By a 410-15 vote on Thursday, politicians approved a bill that would effectively require that “chat rooms” and “social networking sites” be rendered inaccessible to minors, an age group that includes some of the Internet’s most ardent users. Adults can ask for permission to access the sites.
“Social networking sites such as MySpace and chat rooms have allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids,” said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and co-founder of the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus. “This bill requires schools and libraries to establish (important) protections.”
Even though politicians apparently meant to restrict access to MySpace, the definition of off-limits Web sites is so broad the bill would probably sweep in thousands of commercial Web sites that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow “communication among users.” Details will be left up to the Federal Communications Commission.
Few adults, much less most US Congressmen, understand the social networking landscape adequately enough to regulate it so broadly. This is clearly a reaction to media coverage of sexual predators on MySpace recently.
This law would eliminate access to communication tools for students that do not have a computer at home, potentially contributing to the digital divide. But of far more practical consequence, implementing it correctly (and not sweepingly/overbearingly) would be a nightmare.