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MySpace Madness: Do You Know What’s Three Links Away?

If you’re a teacher or a cop, you’d better. From Wired News:

Gulf Middle School resource officer John Nohejl didn’t have porn on his MySpace profile, and he didn’t link to porn. But one of the 170-odd people on his friends list, which seems mostly populated by students at his school, had a link to a legal adult site. Now the New Port Richey Police Department and the Florida attorney general’s elite cyber crimes unit are investigating him for making adult content available to underage children.

My first thought when I read this paragraph was that there was another Julie Amero case in the making. Here are the facts:

  1. Officer Nohejl set up a MySpace account and had nearly 200 people on his friends list, mostly students at his school. I’m assuming that his purpose in doing so was to make himself accessible to these students and offer a resource for cyberbullying and the like.
  2. Unbeknownst to Officer Nohejl, one of the people on his friends list had a link to an adult site. I’m guessing it might have been Adult Friend Finder, since they are the most egregious spam offenders, but it could have been a kid who registered as an adult and had added ‘friends’ who were really just porn links. Whatever the case, it was NOT on the officer’s friends list, wasn’t even on his radar.

    From the St. Petersburg Times:

    The offensive links were discovered after an anonymous caller phoned the Times to complain, saying her son and his friends accessed the “Amateur Match Free Sex” site via the officer’s page on Monday.

  3. Officer Nohejl is now under investigation by the Florida attorney general’s cyber crimes unit and the New Port Richey Police Department.

Now personally, I’m more concerned about the New Port Richey Police Department, because I’m guessing they referred it up to the AG’s office instead of looking carefully at the circumstances which might have given rise to the discovery of porn links on the officer’s friends’ page. If they have an investigation like Julie Amero’s, Officer Nohejl might find himself facing trumped-up charges of child endangerment or some other absurdity.

A couple of red flags went off immediately for me. The first was the “anonymous caller” to the Times. If you are a parent and you discovered a trail of links on MySpace that linked from the officer’s page to a friend’s page to a porn site, would you call the newspaper without first notifying the officer? Keep in mind, these were NOT direct links. It stinks to high heaven to me – smells like either a setup by a student or another hysterical parent, a la Nate Fisher, who, when confronted with their middle schooler’s exposure to the nasty content, looked for the first person they could to blame.

Here’s another red flag, courtesy of the Florida Attorney General’s office:

Cybersafety “is the attorney general’s highest priority,” said Sandy Copes, the attorney general’s spokeswoman. “I am sure the attorney general would be extremely concerned if a member of the trusted law enforcement community was either inadvertently or directly placing students at risk to being exposed to inappropriate content.”

What the bold text says to me is this: You’d better check every single link from your MySpace or Facebook pages and from your Friends’ MySpace page and you’d better do it on a daily basis. Maybe even hourly. Consider this: Someone has a grudge and intentionally adds a link to an adult site to their MySpace page, calls the paper, gets law enforcement involved, etc. But just an hour before, that person’s page was free of offending links. How often should someone like Officer Nohejl check outbound links on friends’ pages? Most importantly, how is he responsible for what someone else places on their page?

The school principal and police department had full and complete knowledge of the officer’s MySpace profile. They knew he was using it from his home because of district filters, and they knew why he had it. To expect him to monitor links from his friends’ pages to other pages is utterly absurd.

Here’s the final irony: When Wired News was checking out this story they discovered links from the official school web site to a gay porn site. How did that get there, you ask? The original, legitimate web site’s domain had expired, a domain scraper bought the name and placed adult content links on the site. Happens every day. But do take note: No one sent this one up to the AG’s office for investigation, downplaying it as a “troublesome, but not so sinister” occurrence.

I urge the police department and attorney general’s office in Florida to issue an explanation and drop all criminal investigation of this school resource officer who has had nothing but glowing reports and reviews.

For the rest of us — do you know what’s three links away from your site? Maybe you should.

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