- They may not work very well. When I tested several of the leading filtering programs I found some very powerful photographs despite the filtering. This took me less than 15 minutes. Sites with sexual content are often on the move, and even the most industrious and conscientious cybersnoopers have trouble keeping up with these itinerant smut-peddlers.
Even though cybersnoopers often employ knowbots and spiders to dig up and then filter any site which includes the use of various words such as SEX and NAKED, the enemy is also clever, changing its spelling to baffle and confound the electronic hounds.
- They may work too well. If the screens are too tight and too perfect, the cybersnoopers may block our students from learning about perfectly normal, natural and non-controversial aspects of human sexuality and the scientific information which has been gathered regarding such topics.
Any program which relies upon artificial intelligence to identify and then ban sites is turning over human judgment to a machine which is renowned for its insensitivity. The same kind of logic which awards higher scores from search engines to sites which repeat a keyword lies at the core of many of the filtering programs.
- They may increase attention to SMUT and spur motivation. Ironically, drawing a line in the sand for adolescents may make the search for smut all the more attractive. Audiences across the nation report that many adolescents naturally turn on the Web to music sites, clothing and cars - not pornography. The impact of a filtering message might create just the opposite effect from the one the purchaser may have wanted.
- Their ongoing cost may block better programs from your students. Because most of these programs require a hefty up-front investment of some $25 or more per machine - which then requires a monthly update for an additional charge - the cost of installing filtering programs may block the acquisition of other software which might provide extremely valuable tools for the students' course work.
- They may create false security. If we believe in the proud claims of the cybersnoopers, we may rest calmly once installation is complete. In communities where concern over this issue is intense, such naps might prove dangerous.
"You mean to say you allowed your students to explore the Net without supervision?"
"If this filtering software is so great, how come this kid managed to start a business selling nude GIF files?"
- They may increase liability. Those who claim they can block students from contact with controversial material may find themselves regretting such claims and may find themselves more at risk legally than those who present a more realistic picture and make no such claims.
"We trusted you!" the parents complain.
- They may violate family values. Because family values differ greatly when it comes to sexuality, the choice of material is probably more of a family decision than a school decision. The Bill of Rights of the ALA (American Library Association) calls for such choices to be left with families, not schools! Whenever school personnel seek to define family values, they run the risk of imposing their own values on others.
- They may violate community values. Because the filtering programs are not very clear about how sites may be selected and eliminated, the decisions may, in fact, be harsher and more conservative in nature than the majority of the community would wish, yet no one would know. The very promise of safety almost condemns the cybersnoopers to ultra-vigilance.
Is it true that the White House site was filtered for the use of the word "couples?" Is it true that the From Now On site was filtered for the use of a tilde in its address?
Hmmmmm . . .
- They may violate civil liberties. What obligations do schools have to provide students with access to balanced information? When is it permissible, if ever, to shape the flow of information to support certain "truths" over others?
This nation was founded by those who fled a world where one group might dictate matters of belief and conscience to others. We created the Constitution, in part, to protect citizens from government imposed orthodoxies.
Some would ban books and sculpture and paintings which others call art. They are not satisfied knowing that they and their children are safe and pure. They wish to impose their values and beliefs on others.
- They may define obscenity too narrowly. Some of the most obscene pages on the Web may have nothing to do with sexuality. Photographs of atrocities. Praise for violence and abuse of others. Disturbing content crosses many topics and may jump up at any of us without any warning. The same may be said for the evening news broadcasts.
- There are better ways to protect our children.
Parents raise children to respect boundary lines set by adults to protect them from wall sockets, hot stoves and neighborhood threats. When they are too young to understand, we put plastic plugs in the sockets and restrict them to play pens, but as they grow older, we point out the stone wall or fence in the backyard and tell them to stay within bounds. The same strategy works very well with the Internet.
"Here are the pages which teachers have visited and found supportive of our curriculum. Stay at these rainforest sites. If you wander afield, you will lose your privileges."
There is a big difference between guidance and censorship.
In school, the list of approved, curriculum sites might be provided by the staff. At home the list may be negotiated as parent and child browse sites together. Each good site is bookmarked for future visits. The approach is akin to family discussion and selection of acceptable television programs. For more, check out the June issue . . . "Protecting Our Children from the Internet (and the World)"
Children can learn to filter for themselves.
Ultimately, we expect that young children will become young adults charged with the responsibility of making good judgments about the media bombardment which comes from a dozen sources besides the Internet. Which sites meet family and personal values? As young people pass through adolescence, parents can challenge them to help form and then apply a list of criteria for acceptable sites.
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