Fears that predators will use MySpace to target kids have prompted a proposal to require schools and libraries to ban all web sites that includes profiles, warn Liz Ditz and Apophenia. Low-income teen-agers who don’t have home computers will be shut out from social networking, Apophenia writes.

Today, Congressperson Fitzpatrick proposed legislation to amend the Communications Act of 1934 “to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.” This legislation broadly defines social network sites as anything that includes a Profile plus an ability to communicate with strangers. It covers social networking sites, chatrooms, bulletin boards. Obviously, the target is MySpace but most of our industry would be affected. Blogger, Flickr, Odeo, LiveJournal, Xanga, MySpace, Facebook, AIM, Yahoo! Groups, MSN Spaces, YouTube, eBaumsworld, Slashdot. It would affect Wikipedia if there wasn’t a special clause for non-commercial sites. Because many news sites (NYTimes, CNN, the Post) allow people to login and create profiles and comment, it might affect them too.

Because it affects both libraries and schools, it will dramatically increase the digital divide. Poor youth only gain access to these sites through libraries and schools.

Adults are likely to be barred from social sites at libraries as well, since few libraries are staffed to provide separate sections for underage patrons.

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  1. Bah, what do we need that internet thing for, anyway?

  2. Among the all the lame “critical” social issues the left gens up, the digital divide has to top them.

    Relatively useful, used computers, that is, computers sufficiently provisioned to be able to do the sorts of thing a parent would want a kid to do with a computer, have been available since the late nineties. Yeah, they don’t have hot graphics cards or tons of RAM but for the less demanding but still useful tasks, they’re just fine. So if someone wants to buy a computer, money isn’t much of an impediment.

    The digital divide exists in the imaginations of liberals anxious to find another social wrong they can demand be righted by spending other people’s money and in the lack of value that poor people see in the Internet. Moore’s law will take of both of them in the next couple of years.

  3. Allen hit the digital divide on the head! It’s a political figment, much more than a real issue.

    The whole universal support for schools and libraries has, IMHO, been a colossal failure. Many dollars spent, little achieved. The few studies I’ve seen that show how many dollars actually provide usable service are shocking.

    I’m not convinced that social networking sites have much to offer, but federal prohibition (which will largely be ineffective) is not the answer.

  4. Thanks, and thanks for reminding me that the article wasn’t so much about the digital divide, obviously a special sore point with me, but the knee-jerk reaction to the news about social networking sites.

    Contrary to Apophenia’s take, a ban on social networking sites won’t achieve the stated aims of the banners.

    Big surprise there.

    I’ll wager most kids with computers at home use them as their primary access to social network sites, not the school/library computers where it’s much more difficult to have privacy. Firewalling off social networking sites at school/library computers won’t bother them at all. And, the poorer kids who were willing to accept the lack of privacy so that they could access the social networking sites from school/library computers now have a good reason to spend their more precious dollars on a computer of their own.

    Oh, and let us not forget the rapid spread of wireless broadband in the form of cell phones and municipal Wifi systems. The price of that sort of connectivity is coming down, the coverage is going up and the gadgets needed to make those connections are becoming cheaper, faster, more powerful and better understood.

  5. SuperSub says:

    Oh yes, let’s not forget the poor children who are unable to digitally socialize, a right and necessary step in a child’s development.
    This whole digital divide thing reminds me of cable back in the 80’s. Some had it, some didn’t, and generally it was those who lacked it that came out the better.

  6. Wayne Martin says:

    > Digital Divide ..

    Rebuilt computers cost very little money .. more than functional laptops can be purchased for $350-$500.

    There are any number of used machines in the classified ads. Lots of companies give them away to non-profits when they are end-of-lifed by the corporation.

    Low cost dialup ( can be purchased for about $10/month, and AT&T has startup packages for DSL at about $13.00 (with the prices rising after some initial time period).

  7. Wayne: Sure, you can get a computer and dial-up access for a fraction of what most “poor” families spend on TV sets and cigarettes, but first you’ve got to pay the phone bill so there’s a line to dial up. There are a surprising number of families that can’t seem to get the hang of paying bills every month – even the bills that cost much less than their smokes…

  8. This is crazy. I understand the concerns but we cannot continue to shut out change. Myspace and sites like it bring people together, generally a good thing. We are not closing down malls because some perverts are there starring at all the young girls. Whats the difference?

    The digital divide is bad now, imagine what it will be if this happens. Kids that dont have internet access at home will be shut out of MAJOR communication with their peers. This will only hurt the low income kids.

    This is crazy, its sad, and most of all scary. Whats next, the government listening to our calls? You want to move to China? Sorry about the rant. A little upset.

  9. Sony just announced a small form-factor laptop computer for the dollar-equivaluent of $170 and it’s not a toy. It’s only on sale in Japan right now but it does point out how fast this stuff is going.

    As far as Myspace being shut down, who cares? Technically, it isn’t that much of an achievement and if there aren’t already open source equivalents there soon will be. That means anyone with relatively modest technical abilities will be able to set up a Myspace clone and soon will.

    So, between the $170 Sony laptop and open source social site software, I think you don’t have to worry about poor kids being shut out of the internet. Oh yeah, there’s also the rapid spread of no-cost wireless connectivity.