Chicago Rep. Mark Kirk has sponsored legislation that would ban access to social networking sites for schools and libraries. His recent target at a press conference was Second Life, the online virtual world. Kirk has concerns that there is no age verification on the site and there are several spaces on the site in which inappropriate activities are occurring, citing virtual prostitution and drug deals. He has introduced the Deleting Online Predators Act.
The American Library Association opposes the bill because “it ignores the value of interactive Web applications as a learning tool, could block helpful sites, and would inhibit librarians’ ability to teach youngsters about how to use the Web safely.”
This is really no different than conversations that have been going on since the beginning of the Web. There are bad applications and good applications. His bill asks for a “technology protection measure” that will filter these sites from public institutions, but does allow them to be “used for an educational purpose with adult supervision.” That’s easy to say, but in actuality, these approved uses will be stifled if there are constraints to their access and creative development will be slowed. I think the sites themselves are going to have to get more aggressive about the types of activities they allow on their sites and how they monitor things like age verification. Parents, teachers need peace of mind that children won’t be exposed to inappropriate content, but they also have to take some responsibility in learning and exploring, so they can help kids understand the right way to use them. On a related note, Facebook has reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 49 states to institute some policies that will protect young users. The policies include requiring under-18 users to read safety tips on signup, adding a prominent Report Abuse icon, not allowing a significant change in users’ ages, and taking down flagged material within 24 hours. This is a good example of the social network taking responsibility. MySpace did the same earlier this year. And, although the article above doesn’t specify it in this case, for MySpace, the 50th state, the only one not on board, was Texas.
I’m still not sold on Second Life, waiting for it to generate some relevant usage, but I have seen some demonstrations of its usage in academic settings. It holds a good deal of potential. What remains to be seen is, do we need a visual 3-D rendering with avatars to communicate the way we have been on the Web already?