Who’s your Daddy?

Mark Kirk

US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would like to be your parent. At least, he would like to act as though he was your parent.

Starting back in May 2008, Kirk has been singling out Second Life for special attention: he would like legislation to be introduced that prevents children from accessing Second Life– both the Teen Grid and the Main Grid (he makes no distinction), through public libraries and in schools.

On the surface, it sounds alright. We all want to protect the kiddies, right? Who is going to say an ill word against legislation that looks like it is designed to protect our children? But then you have to wonder: why should teenagers be excluded from a place designed especially for them? How will adults who want to access Second Life through libraries and schools do so?

There is no easy, cost-effective way to restrict access to content in public libraries and schools. Unless the Congressman wants to spend many more of the limited dollars already available to libraries and schools on solutions that would allow some people to access Second Life but not others, then Second Life would effectively not be available to anyone at these venues.

Legislation banning access for kids is not considered to be censorship – law that acts in place of parental control is often seen as advantageous.

Legislation that also functionally causes a service to be banned for adults is a bit stickier. It may not strictly constitute censorship, as the law would not state that adults are banned. However, functionally, censorship would be the end result.

Does it depend on the end result, or on the original intent, as to whether this is in fact a case of censorship?

For those who are not US citizens, here are the words of the First Amendment (1791):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This is the fundamental piece of law protecting US citizens from censorship. Formally, censorship is prior restraint of communication based on content and enforced by law.  Censorship by the government is broadly unconstitutional.

What Kirk seems to be trying to achieve, intentionally or unintentionally, is an end-run around the constitution. There’s precedent for the State acting in loco parentis, but this sort of legislative restriction barring adults would never fly. Because it’s targeted at kids, and catches adults as collateral damage (something Kirk must have considered), it could squeak through to the detriment of everyone.

On another tack is this related idea, which to some extent makes the legislation pointless:

Thinking members of Congress, teachers and librarians have said that website filtering in the schools and libraries won’t protect kids because they aren’t finding predators in schools and libraries, but from their home computers that they surf alone in their rooms because they have nothing to do after school as many after school activities have been cut.

Perhaps a more useful way to spend Congress’ time and funds is:

  • To put more effort into providing alternative activities for children after school

and, maybe even more importantly

  • To put more effort into educating children about the use of services provided over the Internet.

An educated child is more likely to be self-monitoring. A restricted child is more likely to see excitement, danger and really wild things in those services that have been restricted.

So, what do you think? Is this legislation “in loco parentis”? Or just plain loco?



  1. Here's what I think: stick to managing your own country, Australia, through your own elected representatives, and leave other people's countries alone. The First Amendment is not self-executing throughout the world, and the people of the U.S. can take care of adjudicating the application of the First Amendment without you. The Constitution recognizes that there will be limitations of the First Amendment as to “time, place, and manner” — you don't get to hold a demonstration and block traffic at rush hour. Art. 19 has limitations about “except as established by law” for the sake of “public morals” — and these kinds of concerns expressed by Rep. Kirk, for some localities, will be just those sort of “public morals” — and *you* don't get to legislate them for other people merely because you possess an aggressive belief that you belong to a global electronic hedonism jihad that bullies its way through everywhere.

    If the people in a certain locality or state wish to place more restrictions on the Internet than they do in other places, say, in certain areas that are more conservative and religious, and not urban, sophisticated, etc. as in others, that's their call. They get to do that with their elected representatives in a democracy. If this legislation appears to impact the First Amendment in ways that seem damaging, you can be sure in our litigious and lawsuit-happy country, that some lawyer or NGO somewhere will campaign on this.

    You fail to grasp that societies *can and will* regulate virtual worlds. They get to do this if they are free. Virtual worlds do not trump national sovereignty or states' rights just because they cross frontiers electronically. Freedom means freedom to restrict, for people who wish it. After all, if some locality wishes to create penalties or bars to children accessing the often very lewd and extreme content in SL, that's their right. It doesn't impact *your* right to access it as it is not a global law.

    We don't need *you* to spin out ideas about “what are better ideas for Congress to spend its funds on*. Congress itself gets to do that because it is elected by the people of the states of the United States of America. You have your own elected representatives, work with them to achieve your goals.

    This recurring geek notion that you can overthrow elected democracy wherever you feel like it in the name of some utopian global “autonomous zone” is deeply misguided. You can't. And you won't.

    The one area where repeated efforts to restrict the Internet have occurred in many countries, and particularly in Europe, where you might turn your sites if you have the itch to play net nanny on other people, is on children. There is a great deal of alarm and concern — and rightly so — about the effect of the Internet on children. And that's ok. That's what societies do, if they are civilized, they protect their children.

    I always have to wonder why people like you go through these American-hating spasms. You have your own country. You have conservatives in your own country that you need to persuade of your ideas that you haven't persuaded. Work on that. Rep. Kirk is merely a Rep. for those people who elected him. He's hardly representative of the Congress, let alone the country. And legislation that he and others proposes often never passes — and yet it is their right to propose it, and have this public debate about how virtual worlds should be regulated.

  2. wow, someone is a little pissy today…

    I'm a US citizen and I think what Rep. Kirk is proposing is “loco” and shows a fundamental problem with our elected officials not understanding technology.

    <rant response>
    Also, I have no problems if media outlets from other countries report on and analyze the happenings of our country. In the age of global communities, why is anyone's ideas about government out of bounds simply because they aren't a citizen? Especially when it is an issue that affects an entire industry…
    </rant response>

  3. Lowell Cremorne says


  4. Lowell Cremorne says

    Thanks Prokofy and JJ for your comments, and I'm sure Feldspar will respond here as well.

    Personally, I find the suggestion that no-one can commentate on the politics of another country a little strange, as JJ alluded to.

    It's a position riddled with double standards given how often the current US President and his ambassador have inserted themselves into Australian political debate, particularly in regard to Iraq and the US-instigated economic issues affecting the world at present.

  5. Prokofy Neva says

    Again, it's perfectly fine to push back when someone else comments on the politics of your country, especially in ways that imply your freedom to elect your representative to do what you wish is limited by the whims of foreigners.

    I don't say he “can't” comment, but I push back. I don't support the ideas of Kirk, but he's not my rep, I didn't vote for him, he's not in my state. I *do* respect the will of the voters he *does* represent.

    Did Rep. Kirk succeed in passing a federal law that limits all our rights? No, he did not. He is drafting legislation, as one representative in one state, but I don't see that it has succeeded even on a state level, let alone a national level. It fulfills the need of letting people express themselves, a kind of public forum, that they wish these powerfully influential media devices called virtual worlds to have some regulation. I sure don't have a problem with them exercising that will, and having that freedom of expression.

    So often those on the hard left want freedom of expression for themselves, and not for others, and want to express, but never be pushed back.

    It's not about “technology” — which you invoke to hide behind “technical” solutions when in fact it is a social issue. No, you do not get to impose your hedonism and licentiousness on others. That's as oppressive as them imposing their more conservative lifestyle on you.

    And the point of the OP's post is to try to STOP what is the expression of the electorate of another country, and I'm sorry, but they DO NOT get to do that. Not in the name of technology, of “global” industry or any other fake utopian notion.

  6. Prokofy Neva says

    The global financial crisis is not “U.S. instigated”, that's silly. You might better blame China, and other countries that benefited from loaning money to the U.S., hmm?

    As for Iraq, sounds like your problem is with your own country's leadership, really, not with Bush. Sounds like you can't get your way, and that your fellow Australians don't do what you wish.

  7. I don't see a big problem in blocking access to Second Life servers as well as to online games, erotics and other undesired content for kids. But there is a problem: children will find something else to entertain themselves using internet. WWW is billions of webpages, games, tv shows and of course Second Life isn't the source of all the world's evil to be banned.
    Mr. Kirk is trying to treat symptoms, not the cause, that's his mistake.

  8. I don't see a big problem in blocking access to Second Life servers as well as to online games, erotics and other undesired content for kids. But there is a problem: children will find something else to entertain themselves using internet. WWW is billions of webpages, games, tv shows and of course Second Life isn't the source of all the world's evil to be banned.
    Mr. Kirk is trying to treat symptoms, not the cause, that's his mistake.

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