What does DOPA mean?

Quite a few people have sent me emails with links to the news that DOPA passed the House of Representatives by 410 to 15 votes, wondering how it affects Elgg. The Deleting Online Predators Act requires schools and libraries to prevent access to social networking sites. The big one the politicians no doubt had in mind is MySpace, itself for questionable reasons, but they’ve overshot a little.

Via the Ars Technica link above, banned sites are those that adhere to the following criteria:

(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.

This is an insane piece of legislation that makes it illegal to provide access to basically any commercial site on the Internet. It’s short-sighted, is underpinned by backwards ideas about the Internet, and needs to be fought, sooner rather than later.

However, it doesn’t affect Elgg. (It may affect Elgg.net, which is a Curverider service and therefore technically commercial.) Elgg installations at institutions or hosted on Elgg Spaces are provided by the institution, and therefore escape the legislation. In fact, Elgg may be the only social networking system school-age educators can use within the law. The people it does affect are the US educators creating learning spaces in commercial services like MySpace and Flickr. There’s no longer any question about whether or not it’s a good idea – it’s illegal!

Luckily for them, this is likely to grow the market for simple tools designed for use on an institutional network. It’s about time that service companies started to look beyond redesigning the VLE for the nth time – particularly in light of another half-witted decision – and started providing other supporting tools that educators can use in their teaching.

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