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Anti-Social Networking

By Andrew Trotter — May 23, 2006 1 min read
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Michael Fitzpatrick

A new bill in Congress would regulate children’s access to the popular social-networking Web sites, such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com, from U.S. public schools and libraries.

The proposed Deleting Online Predators Act, introduced May 9 by House Republicans, would require that most schools and libraries that receive federal E-rate funds install technology on their computers to bar students from commercial social-networking sites where they can “easily access … obscene or indecent material.”

The bill follows a rash of news stories about young people who have created Web pages on the social-networking sites, where some have published personal information and risque images of themselves, and about adult sexual predators who have sought out minors through the sites. (“Social-Networking Web Sites Pose Growing Challenge for Educators,” Feb. 15, 2006.)

“[This] new technology has become a feeding ground for child predators that use these sites as just another way to do our children harm,” the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., says in a statement on his Web site.

Most school districts are banning social networks already, said Keith R. Krueger, the executive director of the Consortium for School Networking, a Washington-based group that represents school district technology officials.

The group has not taken a position on Rep. Fitzpatrick’s bill, but “in general we think that decisionmaking should be at the local level, and are alarmed at efforts to make a national solution,” Mr. Krueger said.

Under the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000, schools and libraries receiving E-rate funds must install technology to block or filter “offensive content” from Internet-connected computers accessible to children. An “authorized person” may disable the filtering when an adult uses the computer for a lawful purpose.

The bill, which arrives just in time for upcoming congressional elections, was highlighted by the newly formed House Republican Suburban Caucus as a practical move on a “pro-community and pro-family” issue.

“Every election year, these laws suddenly seem to appear which are an attempt to legislate safety,” Mr. Krueger said.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week

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