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David Lee King

Wake County is Censoring MySpace



Update – take time to browse through the comments on this post. They’re that good. So far, comments include one person who agrees with the board,  someone trying to compromise, much wondering aloud about what the library plans to censor next, discussion about the futility of censoring a single social networking site, one person who seemed to find the censoring a bigoted act, and even one anonymous Wake County employee. Wow.

First, read the story (found via LISNews).

The Wake County Board of Commissioners has decided “all public computers will now be banned” from visiting MySpace, because MySpace is apparently an “attractive nuisance.” The county “may start censoring other ‘nuisance’ websites on the web in a few months.”

Here’s what the Board states on their Hot Topics page: “Although myspace has many legitimate uses, it also serves as an attractive nuisance for those who gather in the libraries for purposes other than using the resources and collections for recreation, lifelong learning or cultural purposes. Some have used myspace in libraries to recruit gang members, to sell or purchase drugs, or to view or post pornography.”

Second, on Legitimate Uses of MySpace:

The article and the County’s press release page didn’t list legitimate or non-legitimate uses of MySpace – they only claimed that there were both. For kicks, here’s a small list of “legitimate” uses of MySpace:

Third: Content Container vs. Actual Content:

MySpace is a content container. The actual content is found on the millions of individual MySpace pages – some not terribly offensive, others pretty offensive to some groups. However, does it make sense to ban the content CONTAINER, when the majority of actual content found in MySpace isn’t terribly offensive? I don’t think so.

Why? Because logically, that argument allows for other content containers to also be banned. Hmm… can you, dear reader, possibly think of other content containers that might contain content that some library customers might find offensive?

HOW ABOUT BOOKS?

No – I don’t really think Wake County wants to ban books. But I also don’t think their decision is ultimately a logical one.

What do you think?

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Comments on this entry are closed.

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  • Anon, please

    If it were just about content, that would be one thing. It might well be an issue of security as well– the fact is that MySpace draws a certain crowd to the library, and if you don’t have the money to pay for the security to control that crowd, you’ve got to figure out some way to dissuade them from coming to the library. Libraries just shouldn’t have to deal with the kind of security issues (patron assault, drug use, some very close calls with gang violence).

  • davidleeking

    Anon – that’s an interesting comment. You basically just said the same thing the Wake County board said – that MySpace users cause patron assault, drug use, and gang violence in the library.

    Feel free to make those claims – but please BACK THEM UP with evidence. Can you show that kids who use MySpace IN THE LIBRARY also assault patrons, sell and use drugs, and cause gang violence?

    At my library, we have MySpace users – they’re simply kids and teens. Do they get rowdy? Well, sure – that’s because they’re kids and teens – not because they use MySpace.

  • davidleeking

    Anon – that’s an interesting comment. You basically just said the same thing the Wake County board said – that MySpace users cause patron assault, drug use, and gang violence in the library.

    Feel free to make those claims – but please BACK THEM UP with evidence. Can you show that kids who use MySpace IN THE LIBRARY also assault patrons, sell and use drugs, and cause gang violence?

    At my library, we have MySpace users – they’re simply kids and teens. Do they get rowdy? Well, sure – that’s because they’re kids and teens – not because they use MySpace.

  • Sherry

    interesting. What would you think if a library allowed access to MySpace on 50 percent of their computers? Is that censorship?

  • Sherry

    interesting. What would you think if a library allowed access to MySpace on 50 percent of their computers? Is that censorship?

  • http://www.goblin-cartoons.com/ joshua m. neff

    The only “certain crowd” I’ve seen accessing MySpace at my library are library patrons. Most of them happen to be teens. Some of them sometimes get rambunctious and contentious. Unruly behavior is dealt with as it’s always dealt with at my library–on a case-by-case basis. But blocking a website because it potentially can have offensive content or potentially can involve unruly patrons goes back to David’s thing of “What about banning books?” I mean, books can potentially contain offensive content, and bookreaders can potentially get rowdy. So…?

  • http://www.goblin-cartoons.com joshua m. neff

    The only “certain crowd” I’ve seen accessing MySpace at my library are library patrons. Most of them happen to be teens. Some of them sometimes get rambunctious and contentious. Unruly behavior is dealt with as it’s always dealt with at my library–on a case-by-case basis. But blocking a website because it potentially can have offensive content or potentially can involve unruly patrons goes back to David’s thing of “What about banning books?” I mean, books can potentially contain offensive content, and bookreaders can potentially get rowdy. So…?

