Last week, a government committee produced what was a switched-on report on Internet filtering. (PDF link) In it, they rejected calls for a default-on internet filter, pointing out that “default filtering can create a false sense of security” and that “there was no great appetite amongst parents for the introduction of default filtering“.
Personally, I’ve always preferred the educational approach to keeping kids safe online. In our house, the computers are all kept in public areas so when they were younger, before they had smart phones, we had some idea what they’re up to. (Which mostly consists of doing their homework and looking at videos of Ponies, Minecraft and cute cats on YouTube) The trouble with blocking is that parents and carers assume it will work, but it doesn’t. It will block the obvious sites, but might fail to find more obscure items. And if there is one thing kids are good at it’s finding obscure sites.
Oh, actually, there are two things kids are good at with computers. The second thing is bypassing blocks put in place by parents and ISPs. There’s even a project part-funded by the US Military to allow people to bypass such filters, often used by those in oppressive regimes such as China or, uh, the UK.
On filtering, the government report stated they “work to filter out certain kinds of internet content but do not prevent… online bulling… sharing personal sexual content… online grooming… sharing personal information online“. There is also the risk of blocking positive content, such as help sites for LGBT+ youth or even content for other adults in the house who are being emotionally or physically abused.
Sadly, the evidence that blocking is unhelpful isn’t enough to deter Claire Perry MP and the Daily Mail from their “WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN” campaign. Potentially increasing risk to children isn’t enough reason to stop such campaigns of course. It appears they’ve dragged David Cameron along with them. He’s announced today that publicity-seeking Claire Perry is to be put in charge of plans to create internet filters, which contrary to the recommendations in the report parents will be forced to choose between.
Well, I say parents. Actually, it will be whoever sets up the computer. Because nobody will ever give their 13 year old the new X-Box to set up on Christmas Day, will they? Vague plans that people will need to prove their age to be able to configure these things do make me wonder if anyone involved has even even been online.
Are you 18 or over? Please click “Yes, honestly, I’d never lie to you” or “No”.
The Prime Minister’s announcement was very motherhood-and-apple-pie, even containing the statement “These should be distinct and precious years, full of security and love, untainted by the worries and complexities of adulthood.“. How much engagement do Tory MPs have with their kids if they think you can protect a 13 or 14 year old from “the worries and complexities of adulthood”. That’s exactly when you do need to deal with such issues if you want to become a healthy, well-adjusted adult.