March 30, 2006 8:26 pm

MySpace acts to calm teen safety fears

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MySpace.com, the fast-growing community website hugely popular with American teens, has removed 200,000 “objectionable” profiles from its site as it steps up efforts to calm fears about the safety of the network for young users.

The site, which allows users to create their own profiles with details of their interests that can be viewed and linked to by other MySpace.com “friends”, was acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp last year and its phenomenal growth has placed it at the centre of the media company’s internet strategy.

Ross Levinsohn, head of News Corp’s internet division, said some of the material taken down contained “hate speech”. Some of it, he said, was “too risqué”.

“It’s a problem that’s endemic to the internet – not just MySpace,” Mr Levinsohn said. “The site, in the last two months, I think has become safer.”

With 66m users, and 250,000 new users signing up every day, MySpace has become one of the top internet destinations.

Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corp, told the Financial Times that, although he and Mr Murdoch were very optimistic about its prospects when they acquired it last year, MySpace had exceeded their expectations.

“MySpace is more potent and powerful than even we knew,” Mr Chernin says. “And it is becoming a more integrated part of people’s lives.” However, as efforts grow to attract more advertisers to the site, News Corp is facing two challenges. Young users have to keep wanting to use the site, rather than switch to a “cooler” alternative.

Also, advertisers have to feel confident their reputation will not be tainted by “inappropriate” content. Teachers and parents are concerned that, because information on MySpace is publicly available, it might put teenagers in contact with predatory adults. In terms of retaining its appeal, Mr Chernin said users had to keep feeling the site was theirs. “We don’t want to change the fundamental look and feel of the site,” he said. “We do not want users to have any sense that it is corporatised.”

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