  • http://lishost.org/ Blake

    MySpace users are people. People cause patron assault, drug use, and gang violence in the library.

    Follow that to its logical conclusion…

  • http://lishost.org Blake

    MySpace users are people. People cause patron assault, drug use, and gang violence in the library.

    Follow that to its logical conclusion…

  • http://lishost.org/ Blake

    If I was them I would’ve said the internal network couldn’t handle it. I’d buy that, even if it was just an excuse.

  • http://lishost.org Blake

    If I was them I would’ve said the internal network couldn’t handle it. I’d buy that, even if it was just an excuse.

  • Joe Marcantonio

    This truly is a sad thing. Our library, Plainfield Public Library (IL), has a wonderful myspace page that is used to advertise our programs and keep connected with the teens in our area. Myspace is a tool and it is our responsibilty as librarians to educate patrons on its use. Banning access to any information system is a slippery slope and the fact that it is a library heading this is very upsetting. Also, this is a targeted attack, it is not myspace users they are banning but teens. If we lose these users now why would they come back as adults?

    P.S. I can’t believe I actually read “dissuade them from coming to the library”. This is so contrary to PUBLIC librarianship.

  • Joe Marcantonio

    This truly is a sad thing. Our library, Plainfield Public Library (IL), has a wonderful myspace page that is used to advertise our programs and keep connected with the teens in our area. Myspace is a tool and it is our responsibilty as librarians to educate patrons on its use. Banning access to any information system is a slippery slope and the fact that it is a library heading this is very upsetting. Also, this is a targeted attack, it is not myspace users they are banning but teens. If we lose these users now why would they come back as adults?

    P.S. I can’t believe I actually read “dissuade them from coming to the library”. This is so contrary to PUBLIC librarianship.

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  • Dianne

    As a member of a minority group, I find it appalling that a public library system would ban MySpace on completely unproven charges and thereby cut off patrons who are using MySpace in a way that circumvents mainstream, white, heterosexist, hetero-normist media to further their recreational, educational, and cultural goals. And the rest of the users of MySpace as well. I hope there is a public outcry over this action and that adults as well as teenagers speak out. But, most of all, I hope that when Wake County Public Library System has issues being funded, they don’t cry “oh, why doesn’t the public realize the value of their libraries?”

  • Dianne

    As a member of a minority group, I find it appalling that a public library system would ban MySpace on completely unproven charges and thereby cut off patrons who are using MySpace in a way that circumvents mainstream, white, heterosexist, hetero-normist media to further their recreational, educational, and cultural goals. And the rest of the users of MySpace as well. I hope there is a public outcry over this action and that adults as well as teenagers speak out. But, most of all, I hope that when Wake County Public Library System has issues being funded, they don’t cry “oh, why doesn’t the public realize the value of their libraries?”

  • http://www.librarycrunch.com/ Michael Casey

    When groups of teenagers gather around computer and disrupt the library it’s a behavior issue and not the fault of any website. Librarians must deal with it strongly and even-handedly and with the tools they already have — policies regarding disruptive behavior.

    Wake County is going to end up chasing down social site after social site in their sad attempt to “protect” people. Will they also block access to email, through which we KNOW illegal activities are discussed and planned? Will they block EBay?

    Anyone familiar with the history of peer-to-peer file sharing of the ’90s and ’00s will understand that those people who want to socially network will find ways to do it, and no library network admin will be able to chase down every site.

    This is yet another sad commentary regarding the environment of fear we now inhabit.

  • http://www.librarycrunch.com Michael Casey

    When groups of teenagers gather around computer and disrupt the library it’s a behavior issue and not the fault of any website. Librarians must deal with it strongly and even-handedly and with the tools they already have — policies regarding disruptive behavior.

    Wake County is going to end up chasing down social site after social site in their sad attempt to “protect” people. Will they also block access to email, through which we KNOW illegal activities are discussed and planned? Will they block EBay?

    Anyone familiar with the history of peer-to-peer file sharing of the ’90s and ’00s will understand that those people who want to socially network will find ways to do it, and no library network admin will be able to chase down every site.

    This is yet another sad commentary regarding the environment of fear we now inhabit.

  • Anonymous

    As someone who works for Wake County Public Libraries, I, too, am appalled at the action the administration has taken in banning access to Myspace. Wake County is a fast-growing county that is seeing the effects of urbanization. Yes, we have behavior issues with patrons of all ages, but these issues are not the result of their Myspace use. They are the result of poor parenting and an unsupportive community that does not give these (mostly teenaged) folks other opportunities for recreation, personal growth, learning and employment.

