Concern and conversation around online communities and social networking aren’t going away any time soon. In his article that appeared on the Tech Review, Wade Roush wrote about the Deleting Online Preditors Act (DOPA – not to be confused with L-DOPA) currently bumbling its way through the halls of power in Washington:
The social-networking site MySpace has 95 million registered users. If it were a country, it would be the 12th largest in the world (ranking between Mexico and the Philippines). But under a bill designed to combat sexual predators on the Internet, MySpace and similar sites would become countries that young people can’t visit — at least not using computers at schools or libraries.
Sites like MySpace, Facebook and others can play a valuable and legitimate role for young people seeking an outlet for expression and connection. Limiting that is foolish. It seems that the people advocating limits have some odd ideas about what online communities and social networking are all about. It’s almost as if they imagine that MySpace has become the bus station bathroom of the 21st century – “for a good time IM HughJass” – filled with naive teens and dirty old men in stained trench coats.
Correcting this image takes education – not only about the technology and the real degree of risk, but also about the realities of youth culture. Boasting, bragging, flirting, etc. are not new. The fact that you can do these things to 95 million people is new but these things will happen with or without social networking site – they just won’t be as efficient . . . The discomfort caused by seeing young people being themselves (and I think that is alot of what is behind things like DOPA) needs to be balanced against the positive aspects of promoting free and open communication. Hmmm – uncomfortable old guys or teen communication, yeah, we’d better tell the kids to stop.
Education though needs to happen for the users of things like MySpace and Facebook. We’re already seeing stories about people who’s online profiles are being viewed by potential employers and there are some bad people out there – maybe not as many as the DOPA advocates believe, but out there never the less. Colleges are picking up on this and some are starting to provide guidance to incoming students on how to use networking sites wisely. This make sense.
A kid walking into the public library though isn’t necessarily going to get those kids of messages. Maybe they should. Maybe social networking needs to be recognized by communities, parents and educators as being a part of the reality of life and treated accordingly. People eventually realized that sex happens and by most accounts, sex education has had a positive impact. Why not apply the same sucessful logic here – instead of falling back on the failed notion of “Just Say No“?