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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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May112006

New Federal Legislation Would Ban Online Social Networks in Schools & Libraries

Just when you thought the media circus around MySpace had peaked comes this whopper of a story: members of Congress have proposed new legislation that would require schools and libraries to block access to online social networks.

As reported by C|NET, the Deleting Online Predators Act (PDF), or DOPA, would update the federal law that currently requires all schools and libraries receiving federal E-Rate money (the government program that subsidizes the cost of Internet access) to filter inappropriate websites. The amendment to the law would be even more specific, restricting access to interactive online communities.

According to the proposed legislation, the bill

prohibits access by minors without parental authorization to a commercial social networking website or chat room through which minors may easily access or be presented with obscene or in- decent material; may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, unlawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults may easily access other material that is harmful to minors.

If you’re wondering what would qualify as an “online social network,” the bill defines it as “a commercially operated Internet website 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.” That definition is rather broad, of course, though apparently it would not apply to noncommercial websites. My guess is that commercial blogging tools and email list services could be subject to this legislation as well - though I do not know if it would block access to these services writ large or on a blog-by-blog/list-by-list basis.

The bill does have a loophole for allowing educational uses of online social networks. The legislation states that the filtering may be switched off “during use by an adult or by minors with adult supervision to enable access for educational purposes.” It remains to be seen whether schools will allow educators to deactivate the filter to allow such access, given the poor track record many schools have for letting educators make decisions over which sites get filtered and when.

I need to spend some more time dissecting the language of the bill, but my gut is making me rather nervous at the moment. Should legislating student access to online communities be a role handled by the federal government? Is this really a state-level issue - or a question of local community standards? Who should have the ultimate say over what students access online in school?

Thoughts? -andy

Filed under : Policy, Social Networking

Responses

Andy,

What’s the difference between this and the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). Doesn’t seem to be anything here that isn’t already covered.

— dave —

ps, Didn’t know about this blog. Shame on me!

That’s a good question - I’m going to have to sit down with both bills and dissect them carefully. If I remember correctly, COPA focuses on regulating websites that collect information from minors. This amendment would simply block all student access to online communities, blogs, e-lists, etc, unless an adult is physically present to supervise them. My concern is that schools will just lump all interactive sites together, filter all of them, and not give teachers the ability to determine for themselves what students should access and what they shouldn’t.

Again, this will take a careful read by a lot of us. Even the ACLU wasn’t even prepared to comment in great detail as of yesterday.

Once upon a time, my district allowed me a filter bypass. Those were the days: I could actually SEE the sites I needed, and if I needed students to look at them, I could request that they be unblocked for all. Now I have to look at home (though luckily Andy’s blog isn’t blocked—yet!)

As for this new law, I teach in a Cisco Networking Academy. Theoretically, because of resources that can be turned on for students, the Networking Academy site could fall under the provisions of this law. And I know (based on past behaviors of my district administrators, who give orders to the IT folks) that it will take some work on my part to get it un-blocked if they order sites like these to be blocked.

I vote for local standards. I’m not even against MySpace, provided (and this is key) it doesn’t interfere with instruction. In fact, the reason it’s blocked (along with sites like it) is abuse by students, not content.

My $.02.

-David

There have been a few broad covering bills that have tried to approach technology in the last few years. It really is worrying sometimes. I believe it should be up to states according to their school standards or perhaps be an advisory to the county’s of the state.

If there were to be a major federal take on web rights and protections, it should be done at a higher level than this and with more particular scope.

Where I work, we already block many of these sites as they cannot be trusted based on their content.

Still, maybe this could be a good start to something, but I fear our representation is not up on the subject enough to really understand what might be needed now and for the future.

Perhaps web servers should be given a few bits in a newer standard to identify their content or purpose and allow quick and easy filtering for whatever organization.

I see this from a point of view I haven’t seen brought up yet. That social networking is a form of entertainment. Why should it be allowed at school and library computers that are supposed to be used for help with homework or research? It’s not much different than expecting to be able to make phone calls from the library’s phone line in my opinion. You go to the library to learn or gather information, not call your buddies or family. I don’t see why access should be restricted at home as long as the parents are okay with it, at school and the library I think it’s just not what those internet connections were intended for.

Hi Kirsten,

I totally agree that kids shouldn’t be spending classroom hours IMing their friends or posting comments to each other’s MySpace blogs. But the bill would legislate restrictions to all forms of online communities. Almost any online community could be used for entertainment in theory - should we just close the door on all of them, or just the ones that are really disruptive?

The discussion we’re having right now would even fall victim to the way the law is written except for the fact that this is a noncommercial website. If I’d started this blog using a free, but commercial blogging tool like Blogger.com, I wouldn’t be surprised if it would qualify for blocking, as would the millions of other completely legitimate blogs, many of which are serving the public interest.

Many educators who use online interactive tools rely on commercial services to do this. These sites would be blocked, and history shows that educators won’t necesarily have the ability to unblock them, even if the law technically allows for it.

