A Republican congressman who has sponsored legislation banning access to social-networking Web sites in schools and libraries has found a new target of displeasure: Second Life.
Rep. Mark Kirk, who is seeking re-election this year, staged a press conference at a library in his suburban Chicago district on Tuesday to highlight what he called the “dangers” of the virtual world to children. Flanked by local officials, he also released a letter asking Federal Trade Commission Chairman William E. Kovacic to “take action to warn parents of the similar dangers and sexually explicit content found on Second Life.”
Kirk said he was appalled that Second Life has no age verification features built into its registration process, and he claimed that there are “countless locations” outside of the service’s teen-designated area where virtual prostitution, drug deals, and “other wholly inappropriate activities” occur.
According to a Chicago Tribune report, Kirk recounted an aide’s failed attempt to create an avatar on the site as a 10-year-old–and a subsequently successful attempt to log in as an 18-year-old.
“Sites like Second Life offer no protections to keep kids from virtual “rape rooms,” brothels, and drug stores,” Kirk said, according to a press release. “If sites like Second Life won’t protect kids from obviously inappropriate content, the Congress will.”
History has shown that this kind of fear-mongering can be quite successful in getting elected. SecondLife is certainly no place for kids, and I do not believe that I have encountered a single school that doesn’t block the service — except where there are well moderated instructional programs in place that utilize the MUSE.
But Kirk’s approach is to protect children from danger by further walling up their classrooms, and I just don’t see the logic, especially when children spend most of their online time at home.
And I don’t see the logic in denying access in libraries, where folks should be able to explore social networks and virtual environments. Librarians can play a useful role here as well: guide, educator, and collaborator.