGWIN
April 10, 2006; Page B3
In response to criticism of its social-networking Web site MySpace.com -- which has been used by stalkers to contact teens -- News Corp. is launching a multimillion dollar public-service ad campaign across its many media properties, including MySpace.com, the Fox broadcast television channel and Fox-owned cable channels such as FX, National Geographic and Fuel TV.
Created by the nonprofit Ad Council, the print and television spots promote online safety in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The campaign promotes the children's center's cybertipline.com1, which offers online safety tips for children and teens and cautions teenage girls against men they meet online. Its tagline is "Don't believe the type."
The spots, originally launched in June 2005, represent the largest public-service campaign sponsored by a company that the children's center or News Corp. has ever run. "We have never had this kind of corporate commitment from a single player in this industry," said Ernie Allen, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The ads don't mention News Corp. or MySpace but speak to a persistent problem on MySpace and other social-networking sites: Teenage girls as young as 14 post profiles of themselves on the site often using revealing photos and identifying details such as their school names or even their phone numbers. Stalkers have sometimes used those details to develop an online relationship and then find the girl offline.
"Quite frankly, some girls think it's OK to develop a relationship with older men online," says Peggy Conlon, president of the Ad Council. "These girls need to understand that they are being played."
The ad campaign is one of many steps News Corp. is taking to counteract the negative press about MySpace.com. In recent months, several reports have emerged of teen girls being sexually molested by predators who met them through MySpace. Parents and schools also have complained of the pornography and offensive content on some users' Web pages. In the wake of those reports, News Corp. vowed to stake out an industry-leading position in educating children, teens and parents about online safety.
News Corp. also is in the midst of negotiations with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has been publicly pushing MySpace to make its site safer for teens. Mr. Blumenthal has urged the company to institute a number of safety measures, including providing parents with free software letting them block access to MySpace from home computers, raising the minimum age for MySpace users to 16 from 14, preventing users under 18 from viewing adult material and banning users who repeatedly post porn and other explicit material.
"This site now exposes young people to a perilous cyber environment with people posting sexually explicit materials and looking for sexual relationships," Mr. Blumenthal wrote in a letter to MySpace last month. In an interview, Mr. Blumenthal said, "the ads seem to be a step in the right direction" but that he still was waiting for MySpace to formally respond to his letter.
MySpace already has taken some preliminary steps to make the site safer. The company is beefing up the technology it uses to scan photos and videos for nudity. It has removed more than 250,000 profiles posted by children under the age of 14. It also has removed a section of the site that lets users browse for swingers seeking casual sex.
The concerns about MySpace have caused some trepidation among the Web sites' advertisers. Recently, for instance, Verizon Communications Inc. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. pulled their ads from the site after a reporter pointed out instances of their ads running near pictures of scantily clad women on pages created by MySpace users.
MySpace Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe said "advertisers are for the most part very happy with what we're doing."