The ed tech blogosphere is buzzing about this so I feel compelled to add my $0.02.
Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R. of PA) has introduced legislation called the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). I saw the news first in an article at News.com entitled Congress targets social network sites. (You’ll find the actual bill online in PDF form here.)
I won’t summarize the entire article here since you can read the News.com site and the bill itself for the details. The purpose of the bill is to protect students by forcing schools and libraries that receive federal funding to block access to commercial social networking Websites or chatrooms where students may encounter online predators. Who wouldn’t support legislation like that? Obviously, supporters of the bill think that their suburban constituents would appreciate the extra protection at their childrens’ schools. (I am trying so hard not to be sarcastic here.)
I should say first that this legislation would have little or no immediate impact on instruction in my school district. We don’t have teachers using these sites with their students. And, frankly, it’s probably not a good idea for schools to use 3rd-party sites like MySpace et al. for official purposes anyway since all kinds of liability issues pop up immediately. My preference has always been to run the software on our own server so that we can provide proper supervision.
That said, Rep. Fitzpatrick clearly doesn’t get it. Let me count the ways.
- The law is simply unenforceable. Students will find open proxies for bypassing content filters faster than they can be blocked. (See Google search results for a quick list of anonymizing proxies.)
- The bill is way too broad. It defines “commerical social networking Website” as any site that “allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users; and offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, email, or instant messenger.” That definition covers too much ground.
- The very technologies that this bill would prohibit are the future of the online world. I suspect that Rep. Fitzpatrick is under the impression that having students use Microsoft PowerPoint to do presentations is an example of cutting-edge educational technology.
- The bill would allow a school or library to disable the filtering during adult supervision or for educational use. That’s an exemption that isn’t really an exemption. How would that process be managed in a busy school? It wouldn’t happen. The filters would never get disabled.
- If students are at risk from online predators, it’s not typically during school hours. I understand that Congress can’t legislate how parents supervise their childrens’ computer use, but this seems like a solution pointed in the wrong direction.
- The social networking phenomenon is too new to know how it’s going to play out in the culture. This law seems like half-cocked response targeted for short-term political gain. That’s a bad way to legislate regardless of the issue.
- Blocking sites like these only serves to convince students that what they do in school isn’t “real life.” Isn’t it hard enough already to keep students engaged?
It will be interesting to see how all this shakes out.