The big problem here is that they’re trying to ban an entire class of online tools - the very tools that are just beginning to make the Internet an exciting, educationally relevant place. We shouldn’t be blocking tools across the board - we should be restricting inappropriate uses of specific tools, and doing so at a local level, on a case-by-case basis. Imagine if we started restricting access to all CD-ROMs, DVDs, or VCRs because they could be used inappropriately. It’s the behavior that needs to be restricted and disciplined, not all forms of interactivity across the board.

Thanks for posting this. I find the MySpace/high school interaction fascinating. Yes, MySpace can be a distraction from learning, but so can chatting in class. It is up to (us) teachers to deal with those distractions, not legislators.
My question, how dangererous is MySpace. With about 70 million profiles, how many users really have bad things happen to them because of it?
I’ve been reading a lot of articles about it, and hard figures are difficult to come by.

The problem with this proposed bill is it tries to draw a line that in the real world won’t be so clear. It will be impossible to draw. Enforcement will be lax and a joke.

Perhaps a solution or suggestion could be vendor ethical practices that call for parental consent to enter such networks. This would rest on the backs of the vendors.

A couple of states attorney generals could force this issue to them — in advance of a congressional law of blacklisting.

I think blacklisting, as the law is being hatched, is a bad idea.

What if we move beyond MySpace, though. What about Elgg? There is a social network that shows great potential for use in education because it is designed for education. Yet it seems that it too would be banned under this bill. I was just recently pondering what research would look like based on a social network like Elgg. What if molecular biology were one of your friends along with the French Revolution so you got any updates they had to offer for new resources. Social networking is probably so popular because it is so natural…interaction it is what we, as humans, do.

Librarian Meredith Wolfwater, who blogs at Information Wants To Be Free, had a great post today about possible uses of social software in libraries: http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/index.php/2006/05/10/libraries-in-social-networking-software/

I would hate to see everything go away…we are already far enough behind!

Censorship, under any circumstances, is a fool’s errand. It rears its ugly head only when a person’s (or group of peoples’) narrow-minded view of the world is out of sync with reality.

There is nothing inherently wrong with ANY social networking software, so where is the sense in banning ANY of them? It’s nonsensical. The problem lies in the inappropriate use of it. Its inappropriate to use MySpace in class just like its inappropriate to pass notes in class. When caught doing so, the student should get their butt SERIOUSLY kicked (figuratively speaking, of course).

What’s the difference between fine art and porn? What’s the difference between a “good” social networking site and a “bad” one? Who gets to decide?

Here we are again, trying to treat the symptoms rather than the cause of our ailments.

I think this is a terrible idea, at least for libraries.

One, it will keep kids from using the library.

Two, it will take the usage of these sites from a relatively public place (school or library) to the kid’s bedroom… a decidedly less public space. I think the likelihood of a kid getting in trouble in the library is less than a kid alone in their bedroom.

Three, this does not need to be legislation. Parents and educators need to take responsibility for teaching kids what is and is not appropriate to do on the internet. You can’t keep a horny 40 year old man from ogling girls in the city park, and you can’t keep them from doing it online either. We teach kids how to deal with strangers in real life, but do we teach them how to deal with online strangers? I would argue that we don’t, for the most part. This should be part of “using the library and the internet 101” that should be taught to every kid, starting in 5th or 6th grade.

Four, blocking these sites basically guarantees that their usage will skyrocket. As any school technology person will tell you, the kids these days are NOT dumb. They will figure out every way you go about blocking any electronic resource they use, and they will circumvent it. Quickly. Technology people in schools and libraries will be relegated to constant filter watch, instead of seeking out new technologies to implement, they will be slaves to their internet filter.

This law is naive, and should be killed right now. Social technologies enhance our lives and give everyone the chance to have their voice heard. Why shouldn’t kids have that same opportunity?

That definition looks like it could force blocking of MSN, Yahoo, and possibly Google.
Yahoo users have a publicaly posted profile, there are online message boards, there is a IM client, and it is a comercial venture.

Just a side note…If I understand this correctly, this law, like CIPA, only effects those schools and districts that are receiving E-Rate funding. Most schools that receive E-Rate funding are in areas of high poverty/low socio-economic status. The schools are usually low performing in terms of NCLB status. They would be affected by this legislation. The “middle class”, “upper middle”, and above schools and districts would not be effected by this legislation due the fact that they do not get any E-rate federal funding. Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding… Do these rules only apply to E-Rate federal funding, or any federal funding, ie Title I, etc.?

Even if you could justify removing access from schools, e-rate strings like this hit public libraries too. Entertainment is a part of public libraries—fiction, movies, etc. We shouldn’t be eliminating websites just because they might be misused. These are legal sites, what right does the government have to tell people—even kids—they can’t use them?
Another headache I, as a teen librarian, don’t need. The main page of our teen website is an embeded livejournal. We have teen forums too, and are considering starting a MySpace. Using networking is how I keep the teens interested and connected to what’s going on at the library.

