Podcast Script: Online Social Networking and Intellectual Freedom

Online Social Networking and Intellectual Freedom presented by ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

Presenter: Welcome to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom podcast on Online Social Networking and Intellectual Freedom. This is part of an ongoing series of podcasts created by OIF to discuss important intellectual freedom topics.

In June 2006, as the U.S. House of Representatives was considering the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, the ALA Council adopted a "Resolution in Support of Online Social Networks," which, in part, resolved:

  • That the American Library Association affirms the importance of online social networks to library users of all ages for developing and using essential information literacy skills; and
  • That ALA asks library supporters to contact their representatives and senators to inform them about the important role "social networking sites" serve in civic participation, collaboration, etc. and about problems caused by mandatory blocking.

Since the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed DOPA in July 2006, ALA has been working to inform the library profession and the general public about the importance of interactive Web applications and, particularly, social networking Web sites.

Insert PPT Slide 2-3
(Link to iwa wiki)


Presenter: One of those efforts is ALA's wiki, created specifically to address the importance of interactive Web applications. It contains a full complement of resources on this topic—and allows you to contribute your own information and links. We encourage you to visit wikis.ala.org/iwa.

Insert PPT Slide 4
(OIF phone number & email)


Presenter: Also, before we proceed to the primary topics of our podcast, if you have any questions concerning online social networking or another intellectual freedom issue, please feel free to call OIF at 800-545-2433, ext. 4223 or e-mail us at  oif@ala.org.

In conjunction with ALA's many efforts, this podcast will address five topics:

Insert PPT Slide 5
(Five bullet points: Definitions, Legislation, Intellectual Freedom, Safety, What you can do)

  • A brief description of interactive Web applications (including online social networking tools)
  • Legislation affecting access to these applications
  • Why denying access to these applications is an intellectual freedom issue
  • Online safety, and
  • What you can do.

Insert PPT Slide 6
(Reads: What are Interactive Web Applications?)


Presenter: Interactive Web Application is a broad term encompassing many types of online tools, many of which allow people to communicate with each other either in real time or through posts. Examples of Interactive Web Applications are online distance education, instant messaging, chat rooms, message boards, photo- and video-sharing sites, blogs that allow comments, and even sites like Amazon.com and evite.

Insert PPT Slide 7
(Reads: What are Social Networking Sites?)


Social Networking Sites are, generally speaking, online spaces where people connect with others who share similar interests. They are used both to interact with current friends and to meet new ones, and also allow people to share information and ideas. People can post personal profiles (whether real or assumed) that are often quite detailed. There are hundreds of these sites on the Web, including Facebook, Friendster, LiveJournal, and MySpace. Additionally, sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Meetup can be considered Social Networking Sites, as they share many of these same functions in addition to their main purposes.

You can find a select list of social networking sites on Wikipedia by searching for the term "list of social networking sites."

Insert PPT Slide 8
( MySpace screen shot; Lansing, Illinois, Public Library )


Presenter: People use social networking sites to share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity, and to meet others, to form communities, to organize, and to make themselves heard-in many cases without much regard to privacy or even personal safety. As we all know, online there's no way of knowing for certain how old your new friends are, who's seeing your photographs and videos, and who's reading your journal. And there have been some high-profile cases in which people have connected in person with those they've first encountered online, only to find out that the person had misrepresented themselves, sometimes with tragic results. It was in this atmosphere that the House of Representatives passed the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA.

Insert PPT Slide 9-11
(Reads: "DOPA requires schools and libraries receiving federal E-rate discounts to block minors' access to many interactive web applications.")


Presenter: DOPA, as passed by the House, would require schools and libraries that receive federal E-rate discounts to block minors' access to, quote, "commercial Web sites that let users create Web pages or profiles or offer communication with other users via forums, chat rooms, e-mail or instant messaging."

DOPA would not only block minors (and, for many libraries, even adults) from accessing sites like MySpace from schools or libraries, but also is so broadly written that it could affect access to a wide array of other content and technologies, such as instant messaging, online e-mail, wikis, and blogs.

While DOPA's future remains unclear, the possibility that young people will be denied access to the use of interactive Web applications while in libraries, whether by federal, state, or local governments, is real, and affects the intellectual freedom of all library users.

Insert PPT Slide 12-17
(Five bullet points: Overly broad and unclear, ignores value of IWAs, education is the key, local decision making preferable to federal laws, unfairly targets poorest communities. Perhaps each point is highlighted or bolded when discussed on the podcast.)


Presenter: ALA stressed five points in our opposition to DOPA or any similar legislation.

First, because it is overly broad and unclear, DOPA would unintentionally block access to many valuable Web sites.

Second, Interactive Web applications are being used increasingly by businesses, schools, political organizations, religious institutions, and libraries to have meetings, present lessons, coordinate events, and gain new members. Young people must learn how to use these essential communications tools effectively and safely.

Third, as we've known for years, there's no substitute for education when discussing safe use of the Internet. DOPA, however, would block usage of certain sites in the very environments where librarians and teachers can instruct students about how best to use them and how to report and avoid unsafe situations.

Fourth, DOPA is a one-size-fits-all solution to problems best handled on the local level. Parents, teachers, and librarians are far more likely to know what is best in their communities than are congresspeople.

