You might have heard that Time’s Person of the Year is: You! And me! That is, all the folks out there contributing to the online, ongoing dialogue: Blogs, YouTube, MySpace, all the stuff that is variously called user created content, social networking, Web 2.0, etc.

My most recent Tech Beat article tried to explain how organizations should be capitalizing on this trend by making their sites interactive, inviting people in, building a community. Me and the editors of Time. We think so much alike. I tried to skip the hype and the jargon, though.
But there is a cloud in this silver lining. One that You (if you are one of the people with a site where people can contribute content such as comments) might want to become aware of. In a bill that has not had much press, introduced by Sen. John McCain, web site owners could be subject to fines of up to $300,000 for failing to report ‘illegal’ material posted on their sites by others. While I certainly don’t condone child pornography, and applaud attempts to catch predators, the over reaching of bills like these do more harm to the public than any good they might produce by chilling open discourse. An example of this over reaching from the article:

The other section of McCain’s legislation targets convicted sex offenders. It would create a federal registry of “any e-mail address, instant-message address, or other similar Internet identifier” they use, and punish sex offenders with up to 10 years in prison if they don’t supply it.

Then, any social-networking site must take “effective measures” to remove any Web page that’s “associated” with a sex offender.

Because “social-networking site” isn’t defined, it could encompass far more than just, Friendster and similar sites. The list could include: Slashdot, which permits public profiles;, which permits author profiles and personal lists; and blogs like that show public profiles. In addition, media companies like publisher CNET Networks permit users to create profiles of favorite games, gadgets and music.

So, basically web sites that allow profiles would have to be policing all the profiles and try to figure out if any are associated with a sex offender. Huh? Who has time for that? And does a sex offender who has served time not have the right to participate in any social discourse? Beware the do gooder on behalf of the children.