Thierer Views Principles as a Better Alternative to Government Regulation
WASHINGTON D.C. - The joint effort MySpace.com and 49 state Attorneys General announced Monday to better protect children online should be embraced by other social networking sites, explains Adam Thierer in "The MySpace-AG Agreement: A Model Code of Conduct for Social Networking?," a Progress on Point released today by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. Despite some concerns, Thierer concludes the guidelines create a superior alternative to federal or state regulation of social networking sites.
In his paper, Thierer, PFF Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom, lauds the agreement between MySpace and the AGs, which contains several "Principles of Social Networking." Specifically, these involve technical tools, educational efforts, improved law enforcement cooperation, and the creation of an Internet Safety Technical Task Force.
Despite his general support for the agreement, Thierer voices concern regarding some initiatives which MySpace has agreed to consider. The proposed child e-mail registry, where parents would submit addresses that would subsequently be barred from opening a MySpace account, raises questions regarding privacy and security. The registry could also be easily circumvented by simply acquiring an alternate e-mail address. The author also warned that the proposed Task Force must not be a rubber stamp for age verification mandates, as some AGs seemed to imply. Age verification is a complicated technical issue, Thierer says, and it also has profound implications for privacy and freedom of speech.
While the actions taken by MySpace and the Attorneys General to promote online safety do much to subdue the concerns of parents and policymakers, Thierer concludes that parents need to both monitor their children's activities online and use the many technical and educational tools now at their disposal, which were documented in Thierer’s recent book, Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods. "[I]f for whatever reason, parents are not taking advantage of these tools and options, their inaction should not be used to justify government regulation as a surrogate for household choice / parental responsibility," Thierer argues. “Parents have been empowered. Now it is there responsibility to take advantage of the tools and controls at their disposal to determine what is acceptable in their homes and in the lives of their children."
"The MySpace-AG Agreement: A Model Code of Conduct for Social Networking?" is available on the PFF website.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.