MIT Weighs in on DOPA

Today, MIT’s Technology Review published an article on the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA – HR5319). The piece (The Moral Panic over Social-Networking Sites*) reviews many of the objections to DOPA that have been expressed from the library and educational technology communities, including equity issues. Schools and libraries are many children’s only access to online social communities. DOPA would deny them access to an integral part of teen culture today.

In quoting Henry Jenkins, director of Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, the article includes:

It’s a “monumentally ill-considered piece of legislation” that “by any rational measure” should never have left the House, says Henry Jenkins, professor of literature and director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. Jenkins believes the act plays on parents’ lack of understanding, and their resulting fears, about their kids’ activities on the Internet. “But the price of standing up to that fear may be too high for liberal Democrats,” he says.

From the other side of the issue, the article quotes from an interview with Michael Fitzpatrick’s (the bill’s author) press officer, Jeff Urbanchuck.

Opponents of DOPA misunderstand the bill, says Jeff Urbanchuck, a press officer for Representative Fitzpatrick. He says it is intended only to reduce the risk to teens from one particular category of websites — those where members can create online profiles and fill them with personal details, including e-mail or instant-messaging addresses, that help predators contact them. Critics are “extending beyond the MySpaces and Facebooks and arguing that the technology of social networking is so pervasive now that the Internet is going to become one big social-networking site,” Urbanchuck says. “But the objective of the bill is to deal with the growing threat of online predators on specific sites that allow profiles. We want to tailor the bill to those sites.”

Also appearing today is an article from Find Law. Written by Anita Ramasastry**, this article (Why the Delete Online Predators Act Won’t Delete Predatory Behavior***) offers a brief, but thorough overview of the bill, and then goes on to describe several reasons why the law will not work, and perhaps even make things worse, with regard to predators. Ramasastry says,

…teenagers can easily meet sexual predators or other criminals in public places – at shopping malls, all-ages clubs, roller skating rinks and parties. If they are forced off social networking sites, that won’t be the end of their social activity. Surely, many parents would much rather have their kids chatting online at school or at a library, than unsupervised at a mall or party. Even if DOPA did force teens offline, it might only put them in more danger.

The conversation continues. Hopefully, it will be heard by any Senators with the courage to be leaders.

* Roush, Wade. “The Moral Panic over Social-Networking Sites.” Technology Review 7 Aug 2006 7 Aug 2006 <>.

**Anita Ramasastry is an associate professor of law and a director of the Shidler Center for Law, Commerce, & Technology at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, Washington.

***Ramasastry, Anita. “Why the Delete Online Predators Act Won’t Delete Predatory Behavior.” FindLaw 7 Aug 2006 7 Aug 2006 <>.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.