@ teresa
that’s how it should be- you’re evidence that these decisions should be made locally rather than with some ridiculously vague federal law. hopefully netroots and common sense will rally to keep this from actually going through..

Getting the government involved in this discussion will really muddy the waters. I agree, as a public school librarian, that we need to teach students safe online conduct. However, we cannot guarantee their safety through teaching or through the institution of laws.

It would be utopia if laws guaranteed safety, but they do not. This earth is not heaven and people will post unsafe and immoral things on websites just as they have written unsafe, immoral books (and probably stone tablets :)

The teaching of discernment needs to come from parents and caregivers, in my opinion. That is what we are talking about in this instance - discernment. Is this good for me or bad for me? Should I be viewing/reading/listening to this or should I walk away?

We cannot have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude here. Students here have found phony sites on MySpace that have been put up in their name, along with insulting and degrading comments. This has hurt these students terribly - a total misuse of online power.

But…we cannot block all such sites. The good this interaction can do trumps the misuse by some. Legislators at all levels need to slow down and think about all the aspects of blocking sites as a group. The Read/Write online universe can’t be blocked.

We have lots of blocking by our education authorities here in the UK. The problem is that Web2 is really a new paradigm of communication and it should be part of any schooling (I was going to say “taught” but it is more than that).
On the other hand, teachers have to safeguard children and to be SEEN to be doing so! It will not be easy to make the right judgements but all or nothing is not the right choice.
Libraries are intended for adults and clearly are covered by the same obligation to respect research and individual conscience as secular nations allow with books. Surely your US constitution, with its Enlightenment ethic, would protect you there?

If Congress tried passing a law saying all libraries must filter the Internet, that would be unconstitutional. Instead, they take a different approach - they tie federal funding to filtering. If a library doesn’t want to filter, then they just can’t apply for Internet subsidies. Because of this, many libraries don’t accept the funding so they can avoid filters. So the difference is that they’re not making libraries do this - it’s just a requirement if they want to accept government technology funding. US courts have said this is okay.

There is a related angle to this question that deserves attention. Filtering is here to stay, but wouldn’t it be nice if individual teachers could more easily provide the oversight that monolithic blocking policies try to make up for?

The technology exists for classroom teachers or librarians to keep a real-time sizable thumbnail of every active computer screen in their room on one or several monitors. The cost is very small ($6 - $12 per computer). Kids can lock viewers (teachers) out and/or temporarily enable other viewers (teacher access during class can simply be a requirement; deception is impossible—the thumbnail is either there or it isn’t). The viewer can have view-only, full-control, or file-transfer access. This is an indispensable part of my music technology program, and keeping kids on task, while easy, turns out to be an incidental benefit.

If teachers and administrators were able to better monitor their students’ computer use while in their class, all kinds of good things would happen: Constructive computer use would rise, frivolous use would plummet, bandwidth would be freed, encouraging more constructive use, teachers would be empowered, kids educational feedback would be more immediate and germane…and governmental “assistance” would be less relevant.

There are several aspects of this idea for legislation I find disconcerting.

First of all, as we have all found with the current filtering requirements, students still find ways around the filter to access sites. So censorship, digital citizenship, cyber-safety issues aside – students will still find ways to access this content in schools. Also with cell phones with operating systems and broadband cards the school network system is not the only way the internet enters schools.

Secondly, school filter systems are generally run by network administrators and technicians who often have no training in the scholarship of teaching. In addition, they often are responsible for interpreting the laws and legislation without legal training.
However, they become responsible – and accountable - for policing internet sites for appropriate content and use. I do not think this is fair to them, the schools nor the students. Blocking and filtering web content is an enormous responsibility. Not only are there worries about complaints on web content from school boards, parents and the community there is the additional responsibility of protecting the organizations eligibility for e-rate funding.

Even more troubling to me is the idea that this legislation draws a further divide between schools and the “real world.” I like to think of schools as a learning resource for an entire community. Filters and blocks already restrict how and when computers can be used by tax-paying community members. It seems to me that in a 24/7 global world we should be expanding access to schools beyond the traditional school hours. Schools are already struggling to make learning relevant to students, any further push to divide learning in school as irrelevant to life does not seem to be in the best interest of our children or our country.

I must say that I find MySpace and other similar socal networking sites of very marginal educational value; but this proposed legislation does seem to be swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. I realize that the proposal has a provision to “turn off” filtering, but my experience with local control at school libraries leads me to have absolutely NO faith in that provision, or in school district IT departments’ willingness or desire to facilitate it. I worked in schools and libraries for 35 years, and when we got internet access (and the filtering that soon followed), no one at the site level was allowed access to the filters. After two years of fighting, we were ‘rewarded’ with a process that was so cumbersome that it took a full week to unlock a site for a specific day and time period. My experiences are by no means unique. Many other librarians in schools report the same difficulty in unlocking filtered sites for legitimate academic use. Since this proposal would appear to add a substantial number of sites to those that must be blocked, the problems for teachers and librarians will only get worse.

