Netco MySpace under fire due to predatory users

MySpace is supposed to be a huge profit center for new parent News Corp., but right now it’s a huge headache.

Web site is in the line of fire after several alleged sexual predators reportedly found their victims via the site.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he was referring the site for criminal investigation after complaints that it provided information that led to alleged sexual assaults.

News follows incidents in New York, Louisiana and Florida in which suspects reportedly used material found on the site to contact teenage victims. Over the weekend stories appeared in papers and on TV all around the country about risks the site purportedly poses.

MySpace caters mainly to teens and twentysomethings, who post hobbies, pet peeves and personal info on their own Web pages.

Investigation could force MySpace to up its level of policing, and the controversy could reverberate back to News Corp. Ever since the conglom paid $580 million for the site last summer, chairman Rupert Murdoch has aggressively touted MySpace’s strength in both social networking and youth appeal — the exact issues that concern activists.

Over the weekend news stories were already making the News Corp. connection, with some calling it “Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace.”

In an interview in the current issue of Newsweek, Murdoch acknowledges the issue, saying, “We’re being very proactive. We plan to reach out further to school principals, church groups and community organizations to educate them on the safety measures we’ve developed.”

He said “a third of our workforce” is policing the site for “inappropriate” material.

If MySpace became a cause celebre along the lines of violent vidgames and explicit music lyrics, the battle between activists and those with a financial interest in the site could be a tense one. With 52 million registered visitors, MySpace has become hugely popular mainly for the reason its name suggests — it’s a place teenagers go not to be bothered by adults.

Murdoch is also expected to make the site a linchpin of its strategy to move beyond traditional media into areas like Web marketing and user-driven content.

On Friday, News Corp. offered another step in that direction when it announced a deal between MySpace and Universal Music. Pact, which follows UMG’s deals with Yahoo! and Time Warner, will make available thousands of musicvideos on-demand via the youth portal.

And conglom can expect a week of scrutiny from another group: investors. Wednesday will see News Corp. announce first-quarter earnings, with investors expected to focus on company’s VOD strategy on the heels of recently announced plans for FX, as well as a new business-oriented cable net, which Newsweek says could be on the air by the end of the year.

On the studio side, company will get a boost from “Walk the Line,” which has earned more than $110 million at the box office since its release in November and recently scored Oscar nominations for its two leading actors, as well as costume design.

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