Republicans Target Social Networking Sites

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — In a move that could have far-reaching implications for operators of social networking sites — adult-oriented and general interest alike — House Republicans have announced legislation that would restrict minor’s access to the sites from schools and libraries.

The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which was introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., is thought to be aimed at the likes of Myspace.com — a popular forum for adult industry networking — because of recent controversy involving predators lurking on the site. However, broad language in the bill, which targets any site that allows users to create public pages or profiles, means the impact could be far greater.

Sites as different in appeal as AdultFriender.com to LiveJournal.com (a site for bloggers) could be affected.

According to Fitzpatrick the issue is child safety online, hence restricting access from libraries and schools, where kids are most likely to use the sites in question.

“When children leave the home and go to school or the public library and have access to social networking sites, we have reason to be concerned,” Fitzpatrick said.

For its part, Myspace pointed out its eagerness to help protect children online.

“We have been working collaboratively on security and safety issues with an array of government agencies, law enforcement and educational groups, nonprofits and leading child safety organizations,” Rick Lane, vice president for government affairs at Myspace, said.

But House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who endorsed the legislation, indicated that the issue also was an important one for Republicans seeking to energize their base for the upcoming mid-term elections, calling it a “glimpse of some good language that is part of this Suburban Agenda.”

As part of the new platform, a Republican group calling itself the “Suburban Caucus” has identified Internet safety as a major concern for voters this fall.

According to Adam Thierer, a senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, what began as a campaign issue will likely spill over into a major debate over Internet censorship.

“This is the next major battlefield in the ongoing Internet censorship wars: social- networking websites,” Thierer said.