Blog Post #2: DOPA
I recently came across an American Libraries article regarding the Deleting Online Predators Act. The article indicated that the bill passed the House with a vote of 410-15!! Only fifteen Representatives did not vote for the bill. While reading through the responses from the Representatives and text of the bill on govtrack.us I found out that the bill did not get a full House committee mark-up, and I realized the emotional weight of the issue. Perhaps if the bill had been titled something to the effect of blocking social networking websites from computers in educational and library settings, the vote would have been different.
One of the main arguments in favor of DOPA is the statistic that one in five children have encountered an unwanted sexual approach on the internet. This statistic has been widely distributed throughout the mainstream media in network news programs dealing with online predators. The number comes from a Department of Justice survey of approximately 1500 kids between the ages of 10-17 who noted that they received unsolicited sexual exploitation in the past year. This figure includes talk between teens about sex (see Youth Internet Safety Survey). Another figure that has been floating around discussion of this topic is that 3% of children between 5 and 17 have been solicited. Regardless of which number is correct, it is an alarming figure that should be addressed. The other main argument is the dramatic increase in child pornography, which is also alarming and should be addressed.
Reading the response from the Represantives has been very interesting. I had honestly never tried to look up what the Congress had to say about why they were voting. The GovTrack.us site allows you to see what they have to say, which I think is great, especially in light of the coming elections. Here is one response I found regarding DOPA from a House Representative of Texas : “I believe that it is hard to keep sexual predators away from our children, but with this bill, it will be easy to keep our children away from sexual predators.” Interestingly, the site contains a profile for each member of congress that pops up with their name, picture, political party, birthday, and religion. Does this format look familiar? Like social networking software, the congressional representive can choose what they would like to include in their profile. I noticed some that do not include religion or birthdate.
Who doesn't want to protect children from pornographers? Who wants to be seen as someone who would not vote for a bill that is seen as being a way to single handledly squash the horrible mess of teenagers meeting up with older, creepy people they found on MySpace? In many ways the surface of the bill looks like a legislative no brainer, but the implications are deep and complicated. What will happen to the students in classes that communicate through blogs? I know of a high school international studies class that has a blog that acts in the fashion of a model UN with other schools. Think of how current enriching a project like this is to a student's education. What about libraries using instant messaging to provide reference or MySpace to communicate with readers? There are thousands of examples where social networking software is providing valuable, innovative and fun services to library patrons. The bill does state that these applications may be used under adult supervision for educational purposes, but who and how will that line be enforced?
I agree with the letter that the ALA wrote to the House regarding the measure. Libraries and schools can be a place where education for using social networking websites can occur. DOPA, like CIPA, will be another stipulation in receiving e-rate funding, and will further wedge a divide between libraries with differing budgets. As a side note, I also feel that children may feel more comfortable engaging in risky behavior on the internet at home when they know someone will not be around, rather than in a public place where anyone may walk by at any time.
I encourage everyone to read up on DOPA and write to your senators. If DOPA passes the senate some of the most popular, vital and up-and-coming internet resources may be blocked from our libraries.