    The decision to ban Myspace came as a result of being questioned by county administrators why, all of a sudden, we were requesting money in our budget for security at some of the branches hardest hit by behavior problems. At these branches, staff regularly deal with behavior that ranges from simple rudeness to physical violence and damage to staff vehicles in retaliation for attempts at controlling the unwanted behavior. Before supplying us with needed security support, the county’s administration wanted to know what we (the library system) is doing on our end to deal with security issues.
    Library admin’s response: “Oh, I know! That Myspace is bringing a lot of people with undesirable behaviors into the library. Let’s ban it! Yeah!”

    Is banning Myspace going to stop the unwanted, problematic behaviors? Nope. Furthermore, since the ban went into effect, I’ve seen customers logging on to Myspace through proxy servers. Many more have switched to Facebook. There will always be a new social networking tool for patrons to use either for good or for evil. It’s not the sites that are the problem. It is the behavior of patrons who may or may not use these sites that is the problem which needs to be addressed.

    For a library system that lists “Bridging the Technology Divide” as one of its service priorities, this is a pretty piss-poor measure to have taken. The decision is to be revisited in 3-6 months. My guess is that at that time, all the other “attractive nuisances” that pop up in that timeframe will be added to the list of banned sites. We have indeed taken the first step onto the slippery slope.

  • Anonymous

    As someone who works for Wake County Public Libraries, I, too, am appalled at the action the administration has taken in banning access to Myspace. Wake County is a fast-growing county that is seeing the effects of urbanization. Yes, we have behavior issues with patrons of all ages, but these issues are not the result of their Myspace use. They are the result of poor parenting and an unsupportive community that does not give these (mostly teenaged) folks other opportunities for recreation, personal growth, learning and employment.

    The decision to ban Myspace came as a result of being questioned by county administrators why, all of a sudden, we were requesting money in our budget for security at some of the branches hardest hit by behavior problems. At these branches, staff regularly deal with behavior that ranges from simple rudeness to physical violence and damage to staff vehicles in retaliation for attempts at controlling the unwanted behavior. Before supplying us with needed security support, the county’s administration wanted to know what we (the library system) is doing on our end to deal with security issues.
    Library admin’s response: “Oh, I know! That Myspace is bringing a lot of people with undesirable behaviors into the library. Let’s ban it! Yeah!”

    Is banning Myspace going to stop the unwanted, problematic behaviors? Nope. Furthermore, since the ban went into effect, I’ve seen customers logging on to Myspace through proxy servers. Many more have switched to Facebook. There will always be a new social networking tool for patrons to use either for good or for evil. It’s not the sites that are the problem. It is the behavior of patrons who may or may not use these sites that is the problem which needs to be addressed.

    For a library system that lists “Bridging the Technology Divide” as one of its service priorities, this is a pretty piss-poor measure to have taken. The decision is to be revisited in 3-6 months. My guess is that at that time, all the other “attractive nuisances” that pop up in that timeframe will be added to the list of banned sites. We have indeed taken the first step onto the slippery slope.

  • KB

    While I agree with most posters here that the Wake County Public LIbrary System may be throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater in their approach to this situation, I do want to point out that public libraries which are primarily municipally funded certainly have the right to respond to the needs and wishes of their community as seen fit by their board and their tax paying citizenry. The public library is what the folks who par funding want it to be. The previous commentary notwithstanding, I’ve not heard that there is a huge public outcry from the users of the Wake County Public Library System. While I would vocally and vehemently oppose any attempt from my local public library to restrict internet access to users, I don’t feel it’s my right to dictate that to the Wake County Public LIbrary System. If they are doing this against the wishes of their baord and tax paying citizenry, then by all means it should be recinded, but I’ve not read that yet.

  • KB

    While I agree with most posters here that the Wake County Public LIbrary System may be throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater in their approach to this situation, I do want to point out that public libraries which are primarily municipally funded certainly have the right to respond to the needs and wishes of their community as seen fit by their board and their tax paying citizenry. The public library is what the folks who par funding want it to be. The previous commentary notwithstanding, I’ve not heard that there is a huge public outcry from the users of the Wake County Public Library System. While I would vocally and vehemently oppose any attempt from my local public library to restrict internet access to users, I don’t feel it’s my right to dictate that to the Wake County Public LIbrary System. If they are doing this against the wishes of their baord and tax paying citizenry, then by all means it should be recinded, but I’ve not read that yet.

