The families of five teenaged girls who were sexually assaulted by predators they met on MySpace, the popular Internet social network, have sued owner News Corp. for negligence and fraud, lawyers for the families said.
The families from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina filed suits in state Superior Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The girls, ages 14 and 15, were lured to meetings with older MySpace members and sexually assaulted, according to the lawyers.
One 15-year-old girl was drugged and assaulted in 2006 by an older MySpace user, the lawyers said. The user pleaded guilty to sexual assault and is serving a 10-year sentence, they said.
Last year, the parents of a 14-year-old girl in Austin, Texas, sued MySpace for $30 million after she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old man she met on the website.
"In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users," Jason Itkin, an attorney at Arnold & Itkin LLP, one of the firms representing the families, said in a statement.
Last April, MySpace hired Hemanshu Nigam, a former prosecutor in the Internet child exploitation unit for the U.S. Justice Department, as chief security officer. The site has also instituted new procedures to protect users.
The minimum age to register on MySpace is 14. Last year, the service made it impossible for members 18 or older to contact 14- to 15-year-old members unless they know the younger person's e-mail address beforehand. The company also is in the process of offering new parental notification software.
Nigam said MySpace takes proactive measures to protect its members and offers tools to users to encourage a safer online experience.
"Ultimately, Internet safety is a shared responsibility," Nigam said in a statement. "We encourage everyone to apply common sense offline safety lessons in their online experiences and engage in open family dialogue about smart web practices."
Critics of the service have said the measures were too little too late.
"Blaming the families of abuse victims who were solicited online, as some have done, is a cynical excuse that ignores the fact that social networking sites can lead to heinous abuse by Internet predators," said Adam Loewy, an attorney at Barry & Loewy LLP, which is also representing the families.
The firm represented the family of the 14-year-old Austin girl in their suit last year.
News Corp.'s Class A shares rose 38 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $22.94 on the New York Stock Exchange.
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