In a stack of papers called Legislation.

  • Jul
  • 28
  • 2006

We all want to Delete Online Predators, don’t we? Don’t let the title of the bill deceive you. People are paid big bucks to craft just the right title, regardless of truth in advertising (No Child Left Behind sound familiar?). HR 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), seeks to keep students away from “online predators” by blindly blocking all sites with any interactivity. Where careful supervision and local decisions could work wonders, some politicians figure that blanket legislation is a better idea.

Among other problems, this vague bill sends only 5 suggestions to the FCC in order to help them create a definition of “social networking websites” and “chat rooms” within 120 days of the bill’s passing. Those are two terms undefined in the bill, even though the definition of those two terms should weight heavily in one’s final opinion. It’s interesting to note that nowhere in the list of 5 things to consider is the educational possibility of a site. In other words, those people doing the defining of sites to keep students and library users away from do not take into consideration the educational value of the sites blocked.

While I’m a bit late in taking action on all this, I wrote a letter to Representative Ted Poe, a vocal supporter of the bill, and to my representatives in the Sentate (use the dropdown box in the upper right corner to find yours) and House (enter your zip code plus 4-digit extension to find yours). I sent my letter to these representatives via email and mailed a paper copy to their local district offices, as well. Maybe the double hit will have some effect, maybe not. But I feel better about it.

Read the bill. Read a few postings about this. Think about it a bit. Take other people’s opinions into consideration, even those with views different than yours. Let’s talk about this. What do you think about DOPA? What do you think about my letter (below)? If not DOPA, then what? Is this really a problem that needs federal legislation to govern? Are there more serious risks to our students that we should spend time discussing? Has the MySpace threat been completely blown out of proportion?

I’ve included an excerpted version of my letter below (though you’re welcome to read the whole thing if you’d like).

The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) works to push the American public education system behind the education received in private schools and in other countries. It should be reconsidered and severely reconstructed, if not utterly wiped away and a new strategy considered.

Car accidents are a terrible thing. However, we do not seek to write legislation that would remove driver’s education from the high school curriculum or forbid teenagers from driving a car. Instead, adults do our best to teach kids how to be responsible with a motor vehicle and try to model good driving habits as we can. We need to do the same thing with computers and the Internet.

If an American student emerges from high school almost completely unaware of, or unable to make proper and responsible use of, sites like MySpace, Blogger, Digg,, forum or discussion board services, WordPress, or social networking services, is that student better prepared or worse prepared for life than a student from another country who leaves high school with a firm grasp on those same tools?

That’s really all these sites are: tools. Education is the key to allowing students to use those tools for the best outcome. Without strong models of how to use those tools effectively, we leave students to their own devices to figure things out as they see fit. Please don’t fool yourself, or other supporters, into thinking that DOPA would mean fewer students using the sites you seek to keep them away from. It would just mean using those sites unsupervised.

Computers are here to stay and schools need to teach students how to deal with them. I am a high school teacher who makes extensive use of student blogs for work in the classroom. I also use social bookmarking sites to create an up-to-date online textbook for my students.

If someone is an alcoholic, and alcoholism is a national problem, the solution isn’t to ban liquor. The solution is to treat the alcoholism. What does DOPA do to treat the problem “online predators” represent? Does this bill do anything to capture more “online predators” or discourage such behavior?

DOPA has worthy aims. It’s horribly, terribly, frighteningly misguided. It effectively places shackles on a teacher that should not be there. We need to teach students how to use these resources. Please allow us to do so. Reconsider the implementation of everyone’s desire to keep kids safe online. Please feel free to contact me to continue a discussion about this and/or to address any concerns or questions you have. Thank you.

Education is the key, not ignorance.

P.S. Why is the Senate Web site so much more aesthetically pleasing than the House’s 1995 attempt at Web design? It makes a difference; the Senate’s site is much easier to navigate and more pleasant to visit.


1. Rose DesRochers says:

[7/29/2006 - 4:06 pm]

I respect your opinion, however I was surprised and disappointed that the vote was 410-15. Many of those who oppose DOPA do so because they believe that children should be educated and not restricted. I agree that they should be educated, but let us face it, not all parents do their job and the parents who are doing their job are left with schools and libraries that are not doing their job.

I can not speak on behalf of the US, but I know that surprisingly some Canadian public libraries and schools do not monitor children’s internet access nor do they have filters in place. We were all teens once. I keep hearing the same comments. “Parents do your job.” Well I ask you this, “How many of you rebelled against your parents?”