I am afraid that this will again be a case of where the government imposes legislation which will not really address the issue or root cause of the technology. Working in a private school which recently put in a filtering system to stop the “bad” stuff on the Internet from being available. This stopped pbskids.org but let through a google image search for Mary that shows all of Mary Louise Parker. The listservs are full of proxy based ways around it. By the way, how will this be enforced? I am sure glad we do not get federal money as I assume this will be the stick used to get schools to comply.

I am for blocking. Children do too little individual researching, reading, introspection; too much socializing. So do adults. We are a society insanely focused on society. Love, L A Woman, Screen Actors Guild

So are you saying we should block this content to prevent students from doing more researching, reading and introspection, or are you saying that students aren’t doing anything worthwhile with the Internet in the classroom anyway, so what’s the point?

Mobilize.org is launching a new campaign in response to Congress’ attempt to censor the communication of our generation. We have created the action alert below and built a website, www.mobilize.org/SOS. We are hoping to get as much grassroots action as possible around this important issue, especially from the online community.

Breaking News:

Legislation introduced this week will ban social networking, even sites used for educational and professional opportunities. What’s next? HR5319 will censor the communication of our generation and tell us who we can talk to, when and how. Tell Congress that social networking is a movement that we built, a movement that we are going to fight for.

Visit www.mobilize.org/SOS, take action, tell your friends and get mad.

—-

The bill blocks the use of these sites in public libraries, which is for many, the only access that they have to a computer. Our hope is to be able to amend the bill to take these facts into consideration. We agree that there need to be safeguards put in place for “sexual predators” and any of other crimes that might occur because of the accessibility of information on these sites, but to ban them in schools (including using school computers afterschool) and public libraries, is for many - banning social networking.

I am genuinely concerned about protecting the children, not just by education but by supervision and guidance, and not letting them alone with this stuff. But… that responsibility is for parents, teachers, etc. (Many in that group are clueless. I agree with that, and it does put children at risk.) I have no objections to filtering if the people on-site have some control and awareness of the tools they are using. Some filtering of common Internet “pollution” is a matter of practicality. I am not for federally required filtering, or for any federal involvement in filtering.

I think many people have simply not thought it through. If the government requires or pays for filtering, how is that different from the government filtering? If the government supports filtering to protect minors from attack, how easily can that be extended to other areas of citizen control? Will the day come when you write an editorial critical of the government and then find that YOU are filtered?
I care. I really do. But please, no further federal involvement. Local decisions may not always be better, but they are less scary.

I am worried that this bill will go through giving our Tech staff more “power” to block sites they feel do not promote learning. Who are they to decide? They’re not certified teachers, yet they are the ones that have been determining what sites are educationally beneficial. This law will only give them more authority to block sites that are very good eduational tools for teachers and students.

I have another thought. How are they going to check all the sites in the web to see if they are appropriate for minors.

As far as I’m concerned there is a very thin margin for aguement against this legislation. Access to these commercial social networking sites by minors should be stopped. Statistics are of no importance here. It’s the “potential” here that matters. Can’t anyone see that!? The problem with so many things today is that there is so little insight and forethought put into anything. We as a society have to always wait until something bad happens to someone before we open our ignorant little eyes to reality. It’s already been shown that My Space is rife with sites promoting sex and drug use, it’s not something that minors need to be accessing, especially at school or a library. Several times a week I visit a local library in L.A. and there are always children near me, anywhere from 5 to 12 years old, looking up sexually provocayive pages on My Space. This is just plain wrong. And the arguemnt that access should be granted with parental consent, is way off base as well. Some parents do not have the where-with-all to know how to care about their own children. The government certainly can’t take on the responsibility for a child hooking up with a sexual predator just because the child’s parents are too ignorant to care what they do. Providing minors with access to potential dangers like this at public facilities needs to be ended, now.

I see this as well intended, but is an awfully slippery slope! Couldn’t almost all things Web 2.0 be eventually classified as a social network? We use Multiply.com, Flickr, de.licio.us, and Furl as a way to collaborate and pool information across my district and amongst my students.

THis is bull…..everybody should be able to get onto myspace.com. Teachers have been on there during school hours so why cant children? Ive found many ways to get onto by going by blockers and firewalls. Ive been giving them to my friends at school and theyve been doing the same. SO before anybody else trys to block it they are soo dumb. People forget that children are smarter then what they think. So i stand with the student that want to give on myspace. If you want to know how then i have a few websites to go to. Just email me and ask. My email is luckieight2006@yahoo.com

This is Bull?

Well, there is a new product out now by Stopspace.com that will prevent the workarounds you herald in your comment.
Just a double-click after installing stopspace.exe, and no more Myspace.com. Forget about the proxies and firewalls. No matter how you try to get in after installing stopspace you are DENIED access (that includes trying to go in via different URL addresses). I installed it on every machine in my classroom (no administrator rights are given to the students of course), and…no more Myspace.

