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DOPA Jr. Is Not A Wikipedia Ban

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It’s easy to understand why people would be skeptical, or even suspicious, of anything Alaska Senator Ted Stevens introduces into Congress these days, especially if it involves the Internet – or, the tubes and all that. But the simply-titled Senate Bill 49, which some have called "Son of DOPA" or "DOPA Jr.," may not be as bad as its made out to be.

This isn’t a defense of one of the most dangerous senators on Capitol Hill, just a plea to call it like it is. His term’s up in ’08, by the way.

DOPA, or the Deleting Online Predators Act was introduced into the House in 2006 by Pennsylvania Republican Mike Fizpatrick, who lost his reelection bid. The bill, which sought to block access to social networking sites in federally-funded schools and libraries, died in the Senate.

When Stevens tacked on an amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 1934, with which I’m sure he’s familiar ever since those lively debates back in junior high (he’s old), the Stevens-leery public immediately called it a DOPA rebirth. Title II is even called "Deleting Online Predators."

This leads to headlines saying Stevens wants to ban Wikipedia from schools and libraries, and other apparent exaggerations. Unless there’s something I’m missing, the language of the bill doesn’t call for any outright bans. It calls for adult guidance. The definition of social networking sites, as defined in the bill, is vague enough to include, possibly, Wikipedia, but even then, there are concessions made as to its use.

The bill requires that libraries protect "against access by minors without parental authorization to a commercial social networking website or chat room, and informs parents that sexual predators can use these websites and chat rooms to prey on children."

Okay, so librarians need a note from home. Not a ban, though.

The bill requires that schools protect " against access to a commercial social networking website or chat room unless used for an educational purpose with adult supervision."

Okay again, so Wikipedia is allowed as long as the teacher’s in the room and its used for learning. Still not a ban.

That’s good news for librarians and teachers. Fretting over DOPA last year, the Young Adult Library Services Association compiled a list of 30 positive effects of social networking, and why it’s good for libraries. Judging by the last few sentences of that report, there is concern that our legislators don’t really understand the modern world.

…it remains important for librarians and others working and advocating for (and with) teens to continue to educate members of their communities about the real aspects of technology in teen lives. It’s important not to automatically buy into the hype. It’s also important to learn about and try the technologies in order to understand exactly what they do and do not do.

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  • JDoorjam

    I’m a Wikipedia admin, and while obviously I would be against banning Wikipedia from libraries and classrooms, I wholly support children being supervised while browsing and editing Wikipedia. There are a number of IPs we’ve blocked repeatedly for vandalism which turn out to be from school libraries. Whether school children need protection from Wikipedia is debatable; whether Wikipedia could do with protection from the pesky vandalism of unmonitored minors is rather certain. Such vandalism doesn’t rise above the level of very minor annoyance, but who couldn’t do with less of that?

  • mgolrick

    That Stevens actually has a clue. Do you know what it is like to try to manage all those “notes from home” in a public library? I do! I am a public library director! You think that in between the fights over whose turn it is on the limited number of computers, that we have time to adjust levels of use? Get a life! Stop unfunded mandates (like filtering)!

    • Jason Lee Miller

      I would never say Ted Stevens has any clue about anything, except maybe, plain old contrariness and how to be an old fart.

      I was saying that some reports exaggerated, or outright mistated, what the language in the bill was proposing, unless there is part of it I overlooked.

      Debate away about the pros and cons of required adult supervision, or the workload of librarians. I don’t have a dog in that fight.

      Cheers.