By Peter J. Smith's official logoWASHINGTON, D.C., July 28, 2006 ( – Social networking sites such as may soon be inaccessible to minors from libraries and schools receiving federal funding. By a vote of 410 to 15, the US House of Representatives passed yesterday H.R. 5319 “Deleting Online Predators Act” (DOPA), which amends the Communications Act of 1934 to require schools and libraries receiving federal money to protect minors from commercial social networking websites.

“Social networking sites such as MySpace and chat rooms have allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids,” said Rep. Ted Poe, (R-Tex.) co-founder of the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus. He added, “This bill requires schools and libraries to establish (important) protections.”

The new regulations in DOPA reinforce the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), requiring schools, school districts, and libraries receiving federal funds to prohibit access through computers to visual images that are “obscene”, “child pornography” or “harmful to minors.” The new regulations, however, would also prohibit access to “a commercial social networking website or chat room through which minors — may easily access or be presented with obscene or indecent material; may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, unlawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults; or may easily access other material that is harmful to minors.”

Social networking sites like MySpace, which provide users with self-dedicated web-pages replete with personal information, photographs, and varying modes of self-expression (both decent and obscene), have had an incredible acceleration of popularity, and are the targets of the bill. MySpace, the foremost of these sites, boasts over 76 million users, and claims to register an average of 250,000 new users daily, many of whom are youth.

According to Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, (R-Penn.) DOPA’s original sponsor, ever popular social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster “have become a haven for online sexual predators who have made these corners of the Web their own virtual hunting ground.”

Although MySpace bills itself as “a place for friends” where every new user’s first friend is the creator “Tom”, and can add a limitless quota of other MySpace “friends” to one’s collection, many concerned parents and politicians have discovered that it is a place for sexual predators too. Police authorities have revealed that many sexual crimes against youth have been committed by youth meeting strangers they knew as MySpace “friends.” MySpace currently faces a $30 million dollar lawsuit filed by a 14 year old victim of sexual assault in Texas, who claims the site was negligent in protecting her from her 19 year old assaulter.

MySpace also acts as a forum for many people, especially youth, to advertise obscene behavior, pornography, and child pornography. Although MySpace has dedicated 1/3 of its entire staff to insuring safety, it remains questionable whether the site which includes porn star web profiles among its constantly changing and growing 76 million profiles can ever adequately protect youth from crime or limit obscenity.

While many organizations including the American Libraries Association have cried “censorship” in response to the DOPA regulations, the law only applies to schools and libraries receiving federal aid, and mandates that these institutions only prohibit minors from accessing these sites. If DOPA becomes law, it would affect the 25,707 agreements to provide federal funding to school districts or individual schools, and 3,902 agreements to libraries or library systems listed by the FCC.

The US Senate is expected to take up the bill sometime next week.