I don’t consider keeping magazines such as Playboy and Hustler out of the reach of children at the library, 7-Eleven, and elsewhere overreacting, and the imagery in there is mild compared to what a child (looking for it or not) can stumble upon on Myspace.

Then there is the greater danger—Predators. It’s kinda like going on a field trip to Sea World… I trust the kids in my class not to feed the sharks, but I’m not going to let them swim with them. Thus blocking access to Myspace.

I am so glad I have found a group of people interested in this issue. I work for a group called Mobilizing America’s Youth (Mobilize.org) and this bill (HR 5319) is one of our top priorities. This bill was written by people who do not use social networks on a regular basis. They don’t understand what an important tool they are becoming for the youth of America to connect to one another. We are working to organize yung people from across the country to write to congress and the media informing them of our opinions on social networks. We DON’T support online predators, and recognize the good intent at the heart of the bill bu feel this is the wrong way to go about it.

This bill is also unfair to economically disadvantaged youth. For many students, their only access to computers and the internet is at schools or libraries. Their families simply cannot afford home access. Denying them the ability to use social networks in the only places they can is denying them tools the more advantaged members of their generation are using to great benefit.

As a college Senior, I have been using MySpace and Facebook to meet new people with similar interests around my school, connect with old friends and keep track of other students in my classes for studying. These sites are a wonderful way for me to connect to other people, and restricting our ability to use them is unfair.

As of right now, the bill has 30 cosigners, a number that grows daily. It is not fading away, and in fact is picking up steam. If this is an issue that matters to you, please tell your representatives about it. It is in the Telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

If you are interested in more information on what Mobilize.org is doing with HR 5319, please visit us at www.mobilize.org/SOS

I am so glad to see others engaging in a dialog about this!

I am in fact a highschool student and the restrictions they put up in the highschools are ridiculous. Granted, some of them, such as, yes, porn sites I get, but game sites, blogging/social networking, and many other sites like it is unfair. Yes, students shouldn’t be blogging and playing games during class. But, what about lunch or after school if teachers let them. Banning such sites from libraries is even worse. Not only do teens have sites like MySpace, but tons of other adults have sites like them too. You think that teenagers are irresponsible? Look at some of the adult’s pages. Some of them are just as bad as the irresponsible teenagers’. The reasons for banning the sites from schools are somewhat appropriate like abuse of the site (using it too much) or fine, protection. In my opinion, the protection shouldn’t be up to the staff of the school, but the minor and their parent(s). By highschool, the teenager should be responsible enough or have enough common sense to know when or when not to go onto sites and what or what not to put on said sites. I think that the parents have failed the children.

Also, there are regulations and restrictions on myspace, when people think it lacks them. For one, adding people: you can change settings so that people can add you only if they know your name and email address turning your space private. Two, abuse: If someone under the age of 14 or 15 is using the site, you can report it and it will be deleted. The same goes with inappropriate images posted on your myspace. Three, fakes: Reports on fake myspace sites by people claiming to be someone else. Yeah, I can say that it happens. Unfortunately. People find out and can report this. The settings are there to protect privacy. Period. Nothing more needs to be done. Parents need to know their kid well enough to realize either that they are responsible enough to use a site like that or know that they’re not. Simple as that. I am responsible. I don’t use the site inapropriately. I can be trusted. My parents know that.

You may think that blocking said sites from minors is the right action, but first look at your kid or your friends. All of the friends on my MySpace, I know them personally. I’ve met them at school or through friends before adding them, and I never add anyone that I don’t know. Some people just search through friends lists looking for new friends adding each one they see gaining lists upto or more than hundreds. These aren’t even some of the kids that use the site inappropriately. Some people (not generalizing minors) just want to gain more friends. It’s somewhat of a penpal theme. I, personally, have found friends from elementary school that I havent talked to in years.

Ok, I realize that I’ve sort of over done this and it seems a little scattered, but this topic affects me and I feel extremely strong about it. I could go on and on about this subject forever, so I will make only one more point before my responsible butt has to go to bed. Censorship is wrong. If you take away such sites as MySpace, you might as well take away everything else like it. Including the internet. People got into trouble before it and it can happen during it. Underage people will have sex, will drink, will do drugs, as well as adults. Always. You can’t do anything about it. You can’t stop it. It WILL happen. I’ve seen it. Take away myspace, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, xanga, and every other site like it. And while you’re at it, take away free will and the freedom of speech too. That should satisfy whatever people are trying to turn this country into a dictatorship.

Thank you and goodnight. :)

Mmm yeah.

P.S. Most teenagers covet their privacy, so what makes you think they’d announce themselves to the world as being a ‘slut’?

