My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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anti-social networks legislation

Earlier, i spoke about how the MySpace panic was likely to cause legislation proposals. Today, Congressperson Fitzpatrick proposed legislation to amend the Communications Act of 1934 “to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.” This legislation broadly defines social network sites as anything that includes a Profile plus an ability to communicate with strangers. It covers social networking sites, chatrooms, bulletin boards. Obviously, the target is MySpace but most of our industry would be affected. Blogger, Flickr, Odeo, LiveJournal, Xanga, Neopets, MySpace, Facebook, AIM, Yahoo! Groups, MSN Spaces, YouTube, eBaumsworld, Slashdot. It would affect Wikipedia if there wasn’t a special clause for non-commercial sites. Because many news sites (NYTimes, CNN, the Post) allow people to login and create profiles and comment, it might affect them too.

Because it affects both libraries and schools, it will dramatically increase the digital divide. Poor youth only gain access to these sites through libraries and schools(1). With this ban, poor youth will have no access to the cultural artifacts of their day. Furthermore, because libraries won’t be able to maintain separate 18+ and minor computers, this legislation will affect everyone who uses libraries, including adults (2).

This legislation is horrifying and culturally damaging. Please, all of you invested in social technologies, do something to make this stop.

Update: (1) – in looking into what American youth were not using MySpace, i found that it was not nearly as popular in rural communities as in suburban and urban environments. In discussion with other researchers, i found that a lot of poor kids only have access to the Internet through school and public settings (libraries, Internet cafes in cities). While urban libraries have not been blocking MySpace, many rural libraries (and schools) have been blocking the site. Even though the teens have heard that it’s really cool, they haven’t been able to join because of the filters.

(2) Few libraries have enough computers to make 18+ rooms which means that it has to happen on a per-access level. The way that libraries currently ban sites is through filters that work across the entire library. It is possible that there could be logins for all library users, but this would eliminate anonymous/private web access and most librarians seem to oppose this approach. Implementations that would block minors but not adults are much more onerous on libraries, although theoretically not impossible, just unlikely.

Final note: This legislation will not protect minors, but it will continue to erode their (and our) freedoms. There are so many amazing things that teens do with social technologies. To lose all of this because of the culture of fear is terrifying to me. I found out about my alma mater talking to strangers online in the 90s. I learned about what it means to be queer, how to have confidence in myself and had so many engaging conversations. Sure, i found some sketchy people too, but i learned to ignore them just as i learned to ignore the guys who whistled and honked from their cars when i walked to the movie theater with my best friend. We need to give youth the knowledge to know the risks of their actions, the structures to be able to come to us when something goes wrong and the opportunity to grow up and connect to their peers. Eliminating cultural artifacts because we don’t understand them does not make our lives any safer, but it does obliterate so many positive interactions.

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32 comments to anti-social networks legislation

  • Reactionary legislation doesn’t surprise me. “Just Say No” doesn’t work but remains politically popular. Whether you’re telling kids to not use drugs, or go to sites, or abstain from sex, if you don’t give them reasonable alternatives which they can buy into, you’ve lost them.

    In another blog you mentioned how ridiculous it was that there were abstinence programs for girls only, and how stds and teen pregnancies rise when supposedly responsible adults take this route in education. The same easily holds true for the “filter” approach to the Internet. Kids have already learned how to create proxy servers on their home computers and can reach sites from schools banned or not.

    Of course, this begs the general question “WTF are educators supposed to do about this?” Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use has been dealing with this issue for years. She has also visited the myspace headquarters and comes away with a viewpoint similar to yours. Bottom line is that parents need to become more actively involved with their kids.

