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May 16, 2006

Congress vs. Facebook

Any American between the ages of 15 and 25 (or any parent or teacher thereof) has probably heard of Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace, the social networking services. Users create webpages with their pictures and self-descriptive information. Visitors can also leave notes and see links to the owners' friends' pages.

Such services are hugely popular; in fact my college students use Facebook instead of email. The general idea has lots of potential for other applications. For example, e-ssembly is a new social networking service explicitly designed to facilitate political discussion and organization.

However, via Mobilizing America's Youth, I learned about HR 5319, the "Deleting Online Predators Act" of 2006. This bill would require schools that accept federal discounts for Internet service to:

prohibit 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 indecent material; may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, unlawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults; or may easily access other material that is harmful to minors.

I can't imagine a way to block all "harmful" material on a social network. That means that the bill would force high schools to ban social networking software. Granted, the expansion of Facebook to high schools has provoked criticisms. Among other problems, there is some potential for stalkers to create accounts. However, young people have First Amendment rights and need to be able to use new modes of communication. For example, almost everyone agrees that teenagers should be allowed to use email and the web, even though both contain much harmful material. When it comes to social network software, schools can set their own rules and don't need to be babysat by the federal government. Surely there must be a better way to prevent stalking than by banning social software in all the high schools of America.

Posted by peterlevine at May 16, 2006 08:23 AM


There's a wiki collecting resources opposing DOPA. It can be found at

Posted by: Elizabeth Ditz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2006 05:02 PM

There's a wiki tracking opposition to DOPA,

Posted by: Elizabeth Ditz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2006 05:27 PM

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