My (porn) space.com

Rupert Murdoch has been caught with his trousers down by investing in the hugely successful (and smutty) website
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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch, it is best we know, does not subscribe to Playboy. But he may want to call up its website, and check out the box declaring "The Girls of MySpace - The Search is On!" If he's interested, he'll see that the print version is planning a pictorial spread of said maidens later this spring.

Mr Murdoch is more likely to be deeply alarmed. MySpace.com, a social networking website popular with teens posting profiles of themselves, has belonged to his sprawling media empire, News Corporation, since last year. The last thing it needs is the flattery of Playboy.

On the face of it, the purchase of MySpace for a mere $580m in July was one of Mr Murdoch's craftier bets. In terms of numbers of users, it is a runaway success. By the lowest estimates, there are 55 million registered users of the site today, with 250,000 new people signing up every single day.

Recently, the media tycoon has been evangelising about the internet and the perils of ignoring it, something he was largely guilty of in the early days. He has been struggling to find his best strategy to harness internet dollars.

MySpace.com is meant to be his key to internet domination. Executives at News Corp's internet division, led by Ross Levinsohn, envisage turning MySpace into an all-purpose portal site, with search engine capacity to rival Yahoo! and Microsoft's MSN. Already it is attracting roughly 15 per cent of all display advertising on the internet.

But News Corp's lieutenants are scrambling to avert a dangerous backlash against MySpace, particularly from premium advertisers already there, because of something else that has become closely associated with it. It is called smut.

Across the United States, schools and parents are mobilising against the site, claiming that it encourages teenagers to post inappropriate and sexually suggestive details of themselves - often with pictures of the kind that caught Playboy's interest. And police departments are reporting multiplying cases of minors becoming victims of sexual predators who first identify them through the site.

"The website is in many respects a danger, even as it is a huge resource," Richard Blumenthal, the state attorney general, told a meeting of concerned parents in Greenwich, Connecticut. He has launched a campaign to lobby News Corp to exert greater control over the site, by barring users under the age of 16, for example.

Mr Levinsohn is working overtime to respond to the concerns before advertisers flee. In a first sign of skittishness, some companies are starting to demand the right to remove their advertisements almost immediately if they smell trouble. Normally, companies must give 14 days' notice.

As a first step, News Corp has posted warnings to visitors. "Don't post anything that would embarrass you later. Think twice before posting a photo or info you wouldn't want your parents or boss to see!" the site says. Users are urged to report hate speech and pornographic content. Monitors have already excised 200,000 profiles for breaking decency standards.

Also at the Greenwich meeting was Mark Brodacki, a police officer from the neighbouring town of Weston. The predators are already busy, he said. "They're waiting in the house for these kids at 2pm. Mom and dad are working until 5pm, and all of a sudden you've got a situation on your hands."

It is the sort of tale of modern society going to seed that would send publications such as the New York Post and The Times of London into fits of righteous indignation. Except, in this case, they might want to exercise some editorial restraint. For Mr Murdoch, of course, owns those too.

MEDIA MOGUL

WHAT HE PAID: £334m for a website that has more than 65 million users. At one point, 260,000 new users were signing up daily.

WHAT HE WANTS: To rapidly translate commercial success offline into dominance of the internet, which he belatedly hailed "a world without frontiers".

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID: "Murdoch's internet strategy is simple: buy, buy, buy." (Businessweek)

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