    Again, I am working with other educators to try and make Myspace safer without diminishing the fun. However, in a nation where mainstream media (vis-a-vis Dateline with its non-stop “perverted justice” series) aggrandizes the dark side of the Net, we never really get a chance to look at all the good things that kids could be doing with Myspace (and the rest of the Net). Here are a few thoughts for politicians who wish to ban social networking and collaborative sites. Kids should be (but aren’t and are less likely to with this pending legislation):

  • Collaborating with peers online in safe and secure environments such as Tapped In
  • Working on global project based learning assignments
  • Using the Internet to become actively involved with their own education rather than sitting down at computers to take state mandated tests.
  • Those three things in a nutshell point out that schools march atavistically backwards in regards to what they think will make students safer. Educators (and politicians/parents/society too) should be showing the upside to what can happen online.

    To date there have been no mainstream media programs offering positive choices for using the Internet creatively; obviously a show of this type wouldn’t rate as highly as having cops tackle enticed would-be pedophiles.

    I got into education because school sucked… that was over 15 years ago. Guess what? It still does… and worse than ever.

  • Bob

    Poor youth only gain access to these sites through libraries and schools.

    Probably over-stated. It depends on how you define “poor”. Even if you define it by relating the household income to the poverty level, kids have friends, family members, etc.

    With this ban, poor youth will have no access to the cultural artifacts of their day.

    Demonstrably false. At worst, they will have no access through public schools and libraries to some of the cultural artifiacts of their day.

    Furthermore, because libraries won’t be able to maintain separate 18+ and minor computers, this legislation will affect everyone who uses libraries, including adults.

    They won’t? Can you say more here?

  • This is the first salvo in the Republicans’ “Suburban Agenda”. I’ve got a list of the proposals at my blog:

    First Round in the “Suburban Agenda”

    Some are good and some aren’t.

    Doug Johnson has issued a challenge:

    Here is my challenge to each of you serious, influential, and well-meaning people. Please serve as a positive example by:

    1. Letting everyone know what professional organization(s) you belong to which will provide organized lobbying against such legislation. I belong to MEMO at the state level and am the legislative chair. I belong to ISTE at the federal level and serve on the board.
    2. Sharing the sample letter you will be writing to your House representatives explaining why such legislation is wrong. I am guessing most of us faithful readers already are in your camp. I am working on mine tonight and will post it tomorrow.
    3. Passing along any other actions readers might take to actually influence this process.

    I look forward to reading your blogs.

  • danah,

    The digital divide effect can already be seen at Grambling State University: after the school banned access from campus computers, some students felt left out in the cold.

    -justin
    insidefacebook.com

  • Hey there Danah!
    Long time listener, but first time caller. But seriously while I don’t believe this law will pass, it is a concern that it is even being proposed. I struggle to imagine how such a law could be passed as it goes against both rights to free speech and assembly in the first amendment to your constitution.

    Aside from that though, if such a law did pass I don’t think it would as you say create a situation where
    “poor youth will have no access to the cultural artifacts of their day.”
    Instead I think these social networking sites would simply lose relevance, leading to other forms of social networking led by the computers that every one has, cellphones.

    We don’t see it yet due to factors you mentioned last week in your post on helio, but the desire for connectedness would still be there and the need created by the lack of online tools would most likely lead to more work being done to tie together the fragmented mobile world.

    What do you think?

  • well, maybe this would give some rise to rather non-commercial projects like wikipedia or others to be started. i am not playing the devel’s advocate here, but who is to decide where kids leave their digital fingerprints? sure they need to create the responsibility themselves, but considering that myspace&co are corporations primarily seeking to make money, i appreciate a public debate about it. i always had some troubles with consumerism in the public sphere (e.g. schools) and there is a connection, but i dont think that censorship is the solution.

  • You have a bigger problem with the fact that MySpace gives people a service they want and happens to make money in the process than with the fact that politicians want to exercise this level of control in a realm about which they know absolutely nothing?

    Danah, as soon as I read about this horrifying development, I came to your blog. This is sickening stuff. Please count me in to any organised efforts to help stop it.

  • @bob: poor people also tend to have poor friends and family. so this does limit access to basic things like web-based e-mail (because Yahoo!, for example, allows profiles).

    but at the very least, it’s a marvelously misguided bill that won’t do very much to protect kids from pervy adults online or off.

