"Social networking" Web sites and other Web sites where people share pictures, videos and stories about themselves and others are very popular these days. Almost everyone has seen or heard about FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. These sites and others are very popular with teenagers, especially those between the ages of 13 and 17. However, adults like to visit them, too. A big reason for their popularity is that they let users share pictures, videos, and stories with anyone who cares to watch, read, or listen.
Unfortunately, it's not uncommon to see some inappropriate or questionable content on these sites. For example, you may see photographs of nude or partially nude teenagers, fights and brawls on school buses and parks, snippets of adult, sexually-oriented videos. Of course, no one's saying that it's your child or anyone else you know who's posting this material on the Web sites. The fact, the material is there. It shows that keeping these social networking and other sites "clean" isn't always easy, even though most of them have rules on what may be posted.
Most of the social networking and other sites where teens and others "gather" and share items of interest have rules making it clear what types of material users shouldn't upload or post to the site. For example, pornography, pictures or videos of people committing crimes, and material that promotes or suggests discrimination or harassment towards certain people or groups.
Likewise, the Web sites generally deal with violations of their rules in same way. If the Web site operator discovers that you've posted materials that violate the site's rules, the Web site may:
- Remove the materials from the Web site
- Restrict your access to or use of the site, and perhaps even refuse to allow you to use it all
- Notify local or federal law enforcement agencies about your online activities
Some of the rules from the most popular sites include:
MySpace. This site has a large set of rules on posting materials to the site. You're not allowed to post "prohibited" materials, which the rules go to great lengths to describe. Among other things, prohibited materials include items that:
- Are plainly or "patently" offensive, or promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual
- Harasses someone else, or suggests or promotes the harassment of someone else
- Exploits people in a sexual or violent manner
- Contains nudity, excessive violence or offensive subject matter or contains a link to an adult Web site, and
- Furthers or promotes any criminal activity or gives instructions about illegal activities including making or buying illegal weapons and violating someone's privacy
MySpace clearly tells you that it has the right to investigate and take appropriate legal action against anyone who violates these rules. And it may remove the prohibited material from the site, cancel your membership to the site, or report the violation to law enforcement authorities.
YouTube has guidelines that warn you not to post several types of material, including:
- Pornography or sexually explicit content, even if it's a video of yourself
- Videos showing offensive activities like animal abuse, drug abuse, under-age drinking and smoking or bomb making
- Videos with graphic or gratuitous violence, including those showing someone being physically hurt, attacked or humiliated
The site has the right to remove any material that violates the guidelines, and it can completely bar you from uploading videos. The guidelines also warn that the site works closely with law enforcement and it reports videos showing child exploitation or pornography.
FaceBook has a policy, but it's not as detailed as the rules on other sites. When you use FaceBook, you must agree not to:
- Bully, intimidate, or harass any other FaceBook user
- Post material that's hateful, threatening, pornographic, or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence, and
- Post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law
The site has the right to remove any materials that violates these rules.
Twitter's rules bar you from:
- Publishing or posting specific threats of violence against other people
- Using the site for any unlawful purposes or for promotion of illegal activities
- Having obscene or pornographic images in either your profile picture or user background
Twitter may cancel your account immediately if it finds that you've violated the rules.
What to Do
If you find material on a site that's offensive or invades your rights, you should contact the Web site operators immediately. They'll investigate the matter and, if they find that it's offensive, they'll remove it. If the material involves a crime, like child pornography or threats of violence against you or someone you know, you should contact the Web site and law enforcement officials immediately.
There are a couple of things you can do if suspect that your child is using social networking or other sites inappropriately. First, just like anyone else with an internet connection, you may look at your child's page or account on MySpace, FaceBook, and Tweeter. Check periodically to see if he's posting questionable materials.
There are special tools available now that let you monitor your child's MySpace and FaceBook pages without having to log into the site. For example, one such tool sends you an e-mail alert any time your child uses certain words on his page, such as words that deal with drugs or weapons or words that are sexually explicit.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My ex-boyfriend has a picture of me in a bikini on his FaceBook page, and he refuses to take it down. Is there anyway I can force him to remove it?
- Someone created a personal page on a social networking site using my name and photograph, and I'm being accused of posting pornography on it. What can I do?
- I posted a picture of myself on my FaceBook page, and another user who I don't know copied it to his page and claims that I'm his girlfriend. Can he do that?