The Internet is an excellent medium for communication and collaboration. Possibly too excellent for Pennsylvania congressman Michael Fitzpatrick. This week he introduced his Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA, with the emphasis on dope) in the House, a bill aimed at blocking access to MySpace and Facebook in schools and libraries. The objective of this bill is to protect children from stalkers and predators on these sites, but this is a rather foolish and dangerous approach.
For starters, most of these sites are probably already blocked in schools and it doesn’t stop kids from accessing these sites at home. The only people who will be affected are poorer folks who cannot afford internet access at home. Of course, these sites are probably more dangerous for them too. Social networking is a powerful tool that has legitimate uses and should not be treated like porn.
Also problematic is the law’s wording, which describes a social networking site as a web site that “allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users; and offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, email, or instant messenger.” By that standard, sites like Blogger and AIM could be blocked as well. That would make the internet about as static as a book – something libraries do not need anymore of.
What really concerns me right now is what this means for colleges and universities (since I am a college student). Reports suggest that the law is directed at schools and libraries that get Internet access through a federal E-rate program. The E-rate program is supposedly limited to K-12 schools, so it seems that the Facebook may be safe – for now.