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on May 12, 2006 at 9:46:16 am
 

The password is dopa.

 

Here's the letter...edit away!


 

Dear Representative Holt,

 

I am writing today to voice my strong dissent to a bill pending introduction by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) titled the “Deleting Online Predators Act” or DOPA. This particular bill is not only ill-conceived; it is a blatant attempt to mine political capital from the recent negative media coverage of social networking Web sites like MySpace.com.

 

Under the current version of the bill, any “commercial Web sites that let users create public ‘Web pages or profiles’ and also offer a discussion board, chat room, or e-mail service” would be made inaccessible to underage students in schools. In essence, this would mean that countless millions of Webpages would be restricted, the vast majority of which contain legitimate, potentially useful content for the classroom. It also means that those resources would be in effect excluded from use by teachers who might otherwise choose to include them in their lessons.

 

No doubt, many of our children who connect with their peers or friends using social networking sites, chat rooms, Weblogs and other Web tools put themselves at risk by publishing personal information or provocative pictures of themselves. It’s a dangerous practice, one that has a long-term impact as a part of an “online portfolio” that many do not even realize they are building. Banning these sites from schools, however, does nothing to ameliorate these dangers; in fact, it could have the opposite effect as students may see them as “forbidden fruit” to be accessed only when not in the company of an adult. What happens when the child leaves school and goes online at home or at a friend’s house? Without having been taught to act in safe ways on the Web, that child will be at greater risk.

 

Think of the predators that children encounter at the mall, in churches, and (it shames me to say it) in our schools - should we ban access to those places as well, or would it be better to teach students how to act in a safe manner and recognize predatory behavior?

 

As the Web becomes more and more a part of the way that kids communicate and socialize, I would submit that we need to focus on educating them in the most effective and safe ways to use these technologies. Banning them is a reactionary response, not a reasoned one. And it is a response whose ultimate motives are spurious at best. Why not, instead, focus our discussions on how best to prepare the millions of new teachers who will be entering the classroom in the next five years to deal with these issues, or on reaching out to parents to make sure they are well versed in overseeing their children’s use of the Internet.

 

Mr. Holt, the “genie is out of the bottle” in terms of these technologies, and no legislation short of complete regulation of the Internet is going to protect our children from the potential harm. Instead of “deleting online predators,’ this bill will simply delete our ability to effectively prepare our students for a life that will more and more be intertwined with the Web.

 

Sincerely,

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