Bill to Ban Social Sites in Schools Moves to Senate

Barry Levine,

MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, Bebo and other social networking sites would be banned from schools and libraries in the U.S., if a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives becomes law.

Called the Deleting Online Predators Act or DOPA, the bill passed the House last week in a overwhelming vote of 416-15. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who introduced the legislation, has said that many social networking sites are "hunting grounds" for child predators. The bill now goes to the Senate within the next month, where it is expected to pass, and then to President Bush for his expected signature.

DOPA would instruct the FCC to ban commercial sites with personal profiles, personal journals and direct communication between users. Some estimates indicate that the number of sites fitting this description could easily be in the hundreds, possibly more.

Up to FCC

Critics, such as the American Library Association (ALA), have noted that DOPA lacks specific language indicating exactly which sites should be banned, leaving it up to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create the definition. Some users of social networking sites, such as a group at, have set up online petitition drives against the measure.

The bill affects institutions that obtain Net access through the reduced E-Rate plan sponsored by the federal government. This covers most public schools and, according to the ALA, about two-thirds of public libraries in the U.S.

If the bill becomes law, these institutions would have to set up filters to block social networking sites that are prone to "unlawful sexual advances." Children could be allowed to view these sites, but only under adult supervision. Many schools in the U.S. and other countries, such as the United Kingdom, already prohibit logging onto these sites from their computers.

"Onus on Parents"

Jennifer Simpson, an analyst with Yankee Group, said that if this bill becomes law, it could put a strain on schools and libraries, but probably will not greatly affect the sites. "A lot of the communication with social networking sites is already taking place at home," she said. "Access lost in one area will move to another."

She also pointed out that the growing use of wireless communications on mobile devices could soon neutralize the law's intent. "Access will become more pervasive," she said, "with students connected anytime, any place."

"The onus will always be on the parents and guardians, explaining to kids how the social network sites can be used in a safe manner," she said.

The FBI has reportedly estimated that 20% of all children in the U.S. using the Internet have been sexually approached online, and that there are as many as 50,000 sexual predators online looking for contacts with children.

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