We've been talking about the recent rash of bad moves by government officials where the rationale is always "to protect the children," and today we have yet another one. It's no secret that some schools have chosen to ban social networks like MySpace out of a misplaced fear concerning what the site is being used for. However, the new legislation introduced today would specifically require any schools and libraries that receive federal money to completely ban social networking and instant messaging offerings from their computers. It's an extension of the controversial law that required libraries to put web surfing filters in place. Except, this time, instead of just blocking supposed pornography, they need to block social networking sites and chat sites. Reading the description in the bill of social networking sites, it appears that many blogging sites could be included as well ("a commercially operated website that allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users.") That's pretty broad language, and would basically ban a number of perfectly legitimate and educational websites. Of course, this is all to "protect the children," because of a few fear mongering stories about bad people who have used these systems to prey on children. No one is denying that those people are out there and have used these systems. But, banning the sites in schools and libraries not only isn't the answer, it actually is likely to make the situation worse. In schools and libraries, at least, adults can monitor the students while helping to educate them about the dangers online, rather than pretending they don't exist. This law doesn't protect the children -- it takes away the responsibility of teaching them how to be safe online.
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