Finally, DOPA would restrict access to technology in the communities that need public access the most. DOPA would affect only libraries and schools receiving E-rate discounts through the Universal Service Program, thereby limiting opportunities for those who do not have Internet access at home. This unfairly denies the students and library users in schools and libraries in the poorest communities from accessing appropriate content and from learning how best to safely manage their own Internet access in consultation with librarians and teachers. It only serves to exacerbate the digital divide.

Insert PPT Slide 18
(Reads: "Interactive Web Applications and Intellectual Freedom")

Presenter: We'll readdress safety in just a moment, but first we will explore why denying access to these online social networks is an intellectual freedom issue.

Insert PPT Slide 19
(Reads: "A person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.")


Presenter: ALA firmly defends the First Amendment rights of all library users—including minors—to seek, hold, receive, and disseminate ideas. This principle is noted in ALA's basic intellectual freedom policy, the Library Bill of Rights:

A person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

It is almost always the case, therefore, that legislation that restricts users' access to library resources is an infringement on intellectual freedom and the Library Bill of Rights. This is true whether we're talking about book banning, rating systems, or Internet blocking software. The use of funding power to do so is as much of a violation of our principles as outright restrictions. Simply put, Congress should not be in the business of telling library patrons what information or resources they should be entitled to use. Nor should state legislatures.

Insert PPT Slide 20-22


Presenter: ALA applies these principles further in the Library Bill of Rights Interpretation "Free Access to Libraries for Minors," which reads:

Children and young adults unquestionably possess First Amendment rights, including the right to receive information in the library. Constitutionally protected speech cannot be suppressed solely to protect children or young adults from ideas or images a legislative body believes to be unsuitable for them. Librarians and library governing bodies should not resort to age restrictions in an effort to avoid actual or anticipated objections, because only a court of law can determine whether material is not constitutionally protected.

Insert PPT Slide 23-24
(Bullet list of cases: Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, and Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville)

Presenter: The U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly stated that the First Amendment applies to minors in cases such as Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist.West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, and  Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, where the Court held that:

Speech that is neither obscene as to youths nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them. In most circumstances, the values protected by the First Amendment are no less applicable when government seeks to control the flow of information to minors.

Insert PPT Slide 25
(Posner's quote from American Amusement Machine Association, et al. v. Teri Kendrick, et al.)

Presenter: In dismissing an ordinance that would have banned minors from playing violent and sexually explicit arcade video games without parental permission, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated that "children have First Amendment rights," and further stated that:

People are unlikely to become well-functioning, independent-minded adults and responsible citizens if they are raised in an intellectual bubble.

The American Library Association believes that young people need education to navigate this world effectively and safely. Indeed, for years ALA has professed that parents, guardians, teachers, and librarians are best equipped to educate young people—and should! Neither cold technology nor legislation drafted by a well-meaning Congress can substitute for education.

Insert PPT Slide 26-27
(quote from National Research Council)


Presenter: The metaphor used by the National Research Council in its study " Youth, Pornography, and the Internet" makes this message plain:

"Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one's children is to teach them to swim."

Insert PPT Slide 28
(link to "Especially for Young People and Their Parents")

Presenter: Congress is right to care about the safety of children. Librarians care as much as anyone about this issue. ALA has developed a resource featuring online safety tips, called "Especially for Young People and Their Parents."

Insert PPT Slide 29
(quote from Larry Magid, with citation "House Misfires On Internet Safety," CBS News Online)


Presenter: Libraries and schools must remain in the forefront of educating young people on the effective use of online social networking tools, whether for their personal lives or their business lives.

Indeed, Larry Magid, a longtime advocate for Internet safety for children and teens, recently noted:

"If anything, schools and libraries should be encouraging kids to use blogging and social networking services. They have enormous educational potential for such things as writing, interviewing, collaborative research, media literacy, and photography, but even if not used as part of a formal supervised education program, they encourage kids to communicate and reach out to others."

Insert PPT Slide 30-35
(Reads: "What you can do" with bullet points: YALSA's Teen Tech Week Site. (link to) http://teentechweek.wikispaces.com/DOPA, http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/index.php/2006/05/10/libraries-i..., and others)

Presenter: Regardless of the immediate future of federal or state legislation that would block access to interactive Web applications in libraries, there are steps you can take now:

Insert PPT Slide 36
(Excerpt from 2d paragraph; quote from Supreme Court.)


Presenter: The interactive nature of social networking sites does not diminish the protection extended to social networking sites under the First Amendment. This applies to adults, as well as to minors.

Ten years ago, the Supreme Court described the Internet as a "dynamic, multifaceted category of communication [that] includes not only traditional print and news services, but also audio, video, and still images, as well as interactive, real-time dialogue. Through the use of chat rooms, any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox. Through the use of Web pages, mail exploders, and newsgroups, the same individual can become a pamphleteer. As the District Court found, 'the content on the Internet is as diverse as human thought'. . . . We agree with its conclusion that our cases provide no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied to this medium."— Reno v. ACLU 521 U.S. 844, 869 (1997)

Insert PPT Slide 37
(Reads: Online Social Networking and Intellectual Freedom
800-545-2433 ext. 4223 oif@ala.org (with link))

Presenter: This concludes the Office for Intellectual Freedom's podcast on Online Social Networking and Intellectual Freedom.

Please let us know how we might be able to improve this podcast or the resources we've discussed with you.

You can reach OIF anytime at oif@ala.org or 800-545-2433 ext. 4223.

Thank you for defending the freedom to read.