  • What this makes me think of immediately is the potential for a non-commercial social-networking site. At the same time though, I have the same reaction hearing about this proposed legislation as I did hearing about the proposed NJ bill that would require anyone who runs a message board, blog, etc to record detailed personal info of participants: these people are reactionary and out of the loop, and the rest of us will find a way around them.

    Do you have any suggestions on actions we might take?

  • I completely agree with you that this legislation is likely to do little more than deepen the digital divide. The bill was introduced by a Congressman representing suburban Philadelphia, who acknowledged that conservative soccer parents were leading the charge. Of course, his constituents have Internet access at home.

    What can we do? Education is the number way to keep legislation like this out of the law books. Parents and kids both need to be educated along with teachers and community leaders. If the appearance of the internet as the domain of pedophiles and perverts, you can expect a lot more legislation like this, even legislation that will affect non-commercial sites.

  • The bigger issue is that schools aren’t teaching the positive uses of these platforms, and are instead just trying to block it.

    But isn’t that always the case? Abstinence, not safe sex. No drinking until 21, not “learn what moderation is for you with the right supervision”.

  • In addition to educating the public that such censoring regulation is not ultimately in the best interests of kids (and therefore our country), we can educate people on how to take action and perhaps kill the bill in committee or remove the short-sighted ban:

    The Bill’s Number is H.R.5319 and it’s been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce where it seems the Chairman, Joe Barton (R-TX) is pretty wound up about online predators.

    The bill will probably be referred to a subcommittee. Wherever it lands, those are the congress people to focus on, especially if you live in their district. For example, *if* the bill is sent to the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, much of Silicon Valley can have an influence on Anna G. Eshoo (D) who is on that committee.

    You can also sign up for the RSS feed provided by GovTrack.us for H.R.5319 to keep an eye on when any action is taken on this bill.

  • MKellums

    If any site allows predators access to kids, I am in ffavor of not allowing it, Also there are sites for information for students,available elsewhere, and as to poor kids, Check them for gold chains, $100.00 tennies, & $`75.00 pants, down to their crotch. Do I sound angry, Hell yes, Some people wear the mantle(underprivileged, as often as they can. And further more, some of those sites, do not pertain to -scholastics, Use public sources for study,. Get Smart.

  • Rob. Being outside allows predators access to kids. Should that also be not allowed?

    The U.S. really has turned into a culture of fear where online predators and terrorists in turn can scare us into allowing the government to strip us of our freedoms, “for our own protection.”

    The rest of your comment is nonsensical.

  • I used to work at a school district’s IT dept. We blocked myspace, chat, etc. Not because of irrational fears of pervs, but because of the kids focusing on chatting and checking their sites over doing their work, and because we didn’t want to be the avenue the kids were using to post ‘inappropriate’ pictures of themselves to their myspace profiles. Which was disturbingly popular amongst the jr high girls.
    This law is pretty useless, as we already block this stuff, either because it does not have a valid enough educational benefit, or because it falls under the CIPA guidelines (which we felt myspace was a pretty solid contender for).

  • With this ban, poor youth will have no access to the cultural artifacts of their day

    And maybe they’ll actually spend their library time studying! Imagine that!

    Typical middle-class left-leaning stereotyping, as well as assuming that what you want is what they need. Are kids better off studying, going to university — or wasting time chatting online and posting pics of themselves?

    Are they more likely to taste the full range of opportunities by excelling academically or trading notes on which stupid band is popular this week?

    Would you have benefitted more by spending your time or IRC or working hard so MIT would be interested in accepting you?

    Get real

  • bastien

    hi, iam a french journalist and i make an article about myspace, Please can you send me a email and i send you my question, thanks.

  • Bear in mind however that many educators are taking up blogging, and using it with their students. I think there could well be an explosion in non-commercial sites as a result – see where my blog is hosted at edublogs.org, or do a search on edublogs anywhere.

  • I know that blogging is abandoned in many educational institutions.