AND the idiots that post pictures of them getting high or (underage) drunk deserve to get caught. Who would incriminate themselves? Duh? These are the people you’re generalizing. Making the ones that dont abuse it pay for the few that do. Unfair, unkind, and unjust. :(

Ok. Now I’m done…

As a librarian I feel that DOPA is just plain wrong. Blocking sites like blogs and myspace in public libraries is censorship and discriminatory because it means that those who can’t afford a home interent connection wouldn’t access to the same sites that those who can also. Also these stes aren’t just used by people for personal matetr slike talkingt o friends blogs are used by people like aviation enthusiasts to exchange information for perfectly legimate reasons. If a parent is worried about while there kids are looking at that ought to chaperone them while they are using the net because that isn’t the job of librarians. This act also sets a slippery slope when it comes to using the net in a librray becuase if they can ban blogs, what’s to prevent them from banning sites the washingtonpost just because someone doesn’t like it.

Only schools and libraries that receive federal funding for internet programs are subject to the proposed restriction on internet access. In my opinion, nobody (with the exception of sexual predators) should have any qualms with this. The following is just a bit of my reasoning.

Think of the bill as a type of contract. One person makes an offer and the other is free to accept or reject.

Like any offeror, the government made an offer that suits its own best interest. In this case, that interest is the protection of children from sexual predators, which I’m sure we can all agree is a legitimate purpose of the bill.

The offeree in turn, if he believes that his best interest is also fulfilled by accepting, will accept. In this case, schools will receive not only money, but a means to protect their students from sexual predators. In other words, the bill creates a mutual benefit to both parties. If this is not amenable to the demands of a particuar school, they are free to reject the offer. So, again, what is the complaint?

Moreover, school students SHOULD be prohibited from using the internet at school or public libraries for non-educational purposes for two reasons: 1) Quite frankly, I don’t pay my taxes so children can “socialize” over the internet; and 2) students should be LEARNING at schools and libraries, not fooling around on the internet.

Perhaps an example may prove illustrative. Suppose your child asks you for some money “to buy textbooks.” You break open your wallet/purse and you say to your child that the money is to be spend solely on textbooks and not video games, movies, drugs, etc.

Now, many of the complaints here amount to a criticism of that adult for offering his/her money on the condition that it be spent on textbooks. Is that a reasonable criticism? In my opinion, it is not. If you ask someone for money, and if you give them a reason, that reason becomes a limitation. States have asked the federal government for money so that it can be spent on upgrading internet systems for educational purposes. The “education purposes” is the precise limitation at issue here, which websites such as myspace and friendster do not fall within.

What we have here is another case of Americans making a big deal out of a federal law that really isn’t a big deal. There are no victims here, unless you want to consider sexual predators who are unable to fulfill their most pervese desires “victims.”

In my opinion, most people here are forgetting that we’re dealing with children. There’s some discussion regarding the “rights” of children and the “unfairness” to them. Don’t forget, however, that our society discriminates against children all the time, and legally so. For example, children aren’t permitted to obtain drivers licenses until a certain age, children aren’t permitted to purchase cigarettes or alcohol until they reach a certain age, children can not enter into binding contracts until they reach a certain age, etc. etc. The REASON why this form of discrimination is permitted is because of the legitimate purpose of protecting them. Since when did protecting our children from sexual predators become such an impermissible objective?

Don’t just object to federal law for the sake of objecting to it.

Thanks for your continued engagement with this Andy. DOPA is a terrible bill.

OneJD, I don’t think anyone is objecting to this bill for the sake of objecting. Many of the people commenting on this list are librarians and educators who actually work with these technologies with children and speak from their well informed vantage point.

Everyone commenting on this list is in favor of protecting students from online predators. It’s just that this bill is not the way to do it. A lot of child predators meet kids by talking to them in person. Maybe even in schools. All too often we read a story about some twisted school employee who preyed on a student. Are we banning face to face dialog between students and school staff now? No. Because it’s useful to be able to engage in discussion.

Interactive websites allow for useful discussion too. Like face to face communication, online communication can cross the line into the innappropriate. And students need to be educated to engage in appropriate use of these tools.

Schools already have the ability and obligation to guide student use of the web. We don’t need this ill crafted bill which has the potential to further disadvantage students who are already disadvantaged.

I know that parents are concerned that their kids might be at risk, but the people pushing this bill are taking advantage of that legitimate concern in their efforts to pass this ill conceived, counterproductive legislation.

I’d like to second Jonny’s remarks. No one is saying that kids should be allowed to use the Internet for non-educational purposes in schools. I certainly don’t pay my taxes so kids can play games or chat with each other, either. In fact, I’d argue we’re all saying that kids absolutely should be using the Net for educational purposes - and that this legislation will make that goal harder than ever.

The problem with the bill is that it bands entire classes of technology, equating interactivity with non-educational use of the Net. That’s just absurd. The most exciting uses of the Internet in schools today require interactivity, whether it’s blogging, podcasting, collaborative online projects, etc. This bill would negate most of those learning opportunities. Meanwhile, the bill takes away control from educators in determining what sites are educational and which ones aren’t, leaving the decision to technocrats and filtering companies. All in all it’s just bad education policy, even if its intentions are well-meaning. -andy

Mr. Goldstein,

I certainly understand that some of those commenting here are educators and librarians, and may very well have informed vantage points as well, but who is to say that those legislators supporting the bill are not just as educated? As someone with legal training and an understanding of the legislative process, the proposed legislation is not some ill conceived brash exercise of federal government power. Rather, the foundation of the bill must be quite persuasive, indicating that it is supported with facts and plenty of logic. Unfortunately, those facts are not available to us and so we are left to speculate not only the scope of the problem, but the breadth of the solution.

