Legislation That Could Force Internet Filtering

Social networking websites like MySpace, LiveJournal, and Facebook are under attack, and this time by the U.S. Congress. Proposed legislation would essentially require schools and libraries to make those websites inaccessible to minors.

The bill is co-supported by Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). The bill, called the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), is part of a new Republican effort to address topics that they view as important to suburban constituents. The group calls itself the “Suburban Caucus” is hoping that such legislation will help rally the troops, and prevent Democrats from taking over the house in November elections.

Republicans feel that there is a strong need to monitor more closely what our children can view or do online, and believe that such legislation is the answer. “When children leave the home and go to school or the public library and have access to social-networking sites, we have reason to be concerned,” says Fitzpatrick.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert also endorses this legislation that would cut off access to commercial websites that let users create public “web pages or profiles” and also offer a discussion board, chatroom, or e-mail service.

This legislation would not only cut off access to websites like Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, Friendster, Orkut, and so on, but also highly interactive sites such as AOL, Yahoo, Blogger, and even Microsoft XBox 360’s in-game chat.

I have worked in a library for the past 4 years. Censoring information goes against our very purpose as a library, and goes against much of what I believe. While I do have concerns about the appropriateness of some children using these social-networking websites, I do not feel that it is the role of libraries to act as a parent. Schools are a whole different ballgame, and I would not be as opposed to such limitations there.

Schools and their teachers are “in parentis loci” when the children are in their care, but that is not the case at libraries. Libraries are not daycare centers, much to the belief of many parents. It is the role of parents to decide what websites their kids should and should not be visiting, and to discuss this with them. It is not the role of the library to police the internet and watch over the shoulder of any of their patrons. Additionally, I have concerns about how the filtering would affect adult users who wish to access those sites, and minors who have parental permission to use these services. Why should they be punished?

I am of the belief that it is not the role of the government to act as a substitute parent, which is exactly what this legislation aims to do.

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