Would Your Favorite Website be Banned by DOPA?

by on March 10, 2007 · 38 comments

TLF readers, I need your help. As most of you know, many federal and state lawmakers are suggesting that “social networking websites” need to be regulated in the name of keeping minors safe online. So far, regulatory proposals have come in two varieties: (1) an outright ban on such sites in publicly funded schools and libraries, or (2) mandatory age verification of users before they are allowed on the sites.

Setting aside the many potential pitfalls associated with either form of regulation, proponents of these mandates seem to be ignoring a very challenging threshold question: What exactly constitutes a “social networking website”? In my past and upcoming papers on this issue, I argue that lawmakers are opening up a huge Pandora’s Box of problems here in terms of unintended regulatory consequences. That’s because “social networking” defies easy definition since, in many ways, the Internet and most of the websites that make up the World Wide Web have been fundamentally tied up with the notion of social networking from their inception.

So, here’s how I need your help. Below the fold you will find the amorphous legislative definitions of “social networking websites” that lawmakers have proposed so far. Using those definitions as a guide, I am hoping that you can list for me a couple of your favorite websites that might be subject to federal or state regulation should lawmakers pass bans on social networking sites or demand age verification of them. This will help me construct a diverse list of websites that will be negatively impacted by regulation which we can then present to policy makers and the press in coming months as these debates unfold.


OK, so here are the definitions. Under the first incarnation of the federal “Deleting Online Predators Act” (DOPA), which would ban such sites in publicly funded schools and libraries, “social networking websites” were defined as any site that:

“(a) allows users to create web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users; and (b) offers a mechanism for communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, email, or instant messenger.”

The latest version of DOPA is contained in S. 49, “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act,” which was reintroduced just a few weeks into the current session of Congress by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Section 2 of the bill defines social networking as follows:

“In determining the definition of a social networking website, the Commission shall take into consideration the extent to which a website (i) is offered by a commercial entity; (ii) permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information; (iii) permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users; (iv) elicits highly-personalized information from users; and (v) enables communication among users.”

Finally, a new Connecticut bill, which demands age verification and parental notification before allowing minors on such sites, defines social networking websites as:

“an Internet web site containing profile web pages of members of the web site that include the name or nickname of such members, photographs placed on the profile web page by such members, other personal information about such members and links to other profile web pages on social networking web sites of friends or associates of such members that can be accessed by other members or visitors to the web site. A social networking web site provides members of or visitors to such web site the ability to leave the messages or comments on the profile web page that are visible to all or some visitors to the profile web page and may include a form of electronic mail for members of such web site.”

A synthesis of these three definitions basically boils down to this: A social networking site is any website that allows users to…

(1) create their own profile;
(2) post information about themselves within that profile; and,
(3) interact with other members who have profiles on that webpage.

No doubt, that definition would capture almost all of the popular social networking websites out there today, including MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Tagged, Imbee, LiveJournal, Yahoo 360, Windows Live Spaces, and so on. (For a more comprehensive listing of other social networking sites that might be affected by these regulatory efforts, see the “SaveYourSpace.org” web page.)

Unfortunately, however, that definition would cover a great deal more online activity than proponents realize. Indeed, DOPA and age verification mandates are likely to cast a very wide net and ensnare many websites and services that millions of web surfers — children and adults alike — use every day.

For example, last week I noted how USA Today had re-launched its website and refashioned it as social networking website complete with profiles, avatars, and plenty of user interaction. So, is USAToday.com a social networking website? Who knows. And what about Flickr and Wikipedia?

The more I started thinking about the potential reach of DOPA and age verification mandates, the more worried I got about how this all might impact some of my favorite websites, including:

* CBS Sportsline: A great site for fantasy sports junkies that lets you create profiles and interact with millions of strangers of all ages in different fantasy sports leagues.

* GameSpot and XBOX Forums: Two amazing sites for video game fans that allow you to create profiles, post reviews, and interact with other gamers. The XBOX site even lets you migrate your XBOX 360 “gamer tag” over to the site so that others can see your gamer ranking and individual gaming achievements.

* RoadFly.com and CarDomain.com: For sports car junkies like me, nothing beats these two sites. They allow users to create a personal page about themselves and their car and then share pictures and information with others on various forums.

* AVS Forum: One-stop shopping for home theater / audio-visual matters. This amazing site allows millions of A/V fanatics to interact in dozens of different forums. Users post tons of information about themselves, their home theater setup, and their favorite gear or content. (See member profiles here).