No matter how much we take care of our children and educate them, it only takes them making one unhealthy choice to put them at risk. You can educate your child untill you are all blue in the face. The truth is that children don’t often think of the consequences of unhealthy choices. If DOPA will save just one child, don’t you think the bill is worth it?

I do want to add that while I support the bill, I do think that the legislation should be rewritten so it does not block sites such as Yahoo and Google. I think they need to better determine what sites will be blocked before passing the law.

These are just my thoughts!

2. Carlos Tabora says:

[7/29/2006 - 7:37 pm]

Sign the SAVE YOUR SPACE petition opposing HR5319.
Although HR5319 is titled the “Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA)”, the bill is very misleading. If you take a closer look at DOPA, you’ll find that this legislation actually limits your rights to access and express yourself on the Internet instead of “deleting online predators”. But before this legislation becomes law, there are several more steps including getting approval by the Senate and, ultimately, being signed by President George W. Bush.
Unfortunately, the public only sees what the media and politicians tell them. They need to hear from the actual users of social networking sites.
The SAVE YOUR SPACE petition is your chance to be heard and to show the public, the media and the U.S. government the importance and amazing power of social networking sites.
Help us get 1,000,000 signatures in 1 month.
Visit for details.

3. Todd says:

[7/29/2006 - 7:51 pm]

“If DOPA will save just one child…” Prohibition would save more than one teenager’s life. Not allowing teenagers to ever ride in a car will save a lot more than one life. I’d lay a heavy wager that more teenagers endure physical harm at the hands of school bullies than “online predators.”

As far as rebelling against parents, you’re right. So why do you think that a law against this type of behavior in schools will be met with any different response? My school already blocks MySpace, but all of my students laugh when I tell them that. Then they go on to show me that they can access the site anyhow.

Rules like this won’t stop the behavior. It’ll just push it further down and out of the way so that no adult will ever see it. Better to let the teens operate on their own, unwatched by anyone at all, without any models of proper use to look to for guidance? Is that really wise?

This isn’t a parents vs. schools issue and my argument has never been “parents, do your job.” I’m not sure where you’re hearing that argument, but it isn’t here.

Both parents and schools should be covering this. DOPA doesn’t allow schools to do so. So those kids left with irresponsible parents, most likely the kids in greatest danger, are unaffected and DOPA does nothing to “help” them. They’ll still be out there doing those things that certain folks think are risky.

Let’s have teens operating these sites out in the open. Let’s have more school districts demand close watch over how students are using computers. Let’s have a better examination of computer labs on campuses. Let’s trust more educators to handle this type of issue wisely. Let’s have open forums where parents and teachers can talk about how to handle these issues.

And above all, before some horrible law is put in place that will impact the way schools are allowed to go about their business in perpetuity, let’s examine all of the options, find out exactly what the problem is that we want to address, and devise ways of doing so. DOPA is a knee-jerk reaction if I ever saw one. In fact, all administrative response to MySpace has been knee jerk so far.

4. Rose DesRochers says:

[7/29/2006 - 8:19 pm]

You certainly have a right to your opinion as I have a right to my opinion. I’m not here to debate that issue or change your opinion. I’ve shared my views on a bill that I wish was passed in Canada and you mention “Let’s trust more educators to handle this type of issue wisely.” The thing is in Canada educators are not handling the issue. As parents we put trust in a school system that fails our children, but I can’t say I’m surprised. For many years the government has failed to protect our children. My comment regarding “parents, do your job” was in general and no way directed towards you. I agree with you that both parents and schools should be covering this, however they are not. Thank you for allowing me to have a voice and I do understand your concerns.

5. Todd says:

[7/29/2006 - 8:44 pm]

There’s no question over the right to express an opinion, nor is there one over the right to disagree.

What makes you say that parents and schools are not doing their jobs? What makes you say that you’ve “put trust in a school system that fails our children”? Can you explain in more specific terms? Those kinds of general statements don’t work for me and read like rhetoric, not logic.

MySpace is a relatively new technology. School systems need to take societal change seriously and restructure their efforts to address those changes. More importantly, society needs to demand that the change happens instead of simply throwing up collective hands and giving up on the system, running to the federal government to solve all their problems. Parents need to do the same. When they don’t, something needs to happen to make sure that such a thing doesn’t happen again. DOPA does not do that.

“For many years the government has fails to protect our children.” Again, I need that one explained.

6. Rose DesRochers says:

[7/29/2006 - 9:14 pm]

I speak from personal experience as a parent when I say that schools, here in Canada are not doing their job. It’s not just important to know what our children are doing at home, but at school too.

As a parent it was shocking to learn that my sixteen year old daughter was able to use the computer at school unsupervised and like Suzanne Stanford (internet safety coach who helps to protect children and organizations from the dangers of the internet) I too learned that my daughter had an online identity.

While she may not have been on networking sites such as MySpace, she was using the internet at school to communicate with friends during class time.

Canadian schools, public high schools are not huge on education and children are just slipping through the cracks.

I can guarantee that it doesn’t matter how much you talk to children about the dangers and risk of internet safety, they’ll ignore the warnings.

“It won’t happen to me,” is a myth. It could very well happen to them!

When a child posts personal information and a photo about themselves on a network site it has now made them a target for predators that are searching for the next child victim.

Todd if DOPA isn’t the answer, then it is going to take all concerned individuals pulling together to make the internet safe for our children, don’t you think?

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly one in five children ages 10 to 17 have been sexually solicited online.

In Canada the age of consent is 14. Under the Criminal Code of Canada it is currently not a criminal offence for an adult to engage in sexual activity with a young person aged 14 years or older, if the young person consents to sexual activity, as long as the adult is not in a position of trust or authority.

Canada’s age of consent to sexual activity offers Canadian youth no protection from sexual exploitation. This has resulted in Canada becoming a preferred destination for sexual predators to prey on our innocent children.

There is a need to protect our children and this should be the Governments highest priority. In 1999 the Department of Justice’s consultation paper view that the current age of consent was too low. In 2002 Over 40,000 people sent a letter to Justice Minister Cauchon asking that the age of consent be raised to 18.

The Canadian Police Association has twice requested the age to be raised. Because of this low age a growing number of men are now targeting Canadian children for pornography and sex purposes. Since 1998, the CyberTipline has received 310,000 reports of child pornography. Despite the strong efforts of many Canadians, the request for a bill to be past that will protect our children from sexual exploitation appears to be falling on deaf ears, until now that is. During the 2006 election, the Conservative party campaign on Creation of a mandatory DNA databank for sex offenders; raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years and tougher stance on child pornography.

This was reason that I voted conservative. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is following up on the Conservative Government’s promise to raise the age of sexual consent in Canada to 16. A change of Goverment means a change for the better, I hope. That was why I said, Canada Government failed to protect our children.

7. Todd says:

[7/29/2006 - 9:43 pm]

“Todd if DOPA isn’t the answer, then it is going to take all concerned individuals pulling together to make the internet safe for our children, don’t you think?”

That is, in fact, exactly what I think.

And if we’re all going to pull together, we need to speak with each other. The only way that can happen is at the local level, not the federal level. At the same time, though, there are simply no 100% guarantees in life. At some point, the restrictions become worse than the dangers sought to protect against. We’re reaching that point.

DOPA is being pushed through the House and Senate with absolutely no public discourse over the bill. That alone is reason to concern me. The last time I recall this happening with such speed was the PATRIOT Act and that was a horrible decision (one that was extended just recently).

What DOPA does is dismiss the fact that some of these sites that may be used by “online predators” have completely legitimate uses in classrooms and libraries. What DOPA does is assume the worst by not requiring any evidence that “online predators” use the sites the FCC may eventually decide to block. What DOPA does is take away from teachers the ability to make responsible choices and real-world lessons. What DOPA does is allow teenagers to learn online responsibility only from other teenagers or parents (who are often woefully inattentive to these matters, as you point out), removing the discussion from classrooms altogether. What DOPA does is skip the public conversation completely and just smacks an extremely myopic hammer down on the matter.

8. Rose DesRochers says:

[7/29/2006 - 9:54 pm]

As I had pointed out in my earlier comment, I was under the understanding from an article on the proposed bill would allow the filter to be turned off for educational purposes by adults or minors visiting the sites under adult supervision?

9. Todd says:

[7/29/2006 - 10:41 pm]

The practical application of that filter being turned off is that, quite simply, it wouldn’t be. Once school district offices get wind of the required paperwork and/or infected with the paranoia the bill inspires, it’ll be easier for those powers to simply keep the filter in place, ensuring the receipt of federal funds and not risking anything. The district office that’s willing to stick its neck out in the name of one of its teachers is a rarity.

As it is, despite my best-reasoned and passionate pleas for it, my district office doesn’t allow any school Web site to have a contact form. They cite concern/fear of misuse and threats sent by malicious users. There’s no law surrounding contact forms. If I can’t get a contact form through in 2 years of wrangling for it, how effective do you think my arguments will be for lifting the federal ban on a site because I can defend its application in my classroom?

