Are filters, blockers and loggers the answer to Online Safety?
Do They Protect Children Online?
Filters, blockers and loggers are all designed to make the internet safer for kids by filtering the content, blocking websites and logging websites visited and key strokes typed, but whether you employ just one of them or all in tandem, they are fraught with issues.
Internet filtering software uses a set of rules, or patterns to look for inappropriate content by checking website addresses and pages for images or words that have sexual content, depict violence, contain swears, or may be related to alcohol/drug use.
Filters often either under-block or over-block content and simply do not work in today’s visual media world, and social networking environment of videos and photos. They are not able to accurately filter images, video, RSS feeds which means they fail to protect kids against inappropriate content. Parents are getting a false sense of security when using these filters. The best filter is a parent monitoring what their child is actually doing online!
Types of Internet Filters:
Blockers/ Black List Filters
Black list filters are the most popular types of Internet blocking software. A website is added to a black list which is the “bad” list. When a child attempts to access the website address, the software checks to see if the address is on that list and if it is on the list the child is denied access to that site. This type of filter doesn’t work if you allow your child on Facebook or other social networking site. Once a child is on Facebook then what? You either allow or disallow. Once a child is on Facebook, parents need to monitor their child’s Facebook activity to make sure their child is behaving appropriately, posting appropriately, not providing too much personal information etc.
Today, there are 582M websites, which has doubled since 2011. It is impossible for any black list filter to keep up with these numbers. Filters claim to block around 2.5M adult sites, which is the proverbial drop in a bucket. In addition, there are sites such as DancingBear.com which sound completely harmless, would most likely be missed by a filter, and will make an adult wince when they see the home page! Parents can’t rely on filters to keep their children safe from inappropriate content. Parents need to monitor what their children are doing online.
White List Filters
White list filters allow access only to “good” sites on the list while denying access to websites not on the list. White list filters are the most restrictive blockers. This is a good filter for younger children in which a parent can specify a reasonable number of age appropriate websites that their child can visit. Parents need to check out each site that a child will be allowed on to make sure that it is appropriate. A excellent website resource is CommonSenseMedia.com that describes and reviews age appropriate sites.
Keyword or Content Filters:
Keyword or content filters scan websites for the presence of specific words, phrases, or images that appear on the restricted list. Access to a website may be denied, or words may be blacked out if the keyword or content matches any words on the list. These filters are often blamed for over-filtering because in addition to denying a child access to a site that includes sex in the title such as hot-sexy-girls.com which is horribly inappropriate, sex is also in words like Essex, sextuplet, sextant, which are harmless.
In addition, say a child is on a social networking site and you’ve set up filters to alert you about inappropriate behavior such as a child using swears or making references to alcohol, or saying mean things online. Filters do not work with images so will not be able to differentiate between a soda can and a beer can. Also filters can’t tell the difference between your daughter lying on a beach in a bikini, or lying on a bed in a thong and bra?
Kids are pretty savvy about getting around filters as well. A filter may be triggered by the word alcohol, but will miss the euphemistic alcohol reference “milk and cookies.” Unfortunately, there are so many ways to be mean and it would be impossible for a filter to capture all of them.
Circumventing filters is all too easy for most children/teens. It takes a simple Google search to come up with pages of ways to disable filters. Kids are able to turn them off when they begin using the computer and turn them on again without their parents ever knowing.
Loggers work by capturing every key stroke that a child types on the computer. You might think that this would give a parent all the information to determine if a child is safe. However, the internet has become largely visual and all a child needs is a mouse to move around the internet world without ever using a keyboard. It’s all too easy for a child to go to an innocuous site and to click to a completely inappropriate site. Also, loggers are cumbersome and time consuming requiring a parent to slog through pages of text that is difficult to decipher, LOL, ASL, LMAO, etc. to understand in a very limited way what their child is doing online using the many multimedia functions of the web,photos, video, and webcams. Parents get a false sense of security that they think they know what their child is doing online when they use loggers.
As the AAP recommends,parents need to understand the“importance of supervising online activities via active participation and communication, as apposed to remote monitoring with a “net-nanny” program (software used to monitor the internet in the absence of parents.)”
Active monitoring while teaching and communicating with children and fostering family values is ultimately the best and only way to truly keep kids safe online.