Monday, January 29, 2007

Message to a Senator

I sent an e-mail to a (Georgia state) senator today.

First, I should probably introduce myself. My name is *removed*, and I am a Computer Science major at *removed*. I recently saw this article on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website, and it worries me.

There are a multitude of problems with this proposed policy.

The first, and most obvious one, is enforcement- Neither of the websites cited in the article (Myspace and Facebook) are based in the state of Georgia. The Internet is also known as the "World Wide Web", and for good reason. As an example, I started a blog yesterday that's had over a dozen visitors- 2 from Washington state, 2 from California, 2 from Canada, 2 from the New England area, 1 from England, 1 from Germany, 1 from Egypt, 1 from India, and 1 from Japan, and 2 from the state of Georgia. This isn't a lot of people (nor is it a very large blog) but it serves to show just how widespread the Internet is- within a day of putting the page up, I had visitors from multiple continents.
The reverse is also true- I've visited web pages multiple times that I had to pass through a translator to glean the contents of. I regularly read news sources from England, Canada, and Australia. Myspace is not just a Georgian thing- it's an international thing. I do not have a Myspace page, but I've visited some. Regardless of if it was even possible in practice to implement an age verification system, how would you deal with the site if they did not?
A lawsuit against the company in question would be a drain on our taxpayers' dollars, for an unlikely outcome and little gain.
Blocking the site from everyone in the state of Georgia is censorship, plain and simple, and furthermore it is technologically unfeasible due to the physical nature of the Internet connections in America.
The Internet Service Providers (such as AOL and Comcast) are not responsible for the content people load on their computers, and could not practically block it.

Second, the proposed policy reeks of being an un-thought-out kneejerk reaction to the news stories about child molestations and murders that are tangentially related to Any form of contact to another human being through the anonymous wall of the internet has the potential to lead to disaster. It is true, and sadly regrettable, that people will abuse anonymity to claim that they are someone they are not- you need not go far on Myspace to see profiles claiming to be Mickey Mouse, for instance. (A quick search on Google finds multiple of them- several of which are actually informative of the history of Disney in general and the Mickey Mouse character specifically.)
However, the anonymity of the Internet is also one of its greatest benefits- the Communist government's censorship in China can be worked around through various anonymization tools, for instance.

However, most child abuse and child molestation cases do not come from outside. They come from inside- the majority of child abuse and child molestation cases are relatives of the child. It is unfortunate that it happens at all, but stifling the innovation of the Internet is not the answer. Most of Myspace's users are teenagers who use it to communicate with other teenagers. You shouldn't be stopping them from doing this. Don't go after the people who want to use a webpage on the internet as a tool to talk to their friends. Go after the people who use a webpage on the internet as a tool to harm people. Don't blame the tool, blame the person who abuses it. The "dozens of teens" that the article says you cited are a tiny, tiny minority of Myspace users, of which there are millions. Certainly, there shouldn't be anyone raped, molested, or killed, but punishing everyone for the actions of a tiny minority is not the answer.

Finally, requiring teenagers to have parental permission to use Myspace is a far cry from common sense. Would you also require them to have parental permission to use an Instant Messaging program or a chat protocol? There have been horror stories about the dangers of the Internet since before the early days of AOL. The vast majority of it does not materialize. The people of the internet are, as a rule, extremely good at policing themselves. While someone may decide to post a shock image (such as the infamous Goatse or Tubgirl images, neither of which I recommend you look up) on an internet forum, that user is typically banned from the site or chat room, or has his posts moderated down to invisibility, or gets put on the ignore list of everyone in the room, or whatever applies to that particular medium of communication.

Keep in mind, Senator, that the Internet is to today's generation what the telephone was to prior generations. The sitcoms of the past depicted teenagers spending all day on the telephone talking to their friends. Replace the telephone with the Internet and cell phones, and you've got the modern era of communication in a nutshell.
Furthermore, practically speaking, any teenager who has access to Myspace has his or her parents' de facto permission- that person has a computer and internet access, and either the parents have not installed "parental control" software, or they have it configured to allow Myspace.

In short, Senator, the bill you have proposed, if the AJC article is at all accurate, is a horrible idea- a kneejerk reaction that is not only ill-advised and contrary to the spirit of freedom for all that pervades America and the Internet, but also practically impossible to enforce.

I appreciate your concern and applaud your efforts, but this bill simply is not a good idea. I ask that you retract your support of this bill and rethink the policy you are proposing to one that is not contrary to freedom (many people choose to have anonymous Myspace accounts for the sole reason that they do not want to connect who they are on the Internet with who they are in real life- requiring parental permission would remove this anonymity, and revoke their means of protecting themselves) and is recognizant of the interstate and international boundaries (or lack thereof) and is somehow enforceable.

Personally, I suspect that the latter is next to an impossibility on the state level, and difficult on a national level. The internet behaves in a manner of its own, almost (but not quite) self-governing in practice if not in theory. However, as the specific sites in question (Myspace and Facebook) are both based within the United States, national law is applicable. A Georgia state law is irrelevant and would ultimately be self-defeating: any company considering a webpage that falls under the jurisdiction of the Georgia law would simply host it outside of Georgia to avoid having to meet the requirements.

Thank you,
*name removed*


com2kid said...

Hia, com2kid from /., just stopping in to ask what I did that might've teed you off! I'm not an astroturfer for any agency (I am still in college and I run Linux at home right next to Windows), and I think that censorship laws are incredibly stupid.

JoshJ said...

I don't log exactly what I mark foes as, I merely call them as I see them, and I can't look back at your post history past 24 posts and I don't particularly feel like going back farther. I'll unfoe you but if you repeat whatever it is I thought was worthy of foeing I'll refoe you.

I don't think unfoe, foeing, and refoe are technically words, but treat them as though they are. >_>

justin said...

I think you have an excellent point, alas, senators almost never really give two shits :(

Tim said...

well, that's what we get for putting monkeys in office.

Yvon said...

I strongly believe that Internet is the ‘’today’’ part of new technologies and like any powerful tool of nature, has to be managed and accessed properly to get real benefits out of it. And, only a combination of educational-guide tool and parental involvement is still the most effective way to keep our kids safe online…

That’s why we created AxylomClass ® a 2nd generation of Internet parent control software based on an innovative approach without exploiting standard technological filter or censure approaches but with a Trust mode of navigation to develop a real parent-child communication.

AxylomClass ® lend a hand as parent to develop and to sustain self-governance, ethical and critical attitudes from yours children electronically connected to the world with a solid control on Internet clutter by creating your private Internet (Virtual Library).

Finally, to give them a reason to push aside all of that clutter and focus on reaching their true potential at home, in school and beyond