August 18, 2006


Antisocial Networking

...This afternoon I came to a conclusion. Our so-called representatives in Washington might be just as dangerous as predators that can be found on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Xanga. That’s not necessarily because they want to cause harm, but more because their clueless nature and naïveté can lead to harm.
...C-Span recently re-aired hearings that were originally held in late-June concerning protecting children from online predators, and it gave viewers a wonderful opportunity to see just how clueless our politicians really are when it comes to computer-savvy teens and technology in general.
...Congressman Bart Stupak had some of the most comical ideas: Create a special site that would be exclusively used for 14- and 15-year-olds. Yes, that’ll obviously work; teens always want to go places where adults tell them that they must go. Come on, Congressman. Teens go to sites that they perceive as being “cool”; a site “exclusively” for 14- and 15-year-olds will probably be have few teen users and be flooded with pedophiles more than anyone else.
...Since Stupak’s brilliant idea hinges upon the idea of users being honest about their age, that segues into another brilliant idea that was mentioned: Each of the representatives on the panel wanted some kind of perfect way for accurate identification verification. None of them had an idea of how to do it, but all were quick to demand it. A few of the Congressmen liked the idea of credit card numbers and charging users, but few seemed to understand that when you begin to charge people for something that might otherwise be free and off-set by advertisements, the number of users will drop dramatically. I’m guessing that most politicians don’t understand this concept because when it comes to finances, they’re accustomed to spending money that they didn’t earn.
...Not to single-out Stupak, but I was also amused by his “pornography expert” idea when it comes to who might decide what photographs are acceptable on social networking sites. A representative from Facebook explained that the Website has a group of people who determine what is allowed on their site and what isn’t. Stupak’s response was that the panel members are probably computer experts—not pornography experts. No offense, Mr. Stupak, but what the hell is a “pornography expert” and how does a person become one?
...The politicians also liked the idea of a national paid staff who can answer distress calls from instant messenger users 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A police officer who was testifying to the committee tried to explain that such a staff would have to be massive, considering how many people use the Internet at any given time, but again, he was saying this to a group of people who spend other peoples’ money, so fiscal reality meant little.
...The last idea that I thought was most impressive (for any politicians who might be reading this, I’m being sarcastic here) was to have the federal government establish standards for social networking sites. Yes, these standards would be established by men and women who have little, if any, understanding of anything that happens outside the beltway.
...Not to sound condescending, but here are a few tips for those of you who are “representing” (I use that term loosely, because I can’t name one person in Congress who represents me) us in Washington:
  • If you want to accurately identify any computer user, show up on their doorstep, interview them face-to-face, and demand a birth certificate. You can argue for using drivers’ license numbers, but keep in mind that companies will have to pay state governments since they’ll be using databases that are handled by departments of motor vehicles and/or state police agencies. They don’t work for free.
  • If you mandate the use of credit card numbers as identification, you’ll have to charge users for the sites. If you do, those sites will lose millions of users, and most of those users will probably be younger ones. Any pedophile users will more than likely be willing to shell out money to stay, so what you’ll then have is a social network with an unusually high percentage of nothing but pedophiles.
  • If you think that ordering 14- and 15-year-olds to use sites that are designed for only 14- and 15-years-old, you must be completely ignorant to how teenagers act. They don’t want to act their age; they want to be perceived as “adults”—even when they don’t act mature.
  • Similar to the first point, pedophiles can lie about their age, too. Even if you want to create a “special” site which is for 14- and 15-year-olds exclusively, keep in mind that pedophiles can very easily create fake profiles saying that they, too, are 14 or 15. What’s most dangerous here is that it’s easier to lie and make yourself younger than it is to lie and make yourself older.

...Unfortunately, I have a feeling that we’re on the cusp of seeing a “war on terror” approach to the Internet and pedophiles. By that I mean that we’re going to hear more politicians cry “safety” and label anyone who isn’t supportive of massive federal Internet regulation as being “against protecting our children” or “against safety.” This can be likened to those who currently say that dissenters of the “war on terror” and all aspects of “fighting” the war (such as the Patriot Act, for instance) as not being patriotic or even being in favor of the terrorists.

...After all, if we regulate all aspects of the Internet to the point where no one wants to use it anymore, we won’t have to worry about any of the dangers that come with it, will we?

...Internet safety has to come from educating parents and children on the dangers of predators and how to avoid them. It won’t do any good to sit around and wait for solutions from Washington. For one thing, we should be more hands-on with our personal security; for another thing, we probably won’t see any realistic solutions coming from Congress.


Blogger a.m. said...

You raise some excellent points here, well done. I think you're right about regulating the hell out of the Internet so that no one wants to use it anymore. I do think though, that the 'Net will be so regulated that only pedophiles and sex addicts will be able to even access sites because everyone else - from parents to children to teachers and librarians - will be prevented from perusing the Internet due to eventual Patriot Act regulations to help fight the war on terror. It's sad, but eventually all of those who might turn to the Internet for research or fun will be excluded for privacy or safety's sake.

August 19, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...


You know, a few weeks ago I was watching a show about Alexander Graham Bell and thought about how the early-1900s were such an explosive time for inventions. I wondered about the incentive for inventing things anymore—save for closet organizers, collapsible vegetable choppers, or anything else that might be on an infomercial at 3 o’clock in the morning—since inventors have to constantly question the possibility of their product being taken over by someone in Washington for one reason or another.

In this case, are we going to see the Internet become something that we’ll tell our grandchildren about, but it’ll be something that they view the same way that those of us in our 20s and 30s might view 8-track cassettes? Will it get to the point where all content will be monitored and all users will need a license?

Obviously I’m not saying that it will happen, but I’m not sure what to expect. There was one point in these hearings where it appeared that Rep. Stupak didn’t realize that the FCC doesn’t currently control the Internet. He asked an FCC official several times why MySpace wasn’t registered with them, but the FCC official was trying his best to politely explain that the FCC doesn’t (yet) regulate the Internet. Sadly, Stupak didn’t understand.

I’m pessimistic over the whole thing only because it seems to be a bipartisan issue. Stupak is a Democrat, but the Republicans on the committee liked the regulation route, too. ZD Net reported that the idea of Internet surveillance was supported by both Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Diana DeGette (D-CO).

I guess that we’re going to have to wait and see what happens. Since we have a republic that touts the gloriousness of democracy, this will ultimately be determined by what the majority wants. Federal regulation for the sake of safety? If enough people like that idea, I won’t be shocked to see it. Like I said in the post, however: If we reach that point we’ll also see fewer users, so a lot of the problems will disappear altogether.

August 19, 2006  
Blogger a.m. said...

Or else we'll create a new population of users who expect to pay for everything, including the Internet. They're already paying to play high school sports, video games online, etc. Instead of this current young generation who expects to get something for nothing we may end up creating a generation who pays for it all without batting an eye.

August 21, 2006  

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