US House passes bill to restrict social software
July 31st, 2006

The United States House of Representatives passed the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, this week. The measure, which passed by a lopsided 410-15 vote, requires public schools (presumably K-12) and publicly-funded libraries to block minors from accessing commercial social software sites. The bill is putatively targeted at predators using popular networking sites, like MySpace.

Critics have argued that the broad language of DOPA can be used to block a much wider variety of social software services, such as blogging, Web fora, and wikis. Additionally, other services using social software features could be blocked, such as Amazon.com’s various user profiles, recommendations, and shared content. The American Library Association (ALA) joined critics, and regretted its passage through the House. Educators have seen possible hits to students’ abilities to learn online, if DOPA is implemented broadly.

Additionally, as with any internet content law aimed at minors, there are problems in blocking content for teens using the same mechanisms applying to grade schoolers.

Moreover, in terms of the open Web, this represents another level of blocking access. Since DOPA (what a splendid acronym!) is aimed at public funding, will the result of implementation be a shift to private sources for access to the social web? Would this deepen the digital divide?

DOPA is now on its way to the Senate.


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