  • davidleeking

    KB – good points. A library should certainly serve their local community, no matter what others outside the community think.

    From the press I read and from the anonymous Wake County Library employee comment, I didn’t get the feeling the library admin/board asked the community or understands emerging digital social tools.

    it sounded more like they are trying to fix a leak with masking tape (ie., wrong solution to the problem).

    But then again, what do I know?

  • davidleeking

    KB – good points. A library should certainly serve their local community, no matter what others outside the community think.

    From the press I read and from the anonymous Wake County Library employee comment, I didn’t get the feeling the library admin/board asked the community or understands emerging digital social tools.

    it sounded more like they are trying to fix a leak with masking tape (ie., wrong solution to the problem).

    But then again, what do I know?

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  • library mark

    I work at a library where I dearly wish they WOULD ban myspace. It is ruining the internet experience of all the other patrons because of not only the horrible behavior of people who “use” the site but because it is eating all our bandwidth. Our internet connection is a finite resource; allowing some to use it all up at the expense of the rest of our internet-using patrons is simply unfair.

  • library mark

    I work at a library where I dearly wish they WOULD ban myspace. It is ruining the internet experience of all the other patrons because of not only the horrible behavior of people who “use” the site but because it is eating all our bandwidth. Our internet connection is a finite resource; allowing some to use it all up at the expense of the rest of our internet-using patrons is simply unfair.

  • davidleeking

    library mark – yes, but I don’t think banning certain sites is the answer. If you attempt to ban sites that eat bandwidth, you’re fighting an uphill battle – and MySpace is the least of your worries.

    A better bet is to manage your computer resources better (ie., sign-up sheets, a computer management system, etc).

  • davidleeking

    library mark – yes, but I don’t think banning certain sites is the answer. If you attempt to ban sites that eat bandwidth, you’re fighting an uphill battle – and MySpace is the least of your worries.

    A better bet is to manage your computer resources better (ie., sign-up sheets, a computer management system, etc).

  • Library Mark

    We DO use a computer management system – PCCop. It limits the amount of time that each patron can be on a computer. It does a decent job, but at any given time, I would say (I am the network admin) that 90% of the time after school is out, myspace is on the screen with streaming video and audio. I just don’t see the value in it. Adults looking for a job should NEVER have to wait behind a kid getting his jollies by looking at 15-year-old girls wearing next to nothing.

  • Library Mark

    We DO use a computer management system – PCCop. It limits the amount of time that each patron can be on a computer. It does a decent job, but at any given time, I would say (I am the network admin) that 90% of the time after school is out, myspace is on the screen with streaming video and audio. I just don’t see the value in it. Adults looking for a job should NEVER have to wait behind a kid getting his jollies by looking at 15-year-old girls wearing next to nothing.

  • davidleeking

    Thanks for sharing, Library Mark. I would disagree with you, of course. Not sure you realize this, but in a library setting, your “I just don’t see the value in it” is placing a value judgement over certain types of content – librarians don’t do that (or shouldn’t, anyway).

    I’m pretty sure those “kids” aren’t ONLY looking at scantily clad girls. Instead of complaining, why not hold a MySpace forum at your library and find out what other things those kids are doing, and how you can help serve ALL your customers better?

  • davidleeking

    Thanks for sharing, Library Mark. I would disagree with you, of course. Not sure you realize this, but in a library setting, your “I just don’t see the value in it” is placing a value judgement over certain types of content – librarians don’t do that (or shouldn’t, anyway).

    I’m pretty sure those “kids” aren’t ONLY looking at scantily clad girls. Instead of complaining, why not hold a MySpace forum at your library and find out what other things those kids are doing, and how you can help serve ALL your customers better?

  • Library Mark

    Along with being our network tech, I am also a librarian, and think that it is about time that other librarians consider the fact that the internet is NOT like a book or any other library resource. You can’t get solicited by a pervert from a book. We don’t have pornography in print, but it’s available on myspace. You can’t recruit gang members while reading the newspaper, but can on myspace.

    And no – nearly all of the kids in our library just look at pictures – along with simply watching them surf, I run software that can prove this. We are in an extreme inner-city setting, right across the street from two inner-city schools. After school, all of the computers are dominated by kids that could be exploring the web and possibly expanding their horizons, but instead they are on myspace learning nothing but how to spell extremely poorly.

