Grappling with technology

An Illinois legislator has introduced a bill to outlaw "social networking" sites in Illinois libraries and schools. The bill is extremely broad, and probably will never be passed, but it is an interesting exercise in lawmaking.

The problem is real. Sites like MySpace and FaceBook have user profiles that promote pornography directly and indirectly, and is that something we really want our kids to be looking at on school computers or in public library computers funded with taxpayer dollars? I have been dealing with this issue since the early days of the Blacksburg Electronic Village, and I think what is needed is more adult supervision of children--hands on adults--parents and teachers who pay attention to what is going on in the classroom or in the library and dealing with it appropriately and promptly. This law would make police responsible, and worse, it is not the kids who get punished for accessing inappropriate material, but teachers and librarians. This is just kooky. We are going to arrest a teacher because they failed to notice that a hormonally challenged fourteen year old boy was caught looking at something inappropriate? It is the kid who should be punished, not the teacher or the librarian.

A second problem with the law is that "social networking" is inescapably vague. This site has most of the same "social networking" features as MySpace; users can register and post comments and "talk" to each other. Millions of sites could be defined as "social networking" sites, so who decides what is acceptable and what is not? We need more reason and less grandstanding as we grapple with these new systems.

Knowledge Democracy: