A new piece of legislation, the Deleting Online Predators Act (or DOPA), is working its way through Congress right now. This bill would require schools and libraries receiving federal money for internet access to create additional filters to prevent minors from reaching any commercial website that allows for the creation of a public web page or profile and offers a discussion board, chat room, or e-mail service. This would include all free email providers (Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail), a broad range of social websites (Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, Livejournal, Blogger.com, WordPress, Friendfeed), and gaming sites (Yahoo! Games, World of Warcraft, XBox360 live). By the most expansive reading, this act could be extended to cover such sites as the New York Times and CNet (discussion areas under their news stories), Amazon.com (discussion boards), any site using Disqus for comment registration, and Sesame Street. (Yes, Sesame Street.) It will be an expansion of CIPA, adding another layer of filtering to the cat-and-mouse game that librarians already play with minors wanting to access unfiltered content.
The first thought that came to my mind was, “What is the lesson that this will teach our children?” To me, it is that the mere potential for danger is enough proof positive to legislate a complete restriction. It does the upcoming generations no service to neglect teaching them how to avoid online predators in all their forms, from pedophiles to phishers to Nigerian princes looking for your help to move their money out of the country. It is akin to preventing children from ever riding in an automobile due to the potential risk of accident, then expecting them to know how drive responsibly once they reach the legal age. The act is extraordinarily short sighted, advocating the so-called ‘security gains’ over the complete stunting of the beneficial social and educational aspects that can come from exploration and debate.
At its most basic level, it is inserting the government in place of the parent making decisions on behalf of the child. Legislation has never been a good replacement for education. As it makes its way through committees, I’ll be keeping watchful for it (and I encourage you to do the same).
Edit: So, this is a piece of dead legislation that someone tweeted as being current. And while I saw that the bill was dated 2006, my brain thought, “Wow, they’ve been trying to push this through for awhile” instead of “Wait, how old is this post?” So, I made a mistake. Mea culpa! But for the sake of fun, let’s imagine this is the post I would have made four years ago. =P Yes, it’s a hot tub time machine…. post.