There are provisions for such things, yes, but most district offices are ignorant, prefer to be that way, and wouldn’t want to risk the loss of a single cent. Most district offices will take the path of least resistance and that’s something a federal law should take into account; if they are going to stick their noses in, they should stick them in all the way and find out what really goes on. That’s why this bill is so damaging to what we do in the classroom. Please understand that these sites, when applied educationally, are the most effective way of keeping kids involved with school. Without them, the curriculum is outdated and the kids know it. Further, without those sites in the classroom, school is close to irrelevant and out of touch.

10. Rose DesRochers says:

[7/30/2006 - 8:41 am]

Todd, but do you really think MySpace belongs in the classroom? Should children really be using these websites in Class unsupervised. Should my daughter of been allowed to set up a hotmail account, and add her friends etc without my knowledge when as a parent I supervise her at home? I’m all for education and I believe that computers play an important role in their education. We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, but what we don’t need is children accessing the net with no supervision. How many children under 14 have already violated the MySpace terms of service? Children should not have unsupervised access to the internet. There are just too many opportunities for inappropriate interactions. MySpace does not belong in the classroom. Again that is just my opinion.

11. Todd says:

[7/30/2006 - 9:16 am]

MySpace? Yes. They just unveiled a component that allows users to write and share book reviews. The community aspect of the site allows for a lot of great collaboration and discovery (and Elgg does something similar, but it would also be blocked). The type of MySpace behavior that far too many adults mistakenly think is the preponderance of MySpace behavior certainly should be monitored and discussed, even reversed. However, millions of people use MySpace for exactly the purpose intended in exactly the way intended. All of my students this past year (that would be about 150) used Blogger correctly; there’s was no abuse of the system of which I am aware.

Unsupervised? No, not at first and certainly not before high school. If that’s all the concern here, there’s a much smarter way of addressing it. DOPA is not written with supervision in mind. Rather, it’s written in such a way that it simply blocks sites. End of discussion.

Violating TOS is a problem that the MySpace community needs to address and that’s another place pressure should be applied. If it’s a TOS, but nothing happens when it’s violated, what’s the point?

Who is anyone to make a blanket statement of what does or does not belong in the classroom? Just because you or I can’t think of a way for it to be used educationally does not mean that such a way doesn’t exist. What if a teacher out there thinks of a great way to use MySpace, like creating a profile and account for an author or a character from a novel being read? I want to take advantage of the books section of the MySpace, but you’re saying that I can’t? You’re saying that I don’t have the ability to educate my students on how to use it correctly? You’re saying that students should walk out of high school without a clue of what these sites are? Don’t you see that ignorance puts our kids behind the rest of the world?

Some of my students last year, for our final on Siddhartha, created a modern version of Siddhartha’s story and turned it into a series of Blog entries told from Siddhartha’s point of view. The project was due before they had the chance to create accounts for other characters from the novel to leave comments on Siddhartha’s postings, but that was their plan. What if they leave high school and take that kind of thinking with them to their first job?

DOPA prevents that kind of thinking from ever taking place in the youth of America, when that’s exactly the type of thinking we should be doing everything within our powers to encourage.

12. Rose DesRochers says:

[7/30/2006 - 9:17 pm]

Yes, I’m saying that MySpace does not belong in the class room and I feel that MySpace is an inappropriate place for children, but that’s just my opinion Todd and doesn’t really reflect on this discussion therefore we’ll leave it at that. Take care and thank you for allowing me to share my views.

13. Todd says:

[7/30/2006 - 10:57 pm]

You are always welcome to share your views here. Thank you for engaging in the conversation and I hope this has been interesting. Feel free to drop a comment into the mix anytime.

The problem is that teens post inappropriate content to places like MySpace. DOPA doesn’t do anything to stop that behavior, so it doesn’t solve the problem.

Even if my students are using MySpace to an educational end, it doesn’t belong? What about my use of Blogger? Amazon? What is it about MySpace that’s so inappropriate for children? All the things you object to on MySpace, are they unique to MySpace or do they exist in other locations, too? Pedophiles, foul language, sexual imagery, all those things are a stone’s-throw away for just about anyone with or without a computer. Should we legislate that inappropriate material no matter where it is? 35-year-old guys raising an eyebrow at a 17-year-old at the mall? Student language across campus? TV shows and movies (ratings systems are different than an outright ban on viewing)?