Further, the bill may not be the best way to accomplish its goal, and if any school objects to its limitations on internet access, they are still free to not apply for the program. I can not stress this point enough, if the conditions of the bill are not amenable to a particular school/library, then that particular school/library does not need to partake in the program. In other words, the bill only impacts those that choose to be impacted by it. If someone offers you some money to perform an obviously dangerous act, and you accept it and get hurt, absent some form of duress or coercion, you’ve nobody to blame but yourself.

Regarding the over-inclusive nature of the bill, the specific language bans the following types of websites from being accessed by schools/libraries receiving federal funding:
1) Commercial social networking website; or
2) Chat room through which minors:
aa) may easily access or be presented with obscene or indecent material;
bb) may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, lawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults; or
cc) may easily access other material that is harmful to minors.

Section 2(cc) is the “catch-all” provision, as one could esaily envison a large variety of websites falling under such a category. The bill itself, however, is a prophylactic rule. The idea is simply that if an “easy” chance exists that a minor may be subject to harmful materials from a particular website, then that website should be restricted. In my opinion, nothing is wrong with that, as there are plenty of educational websites that will not be excluded by such a provision. Stated differently, the children’s learning opportunities are not injured when they still have access to a plethora of education websites.

I am curious, however, that none have articulated a superior solution to the problem of child predators. If this bill is so flawed, I have yet to see anyone proffer a tenable solution to the problem. Others seem to suggest that the bill should not be passed at all, but isn’t a flawed solution that harms nobody better than no solution at all?

Police services are provided to serve and protect the public. Naturally, some police are crooked, and they themselves violate our laws. But isn’t it better to have some legitimate police than none at all?

Simply put, some protection is better than none. At least in my opinion it is.

Mr. Carvin,

There appears to be a misunderstanding regarding the scope of the bill. Interactive websites, as a class, are not entirely banned. Only those interactive websites that offer commercial social networking services or chat rooms are banned. While there are certainly many commercial social networking services and chat rooms, they hardly make up the majority of educational websites, the exclusion of which would therefore not be to the detriment of children.

A simple example of a website that would not be restricted by the bill is a professor/teacher operated message board for students (the type where students can post questions and other students and/or the teacher can respond with their answers). I believe such a website and activity would fall into the category of “blogging, podcasting, collaborative online projects, etc.” Well, that type of website constitutes neither a “commercial social networking website” nor a “chat room,” and therefore would not be banned.

As far as usurping control from educators, I must disagree. No, educators have COMPLETE control. They can either receive federal funding and accept the restrictions, or reject federal funding and its restrictions and obtain funding elsewhere. Again, these restrictions are a requirement ONLY when a school/library accepts federal funds. It’s as simple as saying that if you don’t like it, then you don’t have to take it. The “ball” is very much in the court of the educators.

On a completely different note, I just wanted to thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. Believe it or not, it has become a topic of interesting discussion amongst myself and my colleagues.

As I’ve previously said, most Web 2.0 services used by educators are indeed commercial services, and most educators do not have direct control over what sites get blocked and which ones do not. So every educator that uses blogger, flickr, google groups, etc, all of which are regularly used by educators, they will lose access and have to fight an uphill battle to regain access. This has already been proven time and time again, as many schools overblock these sites already and teachers struggle to gain access. Legislating it will seal the deal.

Meanwhile, I’ve seen emails from legislative aides who admitted privately that their members of congress didn’t read the bill, and just assumed it was a basic tactic to make kids safe, having no understanding it would impact education negatively until the bill was already passed. It will be interesting to see if senators will be better informed.

Lastly, your suggestion that educators have complete control is simply false. Federal e-rate subsidies are not accepted by teachers. They are usually requested and implement by district or state-level administrators. Educators have little to no involvement in this process it is wrong to suggest that somehow a teacher can stand up and say, I won’t accept federal assistance. And even if they did, all the low-income classrooms would find themselves unable to afford internet access while rich school districts would have no problem paying for it. So the legislation unfairly impacts schools with little resources to begin with.

-andy

If you are interested in the freedom of information and want to be able to see sites that you need to see from restricted locations try this link:

http://www.lameproxy.com

It should work well for viewing the content you need and sharing it with students.

Well I attend a university and its almost embarrassing that i cant come to school and access a site as harmless as myspace. We are not kids here and I believe that some sites should be blocked. But there is a limit that for certain has been passed. Some students only have access to a computer while at school. So then you go and block the only access they have?…which im sure is a part of that big “TUITION” thing we are all familiar with. We are adults. We should be treated as.

