DOPA Would Ban MySpace, IMs, Blogs at Schools and Libraries

Posted on May 11, 2006

CNET reports that some Republican lawmakers including Mike Fitzpatrick and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, are proposing a new law that would ban minors' access to commercial websites that "let users create public 'Web pages or profiles'." Fitzpatrick's bill is called the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) (PDF). The broad and strict law would block minors from accessing social networks like MySpace and Facebook; IM tools like AIM and blogging tools like Blogger and MSN Spaces.

Apparently, MySpace plans to create a security czar have not been enough to diminish the concerns of some lawmakers. Teens are arguably the most active users of social networking and blogging services but not all teens are abusers of IMs and social networks. Is it right to punish the good kids for what the bad kids have done? If a teenager uses a piece of paper to draw an offensive picture of the teacher should all kids then be denied the use of paper at school? The bill does specify commerical services but the commercial services offer the best communication tools. TechDirt explains why banning school and library access is wrong.

A lot of teachers have incorporated blogging into their courses. This new law would prevent that. For example, high school kids in Indiana are using blogs to study the world according to an IndyStar report.

Another problem with the law is that Dennis Hastert's explanation of DOPA cited by News.com mentions filters. Filters are notorious for blocking much more than is intended.

Are they planning to ID public library computer users to see if they are 18 or over? Will there be different computers for minors and adults or will there just be one filter placed on all the machines? If it doesn't work correctly will adults be denied access to blogs as well? Who will be awarded the lucrative filtering software contract? Even if the filter worked perfectly a law like DOPA could greatly diminish traffic to blogs that were part of free blogging services like Blogger and MSN Spaces. It could also diminish traffic to blogs not using these services as inbound links provided from teen bloggers plummeted.