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Social Networking Sites, Wikis Fret Over Proposed Law

Librarians, interactive site operators, and school officials who fear the Deleting Online Predators Act, which recently cleared the House, are turning their lobbying focus to the Senate.
Bernadette Murphy, ALA communications director, says in trying to define the term "interactive Web sites" the legislation sweeps up under the umbrella e-mail, blogs, wikis, instant message and any application that facilities two-way communications.

For example, social networking site CollectiveX.com falls under the broad class of interactive, but it's geared toward organized closed groups, rather than public access.

CollectiveX founder and CEO Clarence Wooten Jr. agrees companies need to protect children because the Internet remains a platform for those who want to do harm, but the DOPA legislation would block every major Web portal because most sites these days have at least one social networking feature. There are other concerns, too. In a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives, the ALA wrote that DOPA would restrict access to technology in communities that need public access most. The ALA claims DOPA, as presently drafted, would deny students and others in schools and libraries in the poorest communities from accessing content and from learning how best to safely manage their own Internet access in consultation with librarians and teachers.

Social networking site Panjea.com founder and CEO Seth Alsbury says the direction of the bill appears scary because the federal government will decide what services are appropriate, and for whom. "Education, not limitation, so shouldn't the schools and libraries educate rather than restrict access," he said. "The social networking sites are tools and it would be far more effective to educate than to eliminate access."

But Urbanchuk said the bill also requires the FCC to set up a Web site to educate children and parents. Keeping the parents and teachers as the first line of defense, he explained that parents could give their children permission to access the sites at libraries and schools if they felt comfortable.

"We are in the very early stages of what social networking means, and because of that, it's unlikely we will see action by the end of the year," said Tom Galvin, a Washington, D.C. policy consultant for high-tech companies at 463 Communications. "There's a lot of technology inspired legislation, but Congress doesn't feel like they have a grip yet. They know what they want to accomplish, but they are not sure how to do it."