Four Pillars: More sledgehammers and unintended (?) consequences

Thanks to Kevin Marks for bringing this to my attention. I quote from the ZDNet story:

  • Web sites like and may soon be inaccessible for many people using public terminals at American schools and libraries, thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • By a 410-15 vote on Thursday, politicians approved a bill that would effectively require that “chat rooms” and “social networking sites” be rendered inaccessible to minors, an age group that includes some of the Internet’s most ardent users. Adults can ask for permission to access the sites.
  • “Social networking sites such as MySpace and chat rooms have allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids,” said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and co-founder of the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus. “This bill requires schools and libraries to establish (important) protections.”
  • Even though politicians apparently meant to restrict access to MySpace, the definition of off-limits Web sites is so broad the bill would probably sweep in thousands of commercial Web sites that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow “communication among users.” Details will be left up to the Federal Communications Commission.

Kevin also pointed me at what Danah Boyd had to say about this, which you can find here.

This is serious stuff. If the Bill becomes law, for one thing my Four Pillars suddenly becomes No Pillars. Or at best Two. But that’s not important.

What is important is Danah’s point about access. Social software skills are becoming more and more important, and are wonderful tools to create and release value. We are still learning about how to use them in education, healthcare and industry, but the value proposition is so profound that little, if any, analysis is required. What the Bill does is disenfranchise those whose primary access to social software is in schools and libraries. Which is incredibly saddening.

A few other observations.

One, the House voted 410-15 to pass the Bill. I wonder how many of those 415 have ever seen MySpace, much less used it.

Two, the Bill, while ostensibly designed to block MySpace, will affect all blogs and social networks for that matter most 21st century web sites, from Amazon thru eBay and Flickr. This is disenfranchisement on a magnitude that I find hard to believe. Again, probably carried out by people who have limited, if any, experience of the tools and facilities.

Three, if the Bill passes, the most likely outcome is that the very activity it seeks to prevent moves deeply underground, an appalling possibility. People forget the transparency that the web provides. At work I’ve always felt that driving dissent underground is counterproductive. In this context the parallel is worse than just counterproductive; new ways will be found that are actually harder to police than the status quo. And will cost a lot more. And yet fail.

Four, what we need is the exact reverse. Education in the benefits and risks of collaboration tools and social software, and ubiquitous access to the tools. And maybe we need to start not at the schools and the libraries, or even in the enterprises, but in the legislatures. Worldwide.

I’d be interested in knowing what Judy Breck and John Seely Brown and Clarence Fisher et al feel about this, with its terrible impact on education. So I shall watch their blogs with even more interest than is usual, if that is possible.

One thought on “Four Pillars: More sledgehammers and unintended (?) consequences”

  1. Can you even begin to imagine what a political own-goal this is? How does this kind of prior-restraint censorship look in, say, Iran? “We’d like all you kids over there to start (another) revolution so you can be more like us.” Yeah, sure.

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