In one of the more sordid accounts of online predation we've read recently, the Associated Press reported on Thursday that a Wisconsin teen used a fake Facebook profile to blackmail his classmates into giving sexual favors.
Eighteen-year-old high school student Anthony Stancl is accused of creating a Facebook profile belonging to a nonexistent teenage girl and then, between approximately the spring of 2007 and November of 2008, using it to convince more than 30 of his male classmates to send in nude photos or videos of themselves.
Stancl then told many of them that unless they engaged in some sort of sexual activity with him, he would put the photos or videos on the Internet. At least seven of them have said they were coerced into sex acts, which Stancl allegedly documented with a cell phone camera.
There were about 300 photos of underage males, some of which were as young as 15, on Stancl's computer, police in the teen's hometown of New Berlin, Wisc., told the AP. Stancl had originally come under police scrutiny in November, after he issued a bomb threat that temporarily closed New Berlin High School.
The emergence of the case comes at a time when social-networking safety is back in the spotlight. After a subpoena from the Connecticut attorney general, the News Corp.-owned networking site MySpace handed over the names of 90,000 registered sex offenders that had profiles on the site, and pressure mounted for Facebook to do something similar.
What's important to keep in mind, lest this incident set off more hysteria about the dangers of teens and Facebook profiles, is that this sort of activity could have happened over an instant-message client, another social network, or an online message board.
It's true, however, that the Internet can cloak a criminal in anonymity or a fabricated identity--in one particularly tragic case, a woman posed as a teenage boy on MySpace and allegedly harassed a 13-year-old girl to the point of suicide.
A recent report from the Internet Safety Technical Task Force concluded that threats to minors online are more complicated than the stereotype of a lone adult seeking out vulnerable teens: in the case of Anthony Stancl, for example, the sexual predator was one of the victims' own high-school classmates.