DOPA Provides Too Little Guidance on Chat & Social Networking

July 30, 2006 at 4:12 pm

Following up on Janie’s “DOPA Update” post and many others’ on the Web since the speedy approval of DOPA in the House, I want to emphasize again that final approval of DOPA could significantly affect an incredible amount of sites on the Web that allow author and personal profiles and lists, and this includes Amazon.com and many, many blogs. This is because the current version of the bill is too broad and does not define off-limit sites or provide definitions of “chat” or “social networking,” virtually (no pun intended) impacting far too many non-risky, safe sites for children, at least as it is written now. To get you up-to-date on this, again, read the summary article mentioned in Janie’s July 28 post, “Chat rooms could face expulsion,” from CNET News that mentions that this bill will affect at least two-thirds of all libraries. I am all for protecting our youth, as you can read from my July 15 “Social Networking and Online Safety” post, and as everyone is reading now, DOPA does expand on the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires libraries to filter sexually explicit material. But, unfortunately, at this time, DOPA leaves much to be desired and provides not much in guidance to the FCC, as you can see from the previously mentioned CNET summary article:

Defining off-limits sites
DOPA does not define “chat rooms” or “social networking sites” and leaves that up to the Federal Communications Commission. It does offer the FCC some guidance on defining social networking sites (though not chat rooms):
“In determining the definition of a social networking Web site, the Commission shall take into consideration the extent to which a Web site–
(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
(ii) permits registered users to create an online profile that includes detailed personal information;
(iii) permits registered users to create an online journal and share such a journal with other users;
(iv) elicits highly personalized information from users; and
(v) enables communication among users.”

Again, I want to say that I am all for protecting our youth being a parent, university professor, and academic librarian myself. But as I have mentioned many times before, I will continually talk about the brighter, creative aspects and rewards of participating in and using social networking sites and many other types of Websites in all of my seminars and face-to-face and online workshops and courses. The current DOPA bill is not the answer, and it will not stop youth and college students from engaging in these attractive online environments. I still think that education is the key. I mentioned near the end of my previous blog article) on this topic several sites that offered practical help. Another I want to mention is the “The Virtual Mystery Tour: A Close Look at Teens, Sex, and the Internet” workshop and its blog. It does not sugar-coat the safety aspect or potential for danger for young Internet users. It does, however, help to assure concerned adults, especially parents, that if their kids have “common sense and they trust them in other ways, they’re probably going to be able to talk intelligently with parents about what they should and shouldn’t do online.”

Parents and other adults seem to be afraid of these social networking sites and tools because many know nothing about them. We as parents and educators need to understand that teenagers (and adults) feel much freer to express themselves online and our youth don’t necessarily understand the potential consequences of “over-sharing.” I think that we need to become more involved and aware of what our teens are doing online, asking them information and making sure that they don’t over-share personal info., letting them know that predators are visiting sites they communicate within, looking for victims.

DOPA is well-intentioned, but it seems flawed as it is now written, and I think that it will negatively affect too many Websites. Making sure that our youth understand the risks & how to avoid mistakes in communicating online, while letting them know that you also understand the positive benefits they reap from the social networking sites, will go a long, long way in building trust and understanding, and help ensure continued education.

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I Want you … to Drop DOPA! "The Internet is becoming a cesspool of plagiarism"


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