Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Internet Filtering - Restriction or Protection?

I still believe we should be teaching Internet responsibility and digital citizenship to our students instead of trying to hide all the bad things behind a big iron curtain. But the fact remains that the Internet is a complex and sometimes seedy beast. It’s easy to forget that fact when search results for well-intentioned lesson plans get blocked, or when you watch students spend a period trying to sneak their way onto a gaming website. This is when the frustrated teacher throws his/her hands in the air and declares the filter to be the work of the devil. But for every game blocked, that filtering software is also blocking potential predators, unsavory images, and God knows what else.

I was thinking about this more over the weekend while flipping through the Black Friday edition of The Buffalo News. There were two stories on the front page of the City and Region section that highlighted someone using the Internet. One was about a Michigan man using a Genealogy website to find his long-lost birthmother. The other was about a local filmmaker getting arrested for having downloaded more than 1300 child-porn images. These articles create an interesting juxtaposition.

So what’s the answer? Is it to open the floodgates and hope no one gets swept away in the current? Is it to turn off the lights and sit in darkness? Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but where to draw the line is as big (if not bigger) or a question that whether filtering is needed in the first place.
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