OK, so those are my favorite websites and, as far as I can tell, every one of them would qualify as “social networking websites” under DOPA and the age verification bills. So now it’s your turn. Please tell me about some of your favorite websites (or any other sites) that you think would be regulated under the amorphous definition of social networking that lawmakers are proposing. And thanks in advance for your contributions.

  • http://www.safekids.com Larry Magid

     

     

    I can think of five sites that I’m involved with — 3 of which are dedicated
    to Internet safety.

    BlogSafety.com that I co-direct with
    Anne Collier is a forum for discussing how to keep teens safe online allows
    people to register and create profiles. That might be banned.

    SafeKids.com,
    SafeTeens.com and
    <a href=”http://www.pcanswer.com” rel=”nofollow”>PCAnswer.com, which I operate, are set up
    as WordPress blogs and, by default, they allow comments and the ability to
    register so they might be banned as well.

    I also write for CBSNews.com which allows registration and comments. I suppose
    that too would be banned.

    As I said in my CBS News

    article about DOPA
    ,  it should be called DOTA — Deleting Online
    Teenagers Act.

    Larry Magid

     

  • http://www.safekids.com Larry Magid

     

     

    I can think of five sites that I’m involved with — 3 of which are dedicated
    to Internet safety.

    BlogSafety.com that I co-direct with
    Anne Collier is a forum for discussing how to keep teens safe online allows
    people to register and create profiles. That might be banned.

    SafeKids.com,
    SafeTeens.com and
    PCAnswer.com, which I operate, are set up
    as WordPress blogs and, by default, they allow comments and the ability to
    register so they might be banned as well.

    I also write for CBSNews.com which allows registration and comments. I suppose
    that too would be banned.

    As I said in my CBS News

    article about DOPA
    ,  it should be called DOTA — Deleting Online
    Teenagers Act.

    Larry Magid

     

  • DJ

    Looks like LastFM qualifies:

    http://www.last.fm/users/

  • DJ

    Looks like LastFM qualifies:

    http://www.last.fm/users/

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Slashdot definitely fits. YouTube probably does. Wikipedia also might–which would mean that any site running MediaWiki software would also fall under the definition.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Slashdot definitely fits. YouTube probably does. Wikipedia also might–which would mean that any site running MediaWiki software would also fall under the definition.

  • http://linuxmusicreview.com Diomedea

    Depending on how these new regulations get phrased in detail, almost all current websites may be in danger. Except for the profile thing (almost) every blog provides a platform for users to interact with each other through comments. And most big blogging sites such as blogger.com or wordpress.com even allow anybody to create a profile with whatever personal information he/she wants to publish. Therefore, this law has the potential to shut down all the small sites that cannot afford to implement the ID requirements.

  • http://linuxmusicreview.com Diomedea

    Depending on how these new regulations get phrased in detail, almost all current websites may be in danger. Except for the profile thing (almost) every blog provides a platform for users to interact with each other through comments. And most big blogging sites such as blogger.com or wordpress.com even allow anybody to create a profile with whatever personal information he/she wants to publish. Therefore, this law has the potential to shut down all the small sites that cannot afford to implement the ID requirements.

  • http://www.ssokolow.com/ Stephan Sokolow

    Ugh! Looks like Fanfiction.net, deviantART, Keenspot Forums (or any phpBB or Invision forum, for that matter), and even GMail qualify.

    For those who don’t know, think “e-mail sigs”, the basic nature of e-mail, and GMail’s new “Add your photo” feature.

  • http://www.ssokolow.com/ Stephan Sokolow

    Ugh! Looks like Fanfiction.net, deviantART, Keenspot Forums (or any phpBB or Invision forum, for that matter), and even GMail qualify.

    For those who don’t know, think “e-mail sigs”, the basic nature of e-mail, and GMail’s new “Add your photo” feature.

  • Steve_R

    Blogger @ http://www.blogger.com/start
    ———————————————-
    Here’s an additional issue (category) to add to your analysis; “help forums”. The following two forums allow persons to ask and answer questions concerning computer applications. If the proposed legislation adversely affects these sites a lot of collaborative exchange of technical information would be frustrated. Not being able to access these sites from schools or libraries would severely limit the ability of students to learn computer skills.

    http://www.access-programmers.co.uk/forums/inde
    http://www.theeldergeek.com/forum/index.php?s=8

    As a side issue, many forums are located outside of US jurisdiction even though you can access them from the US, so how would the proposed legislation regulate these sites????? The access forum above is based in the United Kingdom.
    ———————————————–
    General lightweight computer discussion.
    http://leovilletownsquare.com/fusionbb/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14019452 Steve R.

