Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Congress Looking to Lock Down Social Networking at School

Andy Carvin blogs about Educational Technology at PBS.org's TeacherSource. A couple of weeks ago he posted about how as an attempt to keep children safe from online predators, a noble cause, Congress is proposing legislation that would ban access to "social networking" sites like MySpace.com in schools or libraries receiving federal assistance for Internet connectivity. It would also limit access to things like Yahoo Instant Messenger. For us, this is no big deal because our filtering system already blocks those two sites.

The real fear is that as this gets all hashed out, the definition of social networking could be broadened and include anything interactive on the Internet that allows certain degrees of social networking where I can connect to your stuff and you can connect to mine.

Carvin states this in his article, "According to the proposed legislation, the bill:

'prohibits access by minors without parental authorization to a commercial social networking website or chat room through which minors may easily access or be presented with obscene or in- decent material; may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, unlawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults may easily access other material that is harmful to minors.'

If you’re wondering what would qualify as an “online social network,” the bill defines it as “a commercially operated Internet website that allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users and offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, email, or instant messenger.

That definition is rather broad, of course, though apparently it would not apply to noncommercial websites. My guess is that commercial blogging tools and email list services could be subject to this legislation as well - though I do not know if it would block access to these services writ large or on a blog-by-blog/list-by-list basis."

Here is my reaction to the whole thing: I see this as well intended, but it is an awfully slippery slope! Couldn’t almost all things Web 2.0 be eventually classified as a social network? We use Multiply.com, Flickr, de.licio.us, and Furl as a way to collaborate and pool information across my district and amongst my students.

The Internet is in the midst of a huge revolution where sharing work to open up new resources for educators grows each day. Hopefully, that will continue and not be banned due to the actions of a few freaks and losers, the ones on MySpace.com of course. I hope you didn't think I was referring to our lawmakers that way.

Please let your representatives and senators know that certain social networking tools are making our kids smarter and making us better teachers. Email and Addresses