- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2007

Teenagers and their parents came to the District yesterday in an effort to arouse national support for the battle against online predators.

“As teens, we think of the Internet as fun and entertaining but not dangerous,” said Christina Johnson, 17, of Rolling Hills, Calif., who attended the National Teen Summit on Internet Safety at the National Press Club in Northwest.

Online exploitation of teenagers has increased as social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace grow in popularity, according to a recent report issued by a federally funded nonprofit that studies the online habits and perceptions of teenagers.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said in a March report that nearly half of teenagers, 47 percent, who use social-networking sites and software aren’t worried about how others might use the personal information they post.

Facebook, the second most visited social-networking site, has more than 28 million members and anyone can become a member as long as they have an e-mail address. MySpace boasts more than 106 million accounts and is the third most popular Web site in the United States.

The report said 58 percent of teens do not see any danger in posting photos or other personal information to the sites.

Emma Meers, 18, of Enfield, Conn., said she uses most of her time on the Internet talking to friends through instant-messenger programs but checks her Facebook and MySpace pages also.

Yesterday’s event, hosted by Cox Communications, a cable company that provides service to 10 states, also featured John Walsh, host of the television program “America’s Most Wanted,” and Lauren Nelson, Miss America 2007.

Miss Nelson said she had a personal encounter with an online sexual predator when she was 13. She said many people think of the Internet as a place to get the news, spend money or search for information, but parents need to pay close attention to their children’s online activities.

“Parental involvement is one of the most important factors in Internet safety for today’s children,” Miss Nelson said as she referred to her parents’ habit of sitting down with her occasionally while she used the Internet.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children conducted its study for two years. The report concluded that more parents are protecting their children, supervising Internet use and discussing the potential perils of the Internet with their children.

Mr. Walsh said anyone can help a person who is being manipulated by a sexual predator. All it takes is an anonymous phone call to the police.

“All you’ve got to do is call somebody. That one call could save a life,” Mr. Walsh said.

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