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Internet trend attracts local youth's attention

Sun Advocate reporter

Police Chief George Zamantakis reminds students at Helper Junior High about safe Internet browsing habits. The students recently graduated from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. Using newly developed curriculum, much of the course material studied in the program is generated by students who research and bring the information to class. Zamantakis said the city is experiencing success with the program.

One of the latest trends on the Internet has attracted significant local attention.

A new type of website, known as a social networking site, has emerged on the Internet and is gaining popularity among young people.

And as teenagers and other flock to the site, law enforcement officials and others view the site as an area of potential problems.

More than a decade ago, when the Internet became widely available, parents and advocates for young people spent considerable effort raising awareness about chat rooms.

More than five years ago, when the dot-com boom brought products and services to the web space, consumer protection advocates raised flags about using credit cards and other personally-identifying information in the Internet.

In recent years, of blogs, a type of online journal came to the forefront.

The people tho post to these sights, "bloggers" and their credibility as sources of news led the media industry to look closely at its policies relating to sources.

It has also led to court decisions relating to the first amendment rights of people who post information in blogs.

Out of the blogging revolution, various other services have emerged. The most recent of these social networking sites to gain popularity is

The site calls itself "an online community that lets you meet your friends' friends."

The site was launched in mid-2003, but has become more popular in recent months.

A similar site,, is targeted at college students.

"Facebook is an online directory that connects people through social networks at schools," reads the site's homepage.

Users of these types of sites can chat with each other and meet new people.

The visitors to the site can upload graphics, photos and sounds. Many use the site to stay in touch with family members, classmates, coworkers, friends and others.

Many other sites, offer similar services.

However, sites like Facebook and MySpace combine the ability to chat, post journal entries, and upload photos with programs targeted at bringing users with similarities together.

The site becomes more than an area to put your information. It becomes an area where other users are actively looking for each other and making contact.

A quick search on MySpace lists more than 500 people who live in or around the 84501 zipcode for Price.

Almost 100 live in or around Helper.

There are 25 users in East Carbon and nine in Sunnyside.

Many note that despite the beneficial uses of the social networking sites, there are certain risks.

Law enforcement in Carbon County have used the site to track individuals and information posted by uses on the site has been used as evidence against them.

Helper Police Chief George Zamantakis reported that his department uses the site regularly both to discover new individuals in the area and to investigate harassment and other claims.

The Helper police chief said individuals have used to site to post their reaction to charges against them.

Individuals often post remarks that are potentially libelous, indicated Zamantakis.

Using the site as evidence, law enforcement authorities can file charges against the alleged offenders.

Zamantakis noted another type of risk on the site - one that relates more to younger users.

In a seventh grade class at Halper Junior High last week, the police chief reminded students to be careful what they post on social networking sites.

Much of the information that users post is viewable by the public at large, pointed out Zamantakis.

MySpace warns users about this type of risk in its safety tips.

"Don't forget that your profile and MySpace forums are public spaces. Don't post anything you wouldn't want the world to know (e.g., your phone number, address, IM screens name, or specific whereabouts). Avoid posting anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find you, such as where you hang out every day after school," the site warns users.

In addition, the site recommends that users be cautious in who they add to their list of friends.

As with the chat rooms that became popular 10 years ago, users should be hesitant to meet people in person.

Since social networking sites contain information that is visible to the public, certain constraints exist regarding what can legally be posted.

Certain types of content, including hate speech, harassment and other types of offensive or inappropriate behavior are often a violation of the policies of the website. In addition, come comments or images may be illegal.

Inappropriate content can often be reported to site administrators and illegal material can be reported to authorities.

As of last week, MySpace purged more than 200,000 profiles from its site after being purchased by News Corp. some weeks earlier

However, many industry experts noted that that move may have been prompted largely by a need to show a more suitable presence in preparation for an advertising bid.

Zamantakis reminded students in Helper and Carbon County that they should be honest about their age and other information they post.

In many cases, lying about your age is a violation of site policies.

But a more serious threat is when young users post profiles stating they are much older than they are.

Another user could post a comment or send them a message that would be appropriate for an older individual, but is not appropriate for younger audiences.

Certain laws and regulations also apply to the youngest of Internet users.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 2001 makes it illegal for sites to collect personal information from users under 13 years old.

Many social networking sites specifically state that the site is not to be used by users under this age.

Still, Carbon County parents are urged to be an active influence in their children's browsing habits.

Older individuals are reminded to continue practices relating to information that could be used for financial fraud or personal identity theft.

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