    For me, it all boils down to this: Do we want people to enrich their lives, or just waste their time? Please, no more lectures on value judgments – some things are absolute. Our computers are a valuable finite resources that could be used by people who need the them to do real work – instead, they are TV for the kiddies.

  • Library Mark

    Along with being our network tech, I am also a librarian, and think that it is about time that other librarians consider the fact that the internet is NOT like a book or any other library resource. You can’t get solicited by a pervert from a book. We don’t have pornography in print, but it’s available on myspace. You can’t recruit gang members while reading the newspaper, but can on myspace.

    And no – nearly all of the kids in our library just look at pictures – along with simply watching them surf, I run software that can prove this. We are in an extreme inner-city setting, right across the street from two inner-city schools. After school, all of the computers are dominated by kids that could be exploring the web and possibly expanding their horizons, but instead they are on myspace learning nothing but how to spell extremely poorly.

    For me, it all boils down to this: Do we want people to enrich their lives, or just waste their time? Please, no more lectures on value judgments – some things are absolute. Our computers are a valuable finite resources that could be used by people who need the them to do real work – instead, they are TV for the kiddies.

  • davidleeking

    Library Mark – I would suggest taking a step back from this argument and look at what you’re saying. Earlier, you say the kids are looking at “15-year-old girls wearing next to nothing,” and then you say they’re looking at porn on MySpace. The two aren’t the same.

    And then you say “they are on myspace learning nothing but how to spell extremely poorly.” That suggests rather highly that they’re doing much more than “just look[ing] at pictures.”

    I personally agree – I think there are absolutes, too. But libraries have ALWAYS had material that would highly offend some people – be it the Bible or the Joy of Sex. So the value judgement argument stays – by trying to overlay your definition of “real work” onto others, you are indeed making a value judgement on your patrons.

  • davidleeking

    Library Mark – I would suggest taking a step back from this argument and look at what you’re saying. Earlier, you say the kids are looking at “15-year-old girls wearing next to nothing,” and then you say they’re looking at porn on MySpace. The two aren’t the same.

    And then you say “they are on myspace learning nothing but how to spell extremely poorly.” That suggests rather highly that they’re doing much more than “just look[ing] at pictures.”

    I personally agree – I think there are absolutes, too. But libraries have ALWAYS had material that would highly offend some people – be it the Bible or the Joy of Sex. So the value judgement argument stays – by trying to overlay your definition of “real work” onto others, you are indeed making a value judgement on your patrons.

  • Library Mark

    “15-year-old girls wearing next to nothing,” and then you say they’re looking at porn on MySpace. The two aren’t the same.”

    I beg to differ. If a person is looks at a teen wearing nothing but her panties and gets his/her jollies from it, that’s porn.

    You know, it’s the patrons who actually pay taxes (and our salaries) who are being denied access to the computers while the kids mindlessly surf. This seems hardly fair to me.

  • Library Mark

    “15-year-old girls wearing next to nothing,” and then you say they’re looking at porn on MySpace. The two aren’t the same.”

    I beg to differ. If a person is looks at a teen wearing nothing but her panties and gets his/her jollies from it, that’s porn.

    You know, it’s the patrons who actually pay taxes (and our salaries) who are being denied access to the computers while the kids mindlessly surf. This seems hardly fair to me.

  • davidleeking

    Most state statutes have definitions of what’s legal/what’s not, and the teen in “hardly nothing,” while certainly offensive to some, doesn’t fit that definition. It’d be in the same category as the models in GQ Magazine.

    Here’s another way to go about this: have you talked to your supervisor/management about this, since you seem to think this is a big issue? What did they say?

  • davidleeking

    Most state statutes have definitions of what’s legal/what’s not, and the teen in “hardly nothing,” while certainly offensive to some, doesn’t fit that definition. It’d be in the same category as the models in GQ Magazine.

    Here’s another way to go about this: have you talked to your supervisor/management about this, since you seem to think this is a big issue? What did they say?

  • Anon, please

    If it were just about content, that would be one thing. It might well be an issue of security as well– the fact is that MySpace draws a certain crowd to the library, and if you don't have the money to pay for the security to control that crowd, you've got to figure out some way to dissuade them from coming to the library. Libraries just shouldn't have to deal with the kind of security issues (patron assault, drug use, some very close calls with gang violence).