    Blogger @ http://www.blogger.com/start
    ———————————————-
    Here’s an additional issue (category) to add to your analysis; “help forums”. The following two forums allow persons to ask and answer questions concerning computer applications. If the proposed legislation adversely affects these sites a lot of collaborative exchange of technical information would be frustrated. Not being able to access these sites from schools or libraries would severely limit the ability of students to learn computer skills.

    http://www.access-programmers.co.uk/forums/index.php
    http://www.theeldergeek.com/forum/index.php?s=8387c0b0abe6fe5178b439b24e4f7b83&act=idx

    As a side issue, many forums are located outside of US jurisdiction even though you can access them from the US, so how would the proposed legislation regulate these sites????? The access forum above is based in the United Kingdom.
    ———————————————–
    General lightweight computer discussion.
    http://leovilletownsquare.com/fusionbb/

  • Steve_R

    Below is a ham radio hobby related website.

    http://www.eham.net/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14019452 Steve R.

    Below is a ham radio hobby related website.

    http://www.eham.net/

  • http://linuxmusicreview.com Diomedea

    Steve:

    Your comment raises an important point. The fact that many sites are out of US jurisdiction (above mentioned last.fm is an example) is one of the reasons why all these ideas to restrict access to social networking sites are flawed. Even for a small-time blogger like me it is relatively easy to buy web hosting in countries that do not care about anything.

    I thing the motivation behind all these laws is not to protect children but just to get votes from panicked parents who do not comprehend how the Internet works. Investing a couple of dollars in some education programs would be probably a better idea towards protecting kids.

  • http://linuxmusicreview.com Diomedea

    Steve:

    Your comment raises an important point. The fact that many sites are out of US jurisdiction (above mentioned last.fm is an example) is one of the reasons why all these ideas to restrict access to social networking sites are flawed. Even for a small-time blogger like me it is relatively easy to buy web hosting in countries that do not care about anything.

    I thing the motivation behind all these laws is not to protect children but just to get votes from panicked parents who do not comprehend how the Internet works. Investing a couple of dollars in some education programs would be probably a better idea towards protecting kids.

  • http://www.netfamilynews.org Anne Collier

    Any social site Cisco builds for clients with its new acquisition FiveAcross would have to age verify, right? And Business Week recently reported on IBM’s “Lotus Connections.” These are indicators that soon there won’t be a site on the public Web or a corporate intranet without social-networking features.

    I wonder if YouthNoise.com, a nonprofit social-networking site promoting teen social activism (started by Save the Children), would be able to afford putting age verification in place. It would certainly be banned under a DOPA-type law. This one would be a great loss, I believe.

    Ning.com says it now hosts more than 33,000 mini-social-networking sites run by individuals and small groups (such as Santa Monica beach volleyball and Pez dispenser collectors. I guess these individual social sites would have to age verify or would be banned by a DOPA-type law.

    Then there are all the family-oriented social-networking sites from which kids would be banned and unable to socialize online with their grandparents on Famster.com, Families.com, Famoodle.com, Cingo.com, FamilyRoutes.com, Minti.com, and Famundo.com.

    Many niche sites would be banned, such as WAYN.com, TripConnect.com, and Zimbio.com (in the travel category, the last one a guide to all the travel-social-networking sites); and thoos.com for outdoor athletes (runners, paragliders, cyclists, hikers, etc.) and SportsDigger.com for sports fans; Digg.com for the news; and Reuters is planning a financial social-networking site. Kids will be banned from comparing notes on the news or learning financial planning in these last two categories.

    I also wonder what the impact on Wikipedia.org would be, not to mention its ever-growing list of links to social-networking sites.

  • http://www.netfamilynews.org Anne Collier

    Any social site Cisco builds for clients with its new acquisition FiveAcross would have to age verify, right? And Business Week recently reported on IBM’s “Lotus Connections.” These are indicators that soon there won’t be a site on the public Web or a corporate intranet without social-networking features.

    I wonder if YouthNoise.com, a nonprofit social-networking site promoting teen social activism (started by Save the Children), would be able to afford putting age verification in place. It would certainly be banned under a DOPA-type law. This one would be a great loss, I believe.

    Ning.com says it now hosts more than 33,000 mini-social-networking sites run by individuals and small groups (such as Santa Monica beach volleyball and Pez dispenser collectors. I guess these individual social sites would have to age verify or would be banned by a DOPA-type law.

    Then there are all the family-oriented social-networking sites from which kids would be banned and unable to socialize online with their grandparents on Famster.com, Families.com, Famoodle.com, Cingo.com, FamilyRoutes.com, Minti.com, and Famundo.com.

