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Social Network Sites, Blogs, Wikis Fret Over Proposed Regulation

Libraries and schools could be required to limit access to certain Web sites if the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which recently cleared the U.S House of Representatives, moves swiftly through the Senate. Introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), the measure dubbed H.R. 5319 passed by a 410 to 15 vote last week.

The act covers federal organizations that receive funding for computers and Internet access via the U.S. E-Rate program, primarily schools and libraries. The American Library Association (ALA), which is actively lobbying against the measure, estimates two-thirds of U.S. libraries receive this funding.

"The bill is not an automatic ban, and I hear that word 'ban' being tossed around a lot," Rep. Fitzgerald's press secretary Jeff Urbanchuk said Wednesday. "The bill extends the filter already in place through the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act to social networks."

Social networking sites YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Friendster and others count large numbers of children among their users, though core demographics for those who access sites like MySpace are getting older and the "effects may be less than expected," said eMarketer senior analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

As of May 2006, one-third of MySpace's U.S. users were between the ages of 18 and 34, but 36 percent were between 35 and 54, and nearly 10 percent were 55 or older, according to comScore Media Metrix. The research firm notes that 12- to 17-year olds, an age category filled with controversy for MySpace due to fears of sexual predators, has diminished in importance, falling from 22 percent of the site's users in May 2005 to 17 percent in May 2006.

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