Everyone in the field of education, it seems at the moment. Parents are worried about what their teens are posting and who else is seeing it. Teens are lying. Sexual predators are lying in wait. Teachers are split - some think it's the devils work, other are using it to check up on their students. The government is trying to ban it. Librarians are signing on in droves, putting up personal pages, library pages, you name it. It seems like good practice to go where the teens are and try to win their patronage by any means available. But what is really going on with My Space - is is being typecast as the newest technological villain or is it really an unsafe space? Or, perhaps more importantly, is it less safe than the rest of the world? If so, does that make banning an acceptable answer.
This month the house held hearings on the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). It seems social software providers like Friendster and MySpace are teeming with pedophiles, drug dealers, and numerous other permutations on the theme of law-breaker/pervert. If DOPA is approved, schools and libraries that receive federal funds will have to deny access to such pages to minors, as well as other sites that allow users to create personal webpages or offer other forms of communication such as e-mail. It's not hard to see where this could go. Read up more on various views of this act at ALA News: http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2006abc/july2006a/dopahearings.htm
Like other forms of censorship, this one will hit hardest those who cannot buy their ways around it. If you have a computer at home, the sky's the limit. If you go to a school that doesn't get federal funds, I guess it will be up to your state, district, principal, or PTA to decide how high the risk is. Personally, I use both of the vilified programs to keep in touch with people living at a distance, find old friends from college, and post my latest news. Out of all the friends I have that use similar spaces, none of them are up to sinister activities. I do, however, have a friend who has been suspended from work without pay for the last month over information on his MySpace page related to privacy settings. Are we coming up on another round of witch hunts in which tech-savvy individuals will have their every move scrutinized?
Again, who will this act hurt the worst? The teens that caused the explosion in popularity of these sites. Young people who are socially or physically isolated (such as those who are lgbtq or live in rural areas) and are seeking connections with like-minded individuals they may not otherwise have access to. People like my friend who value their privacy and want to publish information for friends without putting it on display for the whole world. Librarians like me who believe the best way to provide service is to go where the teens are.
Here is what my professional organization, YALSA, has to say about my space, along with some good reading suggestions and lots of examples of positive ways in which social software is being used with and by young people:http://www.leonline.com/yalsa/dopa_teens_social_networking.pdf
Personally, I support the use of technology in education, and I think social software is some of the most exciting new technology available. If you agree, please join me in talking this up to friends, family and colleagues. Also, join me in signing the Friends of My Space's "Save Your Space" petition.http://www.friendsofmyspace.com/