Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why DOPA scares the life out of me

For those of you who don't know what DOPA is, it's the Deleting Online Predators Act, and it's a very bad and very scary piece of law.

In short, DOPA would prohibit schools and libraries who receive federal funding from accessing "commercial social networking sites" and "chatrooms". This would supposedly stop online predators in some vague not quite defined manner.

"Commercial Social Networking sites" are defined as: "Sec.2(c)(J) a commercially operated Internet website [sic] that- (i) allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users; and (ii) offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, email, or instant messenger."

In other words this would ban libraries from using anything that lets you create a profile and talk to people. A short and incomplete list of things banned by this bill:

All blogs.
All photo sites like flickr
All message boards
All wikis (they all have talk pages and profiles)
All messaging software
Homework help sites such as Brarydog (they have profiles and ask-a-librarian features)

This is scary. This is legislation of the Internet by people with no understanding of the Internet. The worst part for me is that it doesn't even do what it sets out to do: namely protect kids from predators.

This has already passed the House overwhelmingly. Let's hope to heaven it falls in the Senate.

Rather than adding badly formulated, barely enforcable legislation, why not just stress what really should be done about children's use of the Internet to protect them from unsavory people online? Educate kids that not everyone you see online is your friend. Let them know not to put personal information out there. Talk to them about safe surfing and what to watch out for with new online friends. Above all, PARENT these kids and INFORM yourself. The computer in your child's room is not just a box of flashing lights and whirring parts, like a hi-tch TV. It's a window to the outside world. Parents need to understand how it works. If they don't they will either be over-scared of it and their kids just won't listen, or complacent, and their kids won't be protected. Parents need to understand the technology their kids are using. If your daughter has a Myspace account, you need to get one too, in order to see what she is putting up there and who she is talking to. If your son has a blog, you need to read it. Be as concerned about who they talk to online as you are about who they meet in the park. This is YOUR responsibility, not that of the school or the library.

Don't turn information into a banned commodity. Don't use legislation as a substitute for parenting.


Blogger spinelabel said...

Right on, Ian!

Now we see why the ALA was right to oppose CIPA, even though we looked like pornography-defenders in doing so. That earlier legislation was just the leading edge for DOPA and who knows what else to follow. Now that legislators have a precedent, they'll keep trying to expand control.

The losers in this deal will be persons who have to rely on public Internet access. I suppose legislators aren't counting on their support or on the outrage of the already connected that others will be deprived of full internet participation. Library users will be left with a read-only Internet.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

This is a classic case of legislation by people who don't and do not wish to understand.

This is law for the sake of law, legislation to be seen to be going something rather than to actually do something.

In fact, it's worse than that.

It's a "feel good" law that does nothing to help and quite a lot to hinder.

Libraries routinely offer courses in online safety. They encourage young people to use social networking software like blogs so they can be taught how to use them responsibly. PLCMC offers several courses on safe computer use, including a course on Myspace intended for parents, so they know a little more about what their kids are doing. If this law passes the senate, we wouldn't be able to teach this class, because we need to access Myspace during the class in order to do so.

I'm all in favour of responsible computer use, but responsible computer use for kids should come from responsible parenting from adults, rather than legislation. As it is, I can't think of a way of writing a filter that will do what this bill demands without blocking nearly everything or nowhere near enough. If Myspace is blocked, the kids will just find the next social networking site, one that lacks the high profile of Myspace, and is further out of the public eye. The online predators this bill is trying to prevent will just go to these sites instead.

1:30 PM  

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