OK THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MYSPACE QUIT GOING CRAZY.MY GOD.KIDS ARE GONNA GET AROUND THE SCHOOL SYSTEMS DUMB BLOCKS ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.SO YEA.OK THINK WHAT YALL WANT.GOODBYE

I personaly think it is great that kids are not able to get on social networking sites like myspace. They should be doing school work anyway isn’t that what they are there for.

I am having an issue with blogs being blocked at a school district I work with. I am an instructional trainer from a university that has a partnership with a certain school district in the city. We are part of a very large tech grant to provide tech training to teachers. I have been conducting workshops on blogging, podcasting and vodcasting in the classroom. Some teachers have gotten excited about the educational value of these technologies, especially blogging since it is easier to set up then other new technolgoes and you can build on your expertise-uploading photo and video when you are more comfortable with the technology. Last week after helping a few teachers launch their educational blogs we found out the sites were blocked. A lot of the students in this district do not have personal computers at home so it is hard to get them online after school. This week more than one school has reported blocks so that is why I see it as a Region/Distict wide issue.

This is not the first time I have encountered this! After a podcasting training I did at another school district the teachers were visibly upset that they would never get access to the sites I just showed then (we had to get speical permission to unblock the sites for the training). I wanted everyone to rally their district and write a petition to the Superintendent about censorship and the importance of these sites for research etc…most of these teachers attending were library media specialists. Not sure if I should have done this but basically I told them to think of it as banning books to get them all riled up.

Not sure where I am going with this rant…I guess I need some advice on what steps to take next. I have another training this week and I am afraid they will not be able to use anything I teach. Any ideas? Should I take a petition with me? Start a listserve? Start a Teachers Against Censorship Network? What can we do on the ground to make change?

Ok. I’ve read all the comments about the Bill. And personally, i am gonna stand firmly with the people who believe that myspace and other websites shouldnt be blocked. Ok, i can see what the other people are trying to say when they bring up the fact that “kids” (young adults) shouldnt be using the internet during school hours for blogging. But people need to have an open mind. my godfather did a survey for his college and he came to find that ACTUALLY it was harder for predators to attack young adults. FIRST OF ALL, its not like myspace has no security i mean COME ON! if someone is sexually assaulting you than you can report it to Tom and he will delete their profile. You can ALSO block people if they are doing that. So, how many people have been kidnapped from myspace usage? even before myspace naive teens were getting kidnapped WORSE. Its easier to protect yourself on myspace because you can make things private. This wouldnt be an issue if the people arguing even knew about myspace. I dont understand how these people can sit here and criticize if they never even viewed it. To me, its ignorant. I mean on my myspace, i dont put up personal information about myself and its not like you have to tell the truth about your identity. It can totally be ficticious. Anyways, the point that my godfather made was that in actuality, parents DO know what there kids are up to because the survey was designed for parents and children to take and they found that parents do have a clue and children do in most cases let them know about what they’re doing. Being a highschooler myself, me and my moms answers were extremely close. i just hope that people who are against myspace are reading this because you dont have a clue about what your talking about. I want someone whos against myspace to come up with actual facts about why they should block it, not just by justifying it because of schools. How many people have been raped or kidnapped? yeah it may be vulgar but what isnt now-a-days? People need to stop over exaggerating.

I just finished a technology literacy class for teachers k-12. Social networking is an incredible way for students to collaborate. Working together, talking together online. Adults forget that students live in a paperless, online, video game world. Education has to change. So what if paper and pencil worked for you, does that mean it is still the best way to do things? NO!

Schools and Libraries have a responsibility to teach students how to use these social networking sites appropriately. Banning them doesn’t stop them from being on it.

If you really want to protect children from online porn and the like, why aren’t you beating down the doors of congress to pass a law about it. They failed to act on the .xxx alternative web. Why? Money. If they really wanted to make a difference they could, instead they keep talking about these half-*ssed measrues that hurt those of us who legitimately want to use these sites for professional development, collaboration, and learning.

Lets talk about the popular social networking site, called My Space.. What a joke! Do you know, that I know someone very well, who’s life has been RUINED due to my space? How does my space get away, with allowing people to create fake profiles of a person, to gossip, and so forth? It all actuality that is Defamation, and I feel something NEEDS to be done about it! If employers go on my space to check out employess, then thats just DUMB, bcause the sight is nothing but BS. What is someone posts a fake profile about another person, and the employer, or another person goes to look at that profile, and BELIEVES, it is the employee (when it is not) and it ays some really crazy things, LIES rather? Is that fair to that employee, is that fair to the real person who is applying for a position, UM NO- and yes it has ruined her life! If people/ adults rather are going to believe BS that is not true about another person on a social networking site, then they need to get their head examined, and stay the heck off of there. This woman that has been made a fool of is now trying to fight to get her reputtation back, and it has not been easy for her, and this is all due to MY SPACE, so if you want to be lied about, and mde a fool of sign up on my space, I am sure thre is some jealous, sad, person just waiting to ruin your life. !!!!! and if there are so many predators, why the heck has the sight not been banned YET? Why is the FCC allowing it ? …………………………………..

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