MySpace and Social Tools

I have had to lobby this week to have the IT people that manage the computer filtering at the school I work with to give adults access to MySpace. In fact, I don’t even know if any of the adults that come to computer drop-in time at the hich school ever even try to access MySpace, but I know if they try, they can’t.

The larger problem is that the filtering software they use to keep kids off of a ton of different sites during the school day (Surf Control, if it matters) behaves … erratically. I have computer logins specifically for my adult students and every now and again I go to help them do something and find that Google is blocked. Not Gmail, just plain old Google.com. So I call the IT people and ask them to fix it and they usually do. However, since I actually need to be able to access sites like Google during my evening classes, we’ve reached a compromise where they turn the filter off between 3 (after school) and 8 pm. However, they also track all the traffic that goes through the network during this time. They noticed, they said, that people were accessing MySpace. The implication was that 1) MySpace is against the rules and 2) MySpace has no value whatsoever and 3) even adults don’t have the right to use the computer networks to access social software sites.

So, I went to work and explained that the adults who come to drop-in time shoudl pretty much have the right to look at whatever they want, that MySpace is fine — I hadn’t been looking at MySpace but I had a page on MySpace that I might want to look at — and that the reports of MySpace’s dangers have bee greatly overrated. Read the article. Fewer teens are receiving unwanted online solicitations than they were in 1999. Despite this, we get laws like DOPA. That’s lousy.

DOPA dies on the vine

With the shift in power in Congress, DOPA looks like it’s done.

the final nail in DOPA’s coffin came with the switch of Congress from Republican to Democrat. Legislation that doesn’t get signed into law by the end of a congressional term has to start from scratch during the next term. In January, the Democrats will be in charge of both houses of Congress, and there’s no sign that they’re going to rush and re-introduce DOPA. Key DOPA critics in the House and Senate, including Reps Ed Markey, John Dingell and Sen. Patrick Leahy, will soon be in leadership positions. With the Republican losses in November, it will be harder for their caucus members to re-introduce DOPA, especially since Fitzpatrick is gone and they lacked Democrat co-sponsors in the first place.

[libinblack]

hi – 12oct

Hi. I’ve been scarce lately. Not that you need to know this thanks to the wonders of RSS, but I’ve felt scarce lately and that’s important as well. I spent this past week starting my Digital Pictures class, teaching two people to use computers for the first time, checking in on the Internet/wireless install at two of my tiny libraries, staffing my drop-in time and driving back and forth to Massachusetts to assist family members with a bunch of medical upsets, most of which have mostly passed. I generally don’t update here when life trumps blogging, but it’s worth a reminder that jessamyn.com sometimes reveals what this site doesn’t dwell on, for the curious.

I have a lot of travel coming up. I’ll be speaking at NELA here in Vermont and an ACRL event in Oregon. Next month takes me to Michigan, Wisconsin and Hawaii. It’s an odd combination of talks, Digital Divide issues on the one hand and Hot New Technologies on the other hand. I feel like that mayor in A Nightmare Before Christmas, with the two faces that oppose each other.

As the days get shorter I’ve also been in strategy mode. I like my job, the things I do in my life and I’m thrilled every time I get an IM or an email from someone saying “Hey I tried one of those things you talked about in your presentation and it really worked well!” I’ve been spending some time thinking about scalability and the problem of the technologically left-behind. We like technological solutions to problems because they often scale. If you can make software that solves a problem, you can replicate it and that problem solving spreads. IF, and this is a big if, if you have people that have a computer and can use software. Writing books to inform and educate adults who can read scales. Teaching adults to read doesn’t. Adults who don’t read have a variety of reasons why this is the case and often carry a lot of baggage about not being able to read.

Adults who can’t use computers are in the same boat. Many of these people come to libraries. One of the students I was working with this week had tried to go to the library, my old library. He had needed to fill out a job application for Home Depot and had very little computer experience. The library had 30 minute time computer slots (when I was there I recall it was 45, but in any case it wasn’t enough). There was a way for him to save his work on the website, but neither he nor the librarians he worked with could show him how to do this. He waited, and found me and my drop-in time a few weeks later. I worry sometimes that if we’re providing computers and internet access to people and then make them really only useful to people who already know how to use them, we’re reinforcing a bad bad trend.