  • I manage an online community that would probably be affected by this legislation (member profiles, ability to connect with people you don’t know, etc.) and I have mixed feelings. We already restrict access to our service to adults as we help members trade phone counseling sessions with each other and don’t want the liabilities involved in adults coaching behaviors in non-adults that the parents may object to, especially since it is all unlicensed peer counseling.

    Yet at the same time, I don’t think all communities deal with subject matter youths need to be “protected” from by denying them publicly supported access. We decided independently to have an 18 or older membership rule, and I think other communities can also decide for themselves whether their material poses a threat to minors. Has our society deteriorated so badly that we can only be held together by laws and never by personal responsibility and simple common sense?

  • Belle

    Hi,

    I Belgian journalist and no critical thinking skills have, I make articles about myspace, please I need to speak to talking-head for juicy quotes, you send me email? Merci

  • I work for a group called Mobilizing America’s Youth (Mobilize.org) and this bill (HR 5319) is one of our top priorities. This bill was written by people who do not use social networks on a regular basis. They don’t understand what an important tool they are becoming for the youth of America to connect to one another. We are working to organize yung people from across the country to write to congress and the media informing them of our opinions on social networks. We DON’T support online predators, and recognize the good intent at the heart of the bill bu feel this is the wrong way to go about it.

    This bill is also unfair to economically disadvantaged youth. For many students, their only access to computers and the internet is at schools or libraries. Their families simply cannot afford home access. Denying them the ability to use social networks in the only places they can is denying them tools the more advantaged members of their generation are using to great benefit.

    As a college Senior, I have been using MySpace and Facebook to meet new people with similar interests around my school, connect with old friends and keep track of other students in my classes for studying. These sites are a wonderful way for me to connect to other people, and restricting our ability to use them is unfair.

    As of right now, the bill has 30 cosigners, a number that grows daily. It is not fading away, and in fact is picking up steam. If this is an issue that matters to you, please tell your representatives about it. It is in the Telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

    If you are interested in more information on what Mobilize.org is doing with HR 5319, please visit us at http://www.mobilize.org/SOS

    I am so glad to see others engaging in a dialog about this!

  • Brenda

    AN OPEN LETTER TO ANYONE IN THE PEACE OFFICER FIELD!!

    I FEEL VERY STRONGLY ABOUT THIS ISSUE BECAUSE I KNOW OF A PEACE OFFICER LISTED ON ONE OF THOSE MEMORIAL PAGES TO THOSE BRAVE FALLEN OFFICERS!!!

    TO:
    Hon. Stephen Harper
    Office of the Prime Minister
    80 Wellington Street
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    K1A 0A2

    Twenty-seven Canadian peace officers were praised today by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for their long and exemplary service to Canada.

    TO:
    Congressman David Dreier
    233 Cannon HOB
    Washington, DC, U.S.A. 20515

    That is why I introduced H.R. 3900, the Justice for Peace Officers Act, with the strong support of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, to make it a federal crime to murder a peace officer — whether federal, state or local — and flee the country, providing concurrent jurisdiction for the federal government to prosecute the suspect.

    Dear Sirs

    I see you are doing legislation on behalf of federal peace officers or commemorating their service.

    As such, can you believe that Malaspina University College in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada says a letter received with a closing salutation of “former federal peace officer” is threatening??

    That is what Dr. Patrick Ross, Vice-President of Student Services, said in a recent meeting??

    This Dr. Patrick was referring to a letter received from a person who was a federal peace officer and since retirement he has closed his letters with “former federal peace officer” after his signature and name??

    I know I had trouble trying to get a simple class outline out of one of their History Professors, Professor Cheryl Warsh, who refused to send me a course outline for an interested student from America??

    What was so secretive about a course outline??

    In closing, have you ever heard anything so disgusting as a simple closing salutation of “former federal peace officer” being threatening as indicated by Dr. Patrick Ross from Malaspina University College !!

