News Corpse readers know that I am not a fan of MySpace. But they will also know that I am even more opposed to government intrusion into civil liberty and free expression. Consequently, I find myself in the awkward position of defending MySpace from the congressional thought police.
The truth is that DOPA, the “Deleting Online Predators Act” (PDF), is an assault on much more than MySpace. This bill, offered by Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), purports to protect minors from sexual deviants patrolling the Internet by banning access to social networking sites on computers in schools, libraries and other federally funded property. Here’s how the bill defines “social networking”
“…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 of communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, e-mail, or instant messenger.”
That definition is so broad that it would also prohibit access to sites like Flickr, Wikipedia, DailyKos, and virtually every public blog on services like Blogger and Live Journal. Even Instant Messaging services would be at risk.
Fitzpatrick, the bill’s author, argues that the bill is necessary because,
“…this new technology has become a feeding ground for child predators that use these sites as just another way to do our children harm.”
Trying to blame social networking for the behavior of sexual deviants is short-sighted and distracts from efforts to implement effective legal reform. While the incidence of online child assaults has been sensationalized by the media, it’s actual occurrence is much less than that of the offline variety. Many more children have been assaulted by teachers, but I don’t hear calls for banning children from schools. The practical effect of this legislation, other than arbitrary censorship, is that children from low income families will be disproportionately excluded from access because they are less likely to have computers at home and are more dependent on public terminals.
But protecting children isn’t really what these folks are after. DOPA is the product of the House Suburban Caucus. Its founder, Mark Kirk (R-IL), recently commissioned a poll to identify issues that would appeal to suburban families and take attention away from the bigger issues facing the nation like Iraq, NSA wiretapping, gas prices, etc. The caucus now includes 18 Republican members. They are gaining some measure of influence and have recently met with Karl Rove and Denny Hastert.
In the end, this is just another cynical political scheme by Republican fear mongers to forestall the electoral beating they anticipate in November. The refrain is all too familiar now. If it isn’t terrorists on our doorstep, it’s perverts in our kids’ bedrooms. And their response always seems to be more chipping away at freedom.