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Current Internet filters at schools and libraries – some aimed at pornography and obscene materials, some already targeting social-networking sites – have “a tremendous chilling effect on education,” agrees Jeff Cooper, an educational-technology consultant and former high-school teacher in Portland, OR. “The ‘Just Say No’ philosophy has never worked,” Cooper says. “You’re lumping all social networking into the negative basket, and not giving kids any alternative. But there is so much good stuff online that nobody ever talks about.”

Indeed, while it might be easy to agree that teens shouldn’t be wasting time on MySpace or other social-networking sites while they’re at school, DOPA would cover any site that allows networking and chatting. As one example, Cooper points to TappedIn.org, a social-networking and professional-development site for teachers. Students often use personal and public “rooms” on the site as part of virtual classroom activities. “It allows teachers to bring their students online in a very safe and secure environment,” explains Cooper. “My concern isn’t really that MySpace won’t be accessible from schools, but that other sites like TappedIn will be banned.”

DOPA supporters frequently cite a 2000 report about online sexual victimization funded by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which concluded that one-fifth of children have been sexually solicited in chat rooms, by instant message, or by e-mail. But in fact, as Boyd and other opponents point out, the same report states that most solicitations come from other young people – only 4 percent are from adults over 25 – and that most kids deal with these solicitations simply by not answering or logging off. “To clamp down on a bunch of new networking sites really doesn’t do anything” to stop sexual predators, says Cooper. “You might as well shut off the Internet entirely.”

Opponents of DOPA misunderstand the bill, says Jeff Urbanchuck, a press officer for Representative Fitzpatrick. He says it is intended only to reduce the risk to teens from one particular category of websites – those where members can create online profiles and fill them with personal details, including e-mail or instant-messaging addresses, that help predators contact them. Critics are “extending beyond the MySpaces and Facebooks and arguing that the technology of social networking is so pervasive now that the Internet is going to become one big social-networking site,” Urbanchuck says. “But the objective of the bill is to deal with the growing threat of online predators on specific sites that allow profiles. We want to tailor the bill to those sites.”

Even banning access just to sites that allow profiles, however, would affect scores of educational, community, and media-sharing sites, including sites as popular as Flickr and as specialized as TappedIn. And in the longer term, predicts Boyd, the law would simply drive teen networking underground, where it would be more difficult for adults to monitor. “They’ll be moving from site to site with a level of ephemerality that no one can keep up with,” she says. “Not the cops – not even the designers of the technology.”

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