    Tell that to all those federal peace officers listed on the numerous memorial pages to those fallen officers!!

    I think people should tell this Dr. Patrick Ross exactly what they think of his statement!!

    Sincerely,

    Brenda Anne Bates

    HOPEFULLY SOMEONE WILL TELL DR. PARTICK ROSS WHAT THEY THINK OF HIS COMMENT THAT A CLOSING SALUTATION OF “FORMER FEDERAL PEACE OFFICER” IS THREATENING ON A LETTER!!

    HOPEFULLY, YOU WILL AGREE WITH ME THAT ROSS IS AN IDIOT TO MAKE SUCH A STATEMENT!!!

    PATRICK ROSS SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF HIMSELF!!!

  • I live in Russia. Here, especially in the province, little they know about blogakh, about the advantages of blogov over remaining sites.

  • I work for a group called Mobilizing America�s Youth (Mobilize.org) and this bill (HR 5319) is one of our top priorities. This bill was written by people who do not use social networks on a regular basis. They don�t understand what an important tool they are becoming for the youth of America to connect to one another. We are working to organize yung people from across the country to write to congress and the media informing them of our opinions on social networks. We DON�T support online predators, and recognize the good intent at the heart of the bill bu feel this is the wrong way to go about it.

    This bill is also unfair to economically disadvantaged youth. For many students, their only access to computers and the internet is at schools or libraries. Their families simply cannot afford home access. Denying them the ability to use social networks in the only places they can is denying them tools the more advantaged members of their generation are using to great benefit.

    As a college Senior, I have been using MySpace and Facebook to meet new people with similar interests around my school, connect with old friends and keep track of other students in my classes for studying. These sites are a wonderful way for me to connect to other people, and restricting our ability to use them is unfair.

    As of right now, the bill has 30 cosigners, a number that grows daily. It is not fading away, and in fact is picking up steam. If this is an issue that matters to you, please tell your representatives about it. It is in the Telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

    If you are interested in more information on what Mobilize.org is doing with HR 5319, please visit us at http://www.mobilize.org/SOS

    I am so glad to see others engaging in a dialog about this!

  • hi, iam a french journalist and i make an article about myspace, Please can you send me a email and i send you my question, thanks.

  • Jon

    places like myspace and facebook are really blowing up, but what we tend to forget are MOBILE social networks like peekamo. these i believe are the new social networks that are gonna take over. texting has become more widespread anyways.

  • I manage an online community that would probably be affected by this legislation (member profiles, ability to connect with people you don’t know, etc.) and I have mixed feelings. We already restrict access to our service to adults as we help members trade phone counseling sessions with each other and don’t want the liabilities involved in adults coaching behaviors in non-adults that the parents may object to, especially since it is all unlicensed peer counseling.

    Yet at the same time, I don’t think all communities deal with subject matter youths need to be “protected” from by denying them publicly supported access. We decided independently to have an 18 or older membership rule, and I think other communities can also decide for themselves whether their material poses a threat to minors. Has our society deteriorated so badly that we can only be held together by laws and never by personal responsibility and simple common sense?

    Posted by Indigo | May 22, 2006 9:54 PM

    Articles Submission Directory

  • I’m still required to be in school and until recently did not have the Internet and only now that I realise that if parents are becoming more and more overprotective of their children and socil networks encourage children to communicate through their sites the area of contact is becoming facebook-to-facebook talking. Socila networking is another way for parents to protect their child from the unbearable world which their children, now over-educated in safety, can’t handle what they can. Oh, and I’m one of those poor individuals although I use it for no excuses I am doing better in my highers than some of the over-privelaged.

  • Brian

    Could VOIS.com become another Facebook?

    Since the advent of social networking sites in 1997, the phenomenon has taken the world by storm. Once called a passing fad social networking is now a thriving business, in 2006, alone it garnered over $6.5 billion in revenue, while the three biggest players, connected over 280 million subscribers in a way never known before to society. This form of connection has drawn the globe closer together than anyone ever predicted.

