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anne_mikolay_120I've said it before. I'll say it again. Social networking sites, like Facebook, are playgrounds for criminals. Parental vigilance is definitely required.

This month, eighteen year old Nona Belomesoff of Australia, arranged to meet twenty year old Christopher James Dannevig, a man she had befriended on facebook. Through his facebook profile, Dannevig offered Belomesoff a position with his animal rescue organization. The facebook profile was fake. The animal rescue organization does not exist. Dannevig lured Belomesoff to a creek south of Sydney, and killed her.

According to Detective Russell Oxford, lead investigator on the case, the Belomesoff murder is a harsh reminder to young people about the dangers of trusting strangers on social networking sites.

"It's an area where predators and perverts and other people just get onto. You just don't know who you could be talking to," he said.

Is Facebook to blame for effectively putting the unsuspecting Belomesoff in contact with a wolf in sheep's clothing? Yes and no. While Facebook must accept responsibility for creating a new school of socialization, and putting a volatile communication tool in the hands of inexperienced adolescents, it is the user that must exercise protective self-awareness. There really isn't much Facebook can do to weed out impostors; they don't know if John Doe is really who he says he is when he creates a Facebook profile anymore than you do. Facebook and Myspace have pioneered social networking, but users must accept the responsibility for its proper use, and actively acknowledge that it can be a dangerous arena to play in.

This is a new day and age, and I must admit, I don't get it. Why is it that people are compelled to advertise themselves on the internet? Why is it that they so freely reveal intricate details of their lives, who they like/dislike/love/hate, where they are going, where they hang out, even what they ate for dinner? Facebook teaches kids that the world really does revolve around them. Reality check: it does not, and should not.

It is possible to meet decent people via the internet, but vigilance is key, especially if young people are involved. Adolescents and children should be cautioned against internet dangers, and taught that the “don't talk to strangers” rule always applies. The best deterrent to trouble is parental vigilance.

Never let your guard down, and never allow your kids to put themselves in a precarious position when they don't even know what that means.