Teenage girls should be aware of the dangers of posting personal information on social networking sites. Or so posits "Think Before You Post," the newest phase of an ongoing public service initiative from the Department of Justice, the Ad Council, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Launched last Friday, the campaign includes menacing television ads depicting a teenage girl harassed by strange men who know intimate details of her daily life and ID the Creep, an online game that lets players search mock emails, instant messages, and chat rooms and pick out the potential perv. (The moral? Anyone could be a villain.)

Where the first two rounds of PSAs focused on educating parents and teens about the dangers of online sexual exploitation and forming "blind" relationships, this round fixates on social networking sites. "Popular social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Sconex," says the DOJ, "Make it easier for teens to post and share personal information, pictures and videos, which may make them more vulnerable to online predators." The ads use scare tactics to make the case that your friends might not be the only ones reading your profile.

A 2006 study from Cox Communications found that 61 percent of 13- to 17-year olds have profiles posted on sites such as MySpace, Friendster, or Xanga—not to mention the proliferation of social networking start-ups like TagWorld and Tagged, aimed squarely at the teenage market. Girls, says the NCMEC, are particularly at risk. Earlier this year researchers from the University of New Hampshire found that of the roughly one in seven youth who received a sexual solicitation online, 70 percent were girls.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spoke about the new PSAs in Chicago Wednesday, bypassing the fervor in Washington over the politically-motivated dismissal of eight federal prosecutors. Gonzales' visit, purportedly planned awhile back, was part of a multi-city tour on behalf of "Project Safe Childhood," a DOJ initiative to protect children from online predators. As his supporters within the Republican party dwindle, this junket could be one of his last acts as head of the agency.

What do you think? Should it be a company's responsibility to ensure that the people who use its service do so responsibly and ethically? Or should government officials focus their efforts on teenage subscribers who use the sites? And do you think this campaign will affect the popularity of proliferation of social networking sites, or not at all?

Published on: Mar 28, 2007