As John Blyberg discussed in his Going to the Boneyard post about library detractors and our own abilities as marketers, lobbyists and activists, if people are saying we’re not serving them, that we’re irrelevant, maybe we’re not doing what we do correctly? I think there’s a difference between the “there’s something in my library to offend everyone, even me” sentiment and the article that John and many others are responding to claiming that libraries are obsolete but it’s not a huge difference. As a profession, we have a hard time standing up for ourselves, and a hard time defining our new directions. This makes us susceptible to attack. The nobility and rationality of our arguments isn’t always going to see us through. We need to be proactive and firm about our messages: DOPA is bad legislation, MySpace isn’t a threat, libraries are good places for kids and teens, reading bad words won’t make you a bad person. We need to develop solutions that scale.

The localness of libraries is their charm but also has the potential to be their undoing. I took a friend for a drive returning library books yesterday (five libraries!) and the difference between the little library in the poorer town and the little library in the bigger town was striking to her, whereas I’m more used to it. We’ve seen legislators and the Department of Education step in and deal with some of this inequality when it happens to schools, whats our large scale solution when we see this sort of thing happening to libraries?

DOPA, you are on notice

I talked with the Library 2.0 gang about DOPA yesterday [updated to include link], trying to figure out strategies and talking points for helping librarians deal with the full court press that is this legislation + the media onslaught about the evils of social software. I learned a lot more about Second Life than I knew previously and came away feeling like I could go back to my libraries and make a good case for why they should pay attention to DOPA and what they’d be missing if it passed.

This is just all an intro to this “On Notice” image posted by Michael Stephens. Perhaps not as funny if you don’t already watch the Colbert Report, but I think you can get a lot of it via context.

Flickr, patron complaints about

Are you a library that has gotten one of the cut-n-paste emails warning about “hardcore and even child porn” images on Flickr? Do you host a library-oriented group that has suddenly had an inundation of inappropriate (and possibly pornographic) pictures from users unknown to you? If so, you are not alone. Libraries and librarians have set up a discussion forum in this Flickr group to talk tactics. Michael Stephens has some backstory about the problem on ALA TechSource, particularly concerning as we watch DOPA inexorably move through Congress.

Educate your users—your community—about the good and bad of social software. I’d much rather give a roadmap and some guidance to someone instead of blocking access.

DOPA, what? A wrap up, post vote.

I probably should have mentioned in the title that my post yesterday was discussing DOPA. It’s certainly been a topic today, here are just the posts that I saw in my aggegator today.

And then there’s the blogads on Technorati which just say “Looking for Dopa? Find exactly what you want today.” Har har.

crap, filtering bill on the move

Straight form the Center for Democracy and Technology: “The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would force schools and libraries to block chat and social networking sites as a condition of receiving federal E-rate funding.” This bill is also known as DOPA, also known as bad news for libraries. Putting the Federal Communications Commission in charge of what can and can’t be accessed in libraries is total madness. Granted, this is the same as CIPA where only libraries who receive universal service support have to be subjected to it. The phrase “harmful to minors” which is not a legally defined term will be the standard for what gets filtered under this legislation. I guess I have just a few questions

1. If CIPA didn’t fix this problem — and recall, it was supposed to — why will this bill succeed where it failed? Have filters gotten better? Have the “bad guys” gotten dumber?
2. Doesn’t this create a class system of libraries where the ones who can forego federal funding can make choices that the ones who cannot are unable to make? Isn’t this sort of anti-American?
3. Doesn’t DOPA not solve any problem at all if it’s not applied to all schools and libraries and, in fact, the entire Internet, really? Does anyone have any data on where teens access the Internet besides school and the library? Is anyone doing anything about those places?
4. Isn’t having the FCC publish an annual list of chatrooms and social networking sites that “have been shown to allow sexual predators easy access to personal information of, and contact with, children” just creating a how to list for pedophiles and, as such, totally counterproductive?
5. Have any of you Representatives ever used a social networking site or a chat room?

you’ve tried COPA, now how about DOPA?

Please remember, librarians and teachers, that the less you inform and educate yourself about online communities like MySpace, the more you’ll have to take people’s words for the risks they may or may not involve. Now that people are looking into legislation potentially filtering sites like MySpace in schools and libraries (places that already have a high degree of filtering, so I’m not sure I totally get this) it’s a good time to inform yourself if you haven’t already.

Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) has just introduced new legislation that would regulate the availability of sites like MySpace at schools and public libraries, claiming that “this new technology has become a feeding ground for child predators that use these sites as just another way to do our children harm.”

[thanks ryvar]