    Just a few years ago, MySpace.com, solely dominated the social networking site market with almost 80% of the social networking site market but now websites like Facebook entered the social networking site race becoming the 8th most viewed website in the U.S. according to web measuring traffic site Alexa.com. Facebook.com which originally started at Harvard University , later extended to Boston area schools and beyond has mystified many naysayer’s with its explosive growth over the last three years and an astounding asking price of $10-$15 billion dollars for the company. But who will be next?

    Who will carry the torch into the future?

    With the rapid growth of the likes of MySpace and Facebook the burning question on everyone’s tongue is who is next? As with any burgeoning field many newcomers will and go but only the strong and unique will survive. Already many in the field have stumbled, as indicated by their traffic rankings, including heavily funded Eons.com with its former Monster.com founder at the helm, Hooverspot.com and Boomj.com with its ridiculous Web 3.0 slogan. There are many possibilities but it is a dark horse coming fast into view and taking hold in the social networking site market at the global level that has us interested the website – Vois.com. Less than a year ago, this newest contender directed at 25 to 50 years olds graced the absolute bottom of the list with its website ranked at a dismal 5,000,000. With not so much as a squeak this rising star has come from the depths of anonymity growing an eye-popping 10,000% in less than one year to make itself known worldwide now sporting a recent web traffic ranking in the 5,000 range.

    Understanding the Market

    When people in the United States hear about Facebook and other services such as MySpace the widely held belief is that these websites are globally used and are as synonymous as Google or Yahoo in regards to having a global market presence. This idea is completely misguided. Now it is true that both of these social networking giants are geared to service the western industrialized cultures but when it comes to the markets of the future, the emerging markets, they have virtually no presence. The sites themselves are heavily Anglicized, and Facebook in particular has an extremely complicated web interface that eludes even those familiar with the language, making them virtually inaccessible in other parts of the world even where English is the main language.

    Our interest in Vois is global and geopolitical. Simply, Vois understands this lack of market service and is building its provision model on a global research concept developed by Goldman Sachs a few years ago. The concept is basically predicated on the belief that beginning now using current economic models and continuing those models over the next few decades will lead to a major paradigm shift in the world regarding nations who are current economic leaders like those being the USA and the other members of the G-7 and those who will become dominant in the world economy mainly the BRICs. In the Goldman research report Goldman highlights the fastest growing nations and has dubbed them with the two acronyms BRIC’s and N-11. BRIC standing for ( Brazil, R ussia, India and China) representing the fastest growing economies and N-11 or what are being called the Next-11 representing the next 11 countries to emerge as future important economies such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam. This approach has already been implemented with some success with companies like Orkut, who has over 80% of the market share in Brazil and large holdings in India and Eastern Europe . Other providers such as Hi5 have the world as their focus and are making great strides in global market share while Facebook builds itself into a niche provider wholly unready to take on the world.

    A Growing Presence

    As Vois breaks new ground in the world market pursuing previously ignored demographics, they afford themselves the opportunity of tremendous growth unfettered by the giants such as Facebook and MySpace. While cultivating this new user base, Vois will also be able to monopolize on their business revenue strategies, creating an area of commerce that will make their site increasingly attractive to business and users the world over. This concept, dubbed sCommerce, allows the subscriber to promote themselves in both personal and a professional fashion while giving them the option of setting up shop on the site. This approach will allow business owners to target their market in a way never before allowing them to focus on interested groups of individuals while providing follow-up without having to commit to wasteful blanket campaigns that are typically the order of the day. This newfound border will allow Vois to explore new revenue models while provide a tremendous service for both their regular subscribers and business subscribers alike. With all this going on, rapid traffic growth to the site, we pose the question – is Vois the next Facebook, it sure looks like it but only time will tell.

  • bed

    Bear in mind however that many educators are taking up blogging, and using it with their students. I think there could well be an explosion in non-commercial sites as a result – see where my blog is hosted at edublogs.org, or do a search on edublogs anywhere.

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