How can so many people be so wrong all at the same time? That is the question I am left asking myself following the 410 to 15 vote in favor of the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 (also known as HR5319 or DOPA.) The answer is, of course, that they are politicians so cannot be expected to think rationally, nor at all, when it comes to matters of the Internet.
Well done to the 15 that managed to find their grey matter, and a big yah boo sucks to the remainder.
The very idea that you can delete online predators kind of sums up the entire inability to understand how the Internet works at the most basic of levels.
Yes there is an obligation upon both schools and parents to ensure our kids have a safe learning environment, but knee jerk reactionism is not the answer. Pedophiles and predators exist outside of the Internet, indeed many exist outside of the school itself so perhaps we should ban the sidewalk, the park, the cell phone, the coffee shop or anywhere that such people are to be found. Heck, why not go the whole hog and lock our kids up until they are 18, ensuring they can communicate with only those responsible adults approved by the government? See how daft this argument becomes once you start exploring it?
There is a sensible point to be made, addressing the fact that students should not be using school networks to access services such as MySpace in school time to chat to friends. But that is an issue for the school, not the government. That is an issue for parents, not the government. Every teacher and every parent should be aware of their responsibility to those children in their care, but responsibility is not the same thing as 100% online supervision and control. Kids will always be kids, and will always rebel and visit places they should not, nobody can stop that: not even the government.
If they are denied access to social networking sites at school they will get it elsewhere anyway, so how does DOPA make them any safer? Simply barring access to a site or sites, and in the case of DOPA the legislation fails to define social networking narrowly enough to prevent inclusion of everything from MySpace to Amazon, and quite possibly DaniWeb as well. Because DOPA leaves that definition of what a social networking site is to the Federal Communications Commission, and because it further advises them to consider any site allowing users to create and modify a profile, chat to other users and post personal information, it covers pretty much any interactive service, the entire bedrock of the modern Internet in fact.
And what about the very real threat that something such as DOPA which labels social networks as ‘a bad thing’ will drive an even broader wedge between child and parent, leaving the latter less likely to know what their kids are doing, where they are doing it and with whom. Is this really creating a safer online environment? Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick, who introduced the Bill, claims that "social networking sites have become, in a sense, a happy hunting ground for child predators." But it’s not even as if DOPA is actually needed because existing legislation such as the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) already requires libraries to block ‘harmful to minors’ net content for example.
My hat goes off to Marianne Richmond who produced both the funniest and most salient quote regarding the whole DOPA debacle, and it comes from the pen of Mark Twain: ''Suppose You Were An Idiot, and suppose you were a member of congress. But I repeat myself." Thankfully DOPA is not law yet, before then is has to get approval by the Senate. Which is where you can still make a difference by expressing your opposition to such a stupid, harmful and ill thought out piece of legislation by signing the Save Your Space petition. May I urge you so to do...