    Many niche sites would be banned, such as WAYN.com, TripConnect.com, and Zimbio.com (in the travel category, the last one a guide to all the travel-social-networking sites); and thoos.com for outdoor athletes (runners, paragliders, cyclists, hikers, etc.) and SportsDigger.com for sports fans; Digg.com for the news; and Reuters is planning a financial social-networking site. Kids will be banned from comparing notes on the news or learning financial planning in these last two categories.

    I also wonder what the impact on Wikipedia.org would be, not to mention its ever-growing list of links to social-networking sites.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Adam, it sounds like the proposed regulations would affect instant messaging services, and their complementary features (homepages, user profiles, publicly viewable buddy lists, etc). I use AIM and MSN, and it seems like these two services would fall under the specs you outline above.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Adam, it sounds like the proposed regulations would affect instant messaging services, and their complementary features (homepages, user profiles, publicly viewable buddy lists, etc). I use AIM and MSN, and it seems like these two services would fall under the specs you outline above.

  • http://www.netfamilynews.org Anne Collier

    It also occurs that this blog itself, mine (NetFamilyNews.blogspot.com, or any other that allows comments could be banned in schools and libraries under a DOPA sort of law.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Anne,

    I think this blog is safe because we don’t offer our readers the ability to create profiles.

    -Tim

  • http://www.netfamilynews.org Anne Collier

    It also occurs that this blog itself, mine (NetFamilyNews.blogspot.com, or any other that allows comments could be banned in schools and libraries under a DOPA sort of law.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Anne,

    I think this blog is safe because we don’t offer our readers the ability to create profiles.

    -Tim

  • http://www.neted.org Tim Lordan

    Lawmakers on Capitol Hill need to realize that social networking is really not a technology that is insular and peculiar only to teens. In fact, it is very likely that social networking technology will be the cornerstone of every new political campaign going forward. In fact, social networking technology is perfectly suited for political organizing and, more importantly, fund-raising.

    Below I have posted two stories from the past week that show how political campaigns are being transformed by social networking technology. My.BarakObama.com shows where this is all going.

    Through this lens, I have a few questions: 1) As a society, we really want young people starting to engage in political discourse — it’s clear that they would rather make their political comments on a social networking site rather than writing a letter to the editor. Would these restrictions hurt the budding interest of young people to engage in political discourse? 2) The most commonly used age verification technology is a credit card. How will credit card verification affect low income folks or those without access to lines of credit. In a political environment already charged by concerns over voter disenfranchisement, how will the courts view these age-verification gates to social networking-enabled political discourse?

    “Young Voters Find Voice on Facebook,
    Site’s Candidate Groups Are Grass-Roots Politics for the Web Generation” [Washington Post]

    “Donations Pooled Online Are Getting Candidates’ Attention” [
    Washington Post]

  • http://www.neted.org Tim Lordan

    Lawmakers on Capitol Hill need to realize that social networking is really not a technology that is insular and peculiar only to teens. In fact, it is very likely that social networking technology will be the cornerstone of every new political campaign going forward. In fact, social networking technology is perfectly suited for political organizing and, more importantly, fund-raising.

    Below I have posted two stories from the past week that show how political campaigns are being transformed by social networking technology. My.BarakObama.com shows where this is all going.

    Through this lens, I have a few questions: 1) As a society, we really want young people starting to engage in political discourse — it’s clear that they would rather make their political comments on a social networking site rather than writing a letter to the editor. Would these restrictions hurt the budding interest of young people to engage in political discourse? 2) The most commonly used age verification technology is a credit card. How will credit card verification affect low income folks or those without access to lines of credit. In a political environment already charged by concerns over voter disenfranchisement, how will the courts view these age-verification gates to social networking-enabled political discourse?

    “Young Voters Find Voice on Facebook,
    Site’s Candidate Groups Are Grass-Roots Politics for the Web Generation” [Washington Post]

    “Donations Pooled Online Are Getting Candidates’ Attention” [
    Washington Post]

  • http://48244723 ella

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • ella

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • http://4944317 Victor-G-Alexander

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • Victor-G-Alexander

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • http://73108363 MADALY_DIAZ

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • MADALY_DIAZ

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • http://74630158 Coleman

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • Coleman

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • http://2499671 BENJAMIN_A_BROWN532

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • BENJAMIN_A_BROWN532

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • http://11265000 chandra632

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

  • chandra632

    Abanamat! In vina veritas! 119 Array

Previous post:

Next post: