When Colorado Judge Brian Boatright of high school student, 16, standing before him guilty of a weapons charge last month, the strongest evidence hadn’t come from a police search, a neighbor’s tip, or even a wiretap. It was supplied by the teen, who had posted pictures of himself surrounded by guns on his page of the social networking website MySpace.com, the Boston Globe reports. MySpace and its cousins, Xanga and Facebook, have, in little more than two years, attracted more than 100 million users, most of them young people creating their own pages to show off to friends. Law enforcement officials, have another use for them: evidence in crimes involving young people ranging from pornography to drugs to terrorist threats.
Last month, Kansas police thwarted a plot for a Columbine-style school shooting involving five boys, based on a MySpace posting citing the plan. It was at least the fourth Columbine-style plot this year revealed through MySpace or Xanga. The rapid increase in law enforcement use of MySpace, including security officers who routinely monitor the sites in high schools, has caught the attention of civil libertarians and Internet advocates, who worry that students whose behavior would otherwise pass unnoticed are being subjected to extra scrutiny. Civil libertarians say most young people don’t realize that posting something on a social-networking site is akin to shouting it in a public square: The intimacy of the medium creates a false sense of privacy when the Internet is even more open than most public communication. This month, a 27-year-old Connecticut man was arrested on charges that he had sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl he met through MySpace. Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly called on the site to raise the minimum age required to become a member from 14 to 18.