Heavy-handed filtering is a problem, not a solution

I recently saw an email on the WWWEDU listserve by Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, that I thought really needed to be shared. Nancy has given me permission to reproduce it here. Nancy is one of the sanest and smartest voices regarding youth and online safety. Her latest book on Cyberbullying (available at Research Press) (also at Amazon) is a must read for parents and teachers. I really respect her knowledge on this subject and feel that her approach, based on real data and work with real kids is far superior to the current climate of fear and scare tactics surrounding education in an online world.

In this email, Nancy answers questions about filtering and school responsibility for online safety.  If you are an educator dealing with unreasonable filtering that hampers your ability to teach, I urge you to explore her website and buy her books.

We must use knowledge, not fear, as our guide to face the opportunities and dangers of the 21st Century.

Sylvia

—————– The rest of this post is all Nancy —————–

We will NOT be able to effectively prepare students for their education, career, and civic responsibilities in the 21st Century if the technical services directors in schools throughout this country continue their heavy handed filtering.

It is essential to shift how the Internet is being managed from a primary reliance on filtering to more effective monitoring – in an environment where education – not social – use of the Internet is expected, and supported with effective professional and curriculum development.

Q: Dear Nancy, does the law specifically state how tight the filter has to be set. Do we have to set it at its most restrictive setting can’t it be at its least restrictive setting?
A: All you have to do under CIPA is set it to block pornographic material – obscene material and material harmful for minors. There is NO liability for schools if they choose not to set it to block an area and something “inappropriate” happens to appear on that site. The CIPA regulations mentioned the understanding that filtering is not perfect.

There is absolutely NO justification under CIPA for the heavy-handed filtering that is preventing effective instruction in schools today. The problem is that schools are overly reliant on filtering when they should be shifting to more of a focus on monitoring.

The other problem is the non-research-based fear-mongering about internet risk. Just about everything you hear in the press – or from politicians – about online sexual predators is not supported by the research data.

They are not targeting children. They are not tracking down teens based on personal contact information they post. 1 in 5 or 7 young people has not been contacted by a predator. There are not 50,000 predators online at any given time prowling for victims. There are legitimate concerns of adults who are preying on emotionally vulnerable or “seeking” teens. But the arrest rates for sexual abuse of minors have actually been going down in the last decade.

Q: Our district (actually most of the state) went to web washer and we are even more restricted now than we were before.
A: No one at the filtering companies is held accountable for the decisions that are being made. 8e6 has a close relationship with the American Family Association!!! Think of the objections if the American Family Association was the organization deciding what books would be allowed in schools. No one knows what biases the other companies might have.

It is OUTRAGEOUS that tech directors and administrators would think that these companies are better at selecting sites for their appropriateness than librarians and teachers!

Q: The person setting the filter is not an educator but an IT tech with little or no classroom experience.
A: This is a major concern. The people who are making content based decisions on what categories should be blocked should be the librarians and curriculum specialists. The IT folks should be involved only on decisions related to security and bandwidth issues.

Further EVERY librarian and ed tech specialist in the schools should have the authority to override the filter and provide access to a site that has been inappropriately blocked – based on the educational determination of its content!

Further, EVERY counselor, administrator, and school resource officer, should also have the ability to override to investigate online material that presents safety of student well-being concerns. (And they may need some help from more tech savvy folks to be able to do this.)

I am working on professional development resources to address both youth risk online and effective Internet use management for a Web 2.0 World. Should be available January. These will be narrated slides presentations with reproducible handouts – with CLE credit available.

Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
http://csriu.org
http://cyberbully.org
http://cyber-safe-kids.com
http://csriu.wordpress.com

Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Aggression, Threats, and Distress (Research Press) (also at Amazon)

Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the Internet Safely and Responsibly (Jossey-Bass) (also at Amazon)

3 thoughts on “Heavy-handed filtering is a problem, not a solution”

  1. That’s why parents and teachers should consider simple monitoring rather than filtering. that way you won’t mis-block things and you KNOW what kids are doing online. If they aren’t doing anything bad, why restrict them?

    We give software to schools for free. Check us out: http://www.pcpandora.com

  2. I couldn’t agree more – I have to take what I believe are ridiculous precautions to protect the identities of my students on our class blog, which is not even searchable on the web. But the highest issue on my frustration list as a teacher are the filters on our school internet. There are sites I attempt to use with my students that I KNOW are good resources, but inexplicably are blocked – and my school does not have as thick a filter as some of our other schools! I end up doing a lot of work at night and a lot of messing around with jump drives so that my students can have access to the things I need them to.

    What this comes down to is some outside company, or an IT person (often NOT an educator), setting policy for our schools and districts. If I were an administrator, I would be all over this! It’s maddening!

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