A while back I posted about the ill-conceived Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), a congressional bill designed to protect children from online predators by making it illegal to use public computers — such as those found in public libraries and public schools — to access sites that involve some kind of social networking functionality. Sounds good, but it was technologically naive and pedagogically damaging. Fortunately, the bill got stuck in red tape and has quietly died away.
The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act would block minors from using public computers to view social-networking sites. But the act’s definition of social networking is awfully vague: Any site that “permits registered users to create an online profile that includes detailed personal information” or “enables communication among users” appears to be a candidate for blocking. By those standards, Web sites like Wikipedia and even Amazon would seem to be in danger.
A person who thinks that protecting children means isolating them from interactions with the outside world, simply does not understand the nature of children, the nature of the internet, or really the nature of interaction itself. This is a lot like saying I am going to protect my daughters from potential bad guys by locking them up in the house until they come of age, and not allow them any communication with the outside world. It’s downright creepy to think that this is in any sense “protecting” children.
And given that just about every piece of software that is in significant use by kids today — including GMail, Wikipedia, and Google Earth, which have enormous educational potential — fall under this bill’s rubric, the bill also shows a profound lack of understanding of both technology and education. It uses the term “21st Century” in the title, but it is firmly rooted in the 17th century in terms of its conception of education and “protection”.
Finally, the idea that the best way to protect kids from online predators is to deny them access to the sites they normally use, shows a unique failure to understand the mind of a kid. The best way to ensure that a kid accesses something he shouldn’t is to deny it to him, for Pete’s sake.
[Hat tip: Wired Campus Blog]