Thursday, May 11, 2006

Congress Wants Libraries To Filter Blogs

Congress is considering a new law that would require schools and libraries to prevent minors from accessing "social networking sites." Over the past few months, there has been quite a bit of news coverage about kids using sites like MySpace and Facebook in ways that would (and should) get their parents worried.

So, because Congress doesn't trust parents to do their jobs, some members have come up with the best solution to get them more votes in the next election: force libraries and schools to do the filtering that parents aren't willing (or capable) of doing themselves. After all, why should parents need to look after their children and teach them right from wrong, when the government will do it for them?

The first problem with this proposed law is that it could filter out completely legitimate blogging and community sites in addition to teen chat sites. While I'll admit that I'm not yet convinced that blogging has empowered anybody with a keyboard to have more control over the political and social discourse (I'll believe that when I begin to see some traffic hitting this blog!), libraries shouldn't enforce overbroad filtering policies that prevent teens from seeing commentary that isn't "approved" in some way. Remember, teens are the people you want involved in the national conversation so that they see the value of becoming active in their communities.

That leads into the second problem: Congress should stop thinking that by playing nanny it can prevent kids from finding ways to circumvent the library filters. It costs less than $10 to buy your own domain name, and anybody with a broadband connection can put a web server on their home box. Therefore, any kid who wants to make an online chat board for his friends can do so with little effort, and the adults probably won't catch on for months unless there's a Big Brother-style censor involved.

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