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MySpace, Meet My Lawyers

Here's a sad story you hear too often: an underage girl is contacted online by an older teen, they get together, and he allegedly rapes her. In this particular instance, it was a 14-year-old Texas girl with a MySpace site and a cellphone. Now, the Austin American-Statesman reported today, the girl and her mother are suing MySpace and its corporate parent, News Corp., for $30 million. According to the story, the lawsuit accuses MySpace of essentially creating a platform for sexual predators with no effective protection for minors.

I'll skip the usual screed about personal responsibility being the handmaiden of liberty, given how many others are holding forth on that topic. Instead, I'll simply observe that these stories breed legislation as well as lawsuits. And as lawyers like to say, bad facts make bad law. Attacks like the one described above happen not just because parents don't know what their kids are doing online, but also because 14-year-olds can easily pass themselves off as 16, and 19-year-olds can pretend to be 17 or 18. The challenge for everyone trying to build communities around content online is figuring out whether and how to preserve this freedom, and then finding a way to explain their choices to Congress.


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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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