By an overwhelming vote, the U.S. House has passed a bill that would require public schools and libraries to prevent minors from accessing “social networking sites” and “chat rooms.” Initially designed to apply to MySpace — that great evil — the bill is worded so vaguely that it may apply to sites like Amazon, LinkedIn and Slashdot. “(Social networking sites) have become a haven for online sexual predators who have made these corners of the Web their own virtual hunting ground,” said Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, one of the original sponsors of the “Deleting Online Predators Act” or DOPA.
So let’s see. Sen. Ted Stevens — who heads up the committee that regulates commerce on the internet — proves to the world he has no clue how the internet works. And then lawmakers — with the midterm elections just a few months away — pick an issue that will score some points with suburban voters who think the internet is crawling with predators. And why’s does Middle American think that’s the case? Because the news media (thanks, Dateline NBC) loves to hype it. And not only hype it, but over-generalize it. Now we have a bill that’s over-hyped, over-generalized and just downright silly.
Some may ask, what’s the big deal for the media industry? Soon, social networking will become ingrained in everything. “Itâ€™s so not about social networking anymore. Itâ€™s about what is next,” said Fox Interactive Media chief Ross Levinsohn the other day. What he means is social networking will become transparent. There will not be “social networking sites” but tons of sites with social networking functionality. Every news site in the next few years will have it. It will become an expectation. The question is, how will you use it?
Social networking is a way to communicate with people of similar interests, not a “haven for online sexual predators.” This bill hurts us all in the news media, and the news media is primarily to blame for it.