The Problem with DOPA is not a Failure to Understand Technology

I’m going to start my opinion on DOPA with two stories.

Story one: How I became an outraged parent

My wife told me a story about a man who got “cold feet” three months after he and his wife had a baby. I’ve heard this sort of story before. Usually I just roll my eyes and do the “Men are pigs” line, concerned mostly with how this sort of childish idiot makes the rest of us men look.

This time my reaction was different. Now that I have my own child, I took this man’s behavior as an absolute affront to everything I hold valuable. You see, my son is the king of my world, and I would need serious restraint to avoid being violent to anyone who would treat him in slight. A man who would think about his “cold feet” over the health, well-being and positive development of a 3 month-old baby is just the sort of person who would make such a slight to my little guy. The outrage was unbearable. I think my wife wished she never told me about this man.

If “cold feet” dude could get me so riled up, you can imagine the horrible thoughts that run through my head when I hear about a predator on the news.

Story 2: How I felt attached to my community when I was young

I lived with my family in military units that just-so-happened to be neighbours with low-income housing. There was this playground on the military property that was the meeting ground for kids on both sides of the street. There were bullies on both sides. Some kids knew alot more about sexual activity than they should at their age on both sides.

The place was rough. But we played baseball, and soccer, and football, and “red rover.” We climbed monkey bars together. I made good friends. I still hang out with some of them.

Somehow, some way someone got the idea that the property needed a fence to keep the poor kids out. And someone built a parking lot right next to where we used to play baseball (we only had to break one guy’s windshield before we realized that we had to move our games elsewhere). Another person got the brainchild to put thorny bushes around the place where we played football.

Eventually, I was better off just calling my friends over to play games on my C-64. The only sports we played were organized sports after that — which for folks like myself with little money meant “no sports.” I was out of shape until I finally got a job and could buy my own equipment.

So, there are the stories. Outrage and creeping isolation from my community caused by autolust, misunderstanding, and, I daresay, racism (the fence could very well have been intended to separate black from white).

So, how do I feel about DOPA. Well, my first reaction was like David King — ‘DOPA is just “Dopey.”‘ What stupid (American) politicians. Thank God I live in Canada where we seem to be at least a little measured on these issues.

Then a few Canadian incidents started being highlighted in the media. I have an undue suspicion of the media as an agenda setter. Along with the outrage, that cannot be dismissed with a “of course I was outraged too, but” I also felt a “hey, what agenda are these news folks highlighting?” DOPA gets through Congress and now we’re hearing alot about child predators online. The story hit close to home as a young visitor of the library disappeared for a while (he was found thank goodness). The online predators plug was moving closer to the public space socket. It was not clear, but it was implied. For me, who has worked the library for over 10 years now, the connection was forced, contrived. I suspect that many parents who have read these articles in close proximity would start thinking “how safe is the public library?”

And then I read T. Scott’s great Defending Against DOPA and it set my smug Canadian self straight. Wisely, Scott notices that we librarians are quick to taut the free access to information line without considering the concerned parent’s view. THe “free information access” line doesn’t cut it in the non-library world. If we want to make people understand why DOPA is bad, we have to come up with arguments that will convince Scott’s Canadian parent.

And here’s the Canadian parent’s argument: “If DOPA saves one child from a sexual predator, isn’t it worth it?”

The early answer is no, for a variety of reasons — including the following:

  1. Because DOPA may put more than one child into isolation, where they are more vulnerable to sexual predators.
  2. Because DOPA punishes the victims. Not just that — it punishes potential victims. It’s like giving women a curfew because a rapist is on the loose.
  3. Because DOPA puts the reponsibility on the schools and libraries to block sites, bypassing parental responsibility which is ultimately the more effective protection.

Notice I haven’t even brought up the value of the social software products. Why? Well, because I know that the technology to teens is not really about access to information.

I’ve mentioned before a branch librarian explaining to me how the teens at her library get dressed up before they come. Dressed up to use the public computers. What’s up with that?

Technology to teens is a way to be recognized. It’s like clothing or being good at sports. Or knowing how to play guitar. Technology at the library or school is even moreso. Teens can’t go to a nightclub, so they meet friends at the library. They brag about their accomplishments. Share neat videos of weird and silly stuff. They challenge each other to matches on Runescape. They collaborate and compete.

In short, they build community spaces for themselves using technology as the coordinating unit. Make the barriers and you do what the fence and parking lot did to my sense of community in my day. Hey, I survived. But I can tell you horror stories about the folks who didn’t.

Youth with no sense of community lose self-esteem, find hiding spaces to engage themselves, and learn to be separate from society. Prime victim material for a sexual predator.

Heck, if society builds enough walls around our teens, they won’t need predators to victimize them. They’ll do it themselves.

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