If you can't trust your kids to parent themselves, the government will have to force parents to do it for them. That's the lesson learned thanks to one government official in the state of Connecticut today, anyway. The state's Attorney General (the lead legal officer of the state) has proposed a new law requiring social networking sites like MySpace to require age verification
and parental consent.
Despite the rather alarming "nanny state" suggestion, Richard Blumenthal may not be all wet and is actually helping web community. His main goal is simply to require that new members to a site verify their age as one of majority, and that minors would be required to have parental consent. The proposition comes shortly after the conviction of a 23-year-old man who used MySpace to solicit an 11-year-old girl from Connecticut.
Rather than pushing the bill through legal channels, Mr. Blumenthal is leading a group of 44 states in politely requesting that News Corp (the owner of MySpace) and other controllers of social networking sites voluntarily help first. And there is incentive for that help - by requiring that a person be of legal age or check the box for parental consent, the site can indemnify itself of any wrongdoing.
According to Blumenthal's reasoning, the change would cost companies like MySpace very little. However, the impact of a decent age-verification could have profound benefits for both the kids and the site. Basically, if 11-year-old Susan is on the site and 23-year-old Johnny finds her, her parents should have seen Johnny on her friends list. After all, their credit card (or other ID) would have been required to let Susan register to begin with. If Johnny ends up being a child molester, then it wasn't MySpace who put them together - it was the parents who validated the service and then never checked up on Susan's friends again.
News Corp and friends may not see this suggestion as a total win/win, though. The additional hoop of an age-verification would decrease the number of users on the site considerably - some by a matter of necessity (by parents not consenting, etc), others by a matter of inconvenience or privacy. Less traffic means less advertising revenue, which means a very real cost to the parent company. Though it may take a couple code gurus ten minutes to set up, it could potentially damage the amount of traffic by large amounts.
Whether Atty. General Blumenthal gets his particular way or not, social networking may be in for a change. The proposal is a "quit or be fired" offering - if the sites don't come quietly, the next call might be to the Senate floor, where it can be sold as "pro-family" and spun into an epidemic problem to which this is the only cure (much like the outright ban of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
). Even worse, it could end up legislated state by state, which can be a costly beurocratic nightmare. And none of this even touches upon the overseas angle, as European law could then add an entire additional layer of headaches.
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