DOPA

US House: Schools must block MySpace, many other sites

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Image from Flickr user Hey PaulUS House Resolution 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), was passed by a 410 to 15 vote tonight. If the Resolution becomes law social networking sites and chat rooms must be blocked by schools and libraries or those institutions will lose their federal internet subsidies. According to the resolution’s top line summary it will “amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.”

Adults will be able to ask for the library’s permission to use such sites. The Resolution will now go to the US Senate for a vote before being offered to the President for signature into law.

The rhetoric from advocates was all about MySpace. For example, Texas Republican Ted Poe says, “social networking sites such as MySpace and chat rooms have allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids.”

An incredibly vague law, DOPA will require schools and libraries to block access to a potentially huge range of sites on the internet. The goal is to protect children from adult predators. Sites that must be blocked include those that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow “communication among users.”

410-15 was a shocking vote. I write about it here because it has the potential to impact a huge portion of our readership and the companies we profile on this site. Though the viability of enforcing such a law is open to question, web services offering collaboration in education are looking seriously endangered. Secondary collaborative consequences of commercial web sites used in schools aren’t looking good either. Or perhaps it’s just symbolic of the divide in the US between on one hand those of us who are excited about the incredible potential of web services to enable personal creativity and on-demand global communication and on the other hand those who believe that the internet is just a series of tubes.

I’m not the best person to analyze this though. Here’s who I recommend:

  • Declan McCullagh at ZDNet has posted a very thorough background article on DOPA.
  • Andy Carvin writes Learning Now, a blog about education and technology for PBS, and has set up a page called DOPAWatch to aggregate blog posts on the topic.
  • danah boyd is probably the web’s leading expert in analyzing the politics of MySpace and youth social networking.
  • Will Richardson’s Weblogg-Ed is a great source for all things Learning 2.0
  • Vicki A. Davis is a Christian school teacher in Georgia who uses blogs, wikis, podcasting and more in her classrooms. Vicki has written a number of powerful posts on DOPA and I would expect she’ll have something to say in the morning.

If youth are the most likely adopters of new social software then I think it would be in the interests of all who are interested in social software to watch the US government’s attempts to keep children from it.

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