Online social networking communities have come under fire recently as havens for perverts and troublemakers eager to prey on children and young adults.

However, one such website, targeted at the under-20s, has been proactive in protecting its users, keeping them safe by monitoring them.

LunarStorm.co.uk's CEO, Matt Colebourne, spoke to Pocket-lint about the online community to explain how it operates with a difference.

LunarStorm was started in Sweden over 10 years ago, and therefore has a relatively long history behind it that guides its current policies. The company operates the number one social networking site in Sweden, and is 400 times bigger than any other in the country.

The UK version launched in November last year, and has been growing steadily.

Because of the Swedish site's development from a not-for-profit community, "Security, safety, and privacy were key", says Colebourne, "Not just bolted on to keep parents placated".

"We've taken the view that we're dealing with children, and the adult approach that we're not responsible for anything doesn't hold water."

Children aren't left unmonitored on a playground or in a school, so why should they be online?

Although LunarStorm wants its target community users, who are on average aged 16 to 17, to feel that they can speak freely, it also wants users to have a good experience on the site.

"It's also a commercial decision, not necessarily a moral one. If our users have a bad experience, than we lose customers."

LunarStorm has been active in forming OnComm, which is a body that looks at a range of issues affecting the market and how best to regulate it.

"It's associated with preventing crime online", Colebourne explains, "with particular emphasis on children".

It brings together social network providers, law enforcement, government, academics, charities, and parents and teachers.

"We're first going to research and develop standards of what is the best way of guaranteeing safety online for children—not just standards but guidelines. How are we going to deal with issues like self-harm, body image, foster care, etc."

An important element of OnComm is collaboration between the social network sites. It allows predators and would-be criminals to be tracked and prosecuted more easily because the websites all report deviant or strange behaviour to law enforcement in order to build a stronger case against them.

"It's a responsible way to share data without breaching people's privacy."

LunarStorm operates a three-pronged approach on its site to monitor its users continuously.

At the first layer are the volunteers, whom Colebourne likens to trusted school prefects. "It was one of these volunteers that spotted that a 23-year-old and a 11-year-old were having a wholly inappropriate conversation, and we were able to resolve that."

Full-time staff form the second layer of offense who monitor security and privacy continually. They're backed up by smart, proprietary software that flags and reports potentially dangerous behaviour to staff.

The natural question that arises from hearing of all this monitoring is, at what point does LunarStorm draw the line between privacy and safety?

"It extends to whenever there is a risk of harm", says Colebourne emphatically. "If there's not a risk of harm, it's up to the users to decide."

"If two 15-year-olds are having a conversation about sex, it's going to happen in the schoolyards, it's going to happen wherever. We come down on the area of free speech."

"If, on the other hand, a person says, 'I'm going to cut my wrists', we would respond by contacting the minor and telling them we have a duty of care and we will notify the authorities if you're serious."

On LunarStorm user, attests to the success of the monitoring system. She says, "I'm glad the site is monitored because recently I was being picked on by some of the Lunars that use the site, and I reported to the security people. They're sorting it out at the moment".

The Swedish site has an army of 30 counselors on hand to help members who need it.

One user in Sweden was even saved by the site after posting messages that she was going to commit suicide. The authorities came to her house in time to stop her, and she received proper counseling afterwards.

For a site aimed at children and young adults, the kind of monitoring that LunarStorm carries out is obviously necessary and proper. Whether or not it can be implemented by a site like MySpace.com, which has members of all ages, is another matter.