MySpace and other social-networking sites like LiveJournal.com and Facebook are the potential targets for a proposed federal law that would effectively require most schools and libraries to render those Web sites inaccessible to minors, an age group that includes some of the category's most ardent users.
"When children leave the home and go to school or the public library and have access to social-networking sites, we have reason to be concerned," Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, told CNET News.com in an interview.
Fitzpatrick and fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, on Wednesday endorsed new legislation (click here for PDF) that would cordon off access to commercial Web sites that let users create public "Web pages or profiles" and also offer a discussion board, chat room, or e-mail service.
That's a broad category that covers far more than social-networking sites such as Friendster and Google's Orkut.com. It would also sweep in a wide range of interactive Web sites and services, including Blogger.com, AOL and Yahoo's instant-messaging features, and Microsoft's Xbox 360, which permits in-game chat.
Fitzpatrick's bill, called the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, is part of a new, poll-driven effort by Republicans to address topics that they view as important to suburban voters. Republican pollster John McLaughlin polled 22 suburban districts and presented his research at a retreat earlier this year. Rep. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, is co-sponsoring the measure.
The group, which is calling itself the "Suburban Caucus," convened a press conference on Wednesday to announce new legislation it hopes will rally conservative supporters--and prevent the Democrats from retaking the House of Representatives during the November mid-term election.
For its part, MySpace has taken steps in recent weeks to(Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly also took aim at MySpace this week). It has assigned about 100 employees, about one-third of its workforce, to deal with security and customer care, and , a former Justice Department prosecutor as chief security officer last month.
"We have been working collaboratively on security and safety issues with an array of government agencies, law enforcement and educational groups, nonprofits and leading child safety organizations," said Rick Lane, vice president for government affairs at MySpace owner News Corp. "We've also met with several state and federal legislators and are working with them to address their concerns. We hope this healthy dialogue will continue."
Fitzpatrick, who represents a suburban district outside Philadelphia, acknowledged that MySpace "is working" on this. Still, he said, children are "unattended on the Internet through the course of the day" when they're at libraries and schools.
"My bill is both timely and needed and will be very well-accepted, certainly by the constituents I represent," Fitzpatrick said.
Backers of the proposal argue that it's necessary to protect children. Hastert said on Wednesday that it "would put filters in schools and libraries so that kids can be protected... We've all heard stories of children on some of these social Web sites meeting up with dangerous predators. This legislation adds another layer of protection."