A major social networking website has barred 90,000 sex offenders from using its services in a crackdown on the online grooming of children.
The round-up of internet perverts on MySpace came to nearly double the number the website predicted when it began to compare its users' names with a list of registered sex offenders.
But the expulsion of the 90,000 has led to fears that the paedophiles will move to Facebook, MySpace's main rival.
Yesterday Adam Hildreth, of internet safety firm Crisp
, said: 'This is just a drop in the ocean. It is the ones that haven't been caught yet, the ones that are using fake names and details that we have to worry about.
'Online grooming is an increasing problem and one that people need to be aware of.'
The scale of the MySpace purge was 'compelling proof that social networking sites remain rife with sexual predators', said Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut in the United States who obtained the 90,000 figure.
MySpace said it was confident in the technology it uses to find and remove registered offenders.
Mr Blumenthal obtained the figure yesterday through a subpoena.
Facebook has yet to respond to a similar subpoena, he said.
But a preliminary check against a list of sex offenders showed more than 8,000 on Facebook, according to John Cardillo, boss of security firm Sentinel which created the database of offenders in conjunction with MySpace.
'We found 8,487 registered sex offenders on Facebook in just a few days by doing a basic search that any user can access,' said.
The 150million-strong Facebook community 'could still be a haven for such people', with perhaps as many as 100,000 sex offenders using it, he told the Sun.
Facebook, which insists that it debars registered sex offenders as a matter of policy, immediately rejected Mr Cardillo's findings.
It had disabled 4,679 accounts 'as a precaution' but said the remainder of those flagged up by Sentinel consisted of name-only matches, where the database provides no other identifying details.
'The other half of the list is where they just have names, which can be common names,' a Facebook spokesman said.
The company would be investigating further to see whether the accounts it had disabled actually belonged to sex offenders.
The spokesman added: 'We are glad to be able to report that we have not yet had to handle a case of a registered sex offender meeting a minor through Facebook.
"We are working hard to make sure it never happens.'
The mass expulsion from MySpace comes a month after paedophile teacher Mark Little was jailed at Chester Crown Court for five and a half years for abusing a 14-year-old girl he had groomed partly via MySpace.
The clean-up comes as a result of an undertaking last year by the website - owned by news magnate Rupert Murdoch and used by 130million people worldwide - to make its site safer for young people.
Other measures include introducing better ways to verify users' ages and limiting the ability of adults to search details of members who are under 18.
Facebook made the same pledges.
Roy Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general who campaigned with Mr Blumenthal for the clean-up by the social networking sites, said today he was not surprised by the high number of sex offenders expelled from MySpace - and demanded more action to protect children.
'These sites were created for young people to communicate with each other. Predators are going to troll in these areas where they know children are going to be,' Mr Cooper said. 'That's why these social networking sites have the responsibility to make their sites safe for children.'
But Mr Cooper warned that paedophiles could exploit fast-changing internet technology to evade safeguards.
'Technology moves forward quickly, and it's important for these companies to stay ahead of the technology,' he said. 'And they're not moving fast enough for us.'
[Original article can be found here.]