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To Go Down The Not-So-Good Cyberstreets (PDF)
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Choosing Not To Go Down the Not-so-good
National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Study of Tools and Strategies
for Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate
Internet Content Workshop on Non-Technical Strategies to Protect Youth from Inappropriate
Material on the Internet
Background Paper provided by
Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
Director, Responsible Netizen
Center for Advanced Technology in Education
University of Oregon College of Education
Eugene, Oregon 97403
Web site: http://csriu.org
"When we fall into the trap
of believing or, more accurately, hoping that technology will solve all of our
problems, we are actually abdicating the high touch of personal responsibility.
*** In our minds at least, technology is always on the verge of liberating us
from personal discipline and responsibility. Only it never does and never will.
The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch.(1)"
Regardless of issues related
to the use, effectiveness, and appropriateness of technology tools, laws, and
labeling systems, the simple and plain truth is that virtually every young person
in this country will, at one time or another, have unsupervised access to the
Internet through an unfiltered and unmonitored system. Any young person who desires
to access the ""darkside"(2) of the Internet will be able to find a way to do
so. Technology tools, laws, and labeling systems are insufficient means to prevent
The more important question,
therefore, is how can we help young people gain the knowledge, decision-making
skills, and motivation to make safe and responsible choices when they are using
What are the issues of concern?
We must address the issue of
young people accessing materials that promote violence and abuse -- sexual, racial,
animal, or other abuse. As was recently reported, "After reviewing 30 years of
research, top members of the public health community have concluded that viewing
violent entertainment can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and
behavior, particularly in children."(3) Clearly, young people's interaction with
violent and abusive materials found on the Internet can be predicted to have a
damaging effect on values and behavior. Too often, however, the concern is expressed
as an issue of how to keep young people safe, when, in fact, young people are
intentionally accessing these sites -- an issue of personal responsibility on
the part of the young person. We need a greater understanding of what conditions
predispose young people to be attracted to these sites and how these sites exploit
We must also empower young
people to handle a wide range of interactions and activities on the Internet that
could be harmful to their well being. These safety concerns include sexual predation,
hate group recruitment, invasion of personal privacy, Internet addiction, Internet
fraud and scams, harassment, stalking, and harmful speech, as well as the inadvertent
access of harmful material. We cannot expect that reliance on technology "tools"
will be effective in addressing these safety concerns. We also cannot expect that
young people will always have an adult at their side who is able to recognize
and assist in handling these concerns. We must empower young people to recognize
the danger signs and handle the situations when they arise. Handling the situation
may require calling upon an appropriate adult for assistance or it may require
simply dealing with the situation on their own.
We also must address other
issues related to the responsible use of the Internet by young people. These issues
include copyright infringement, plagiarism, computer security violations (hacking),
violation of privacy, Internet fraud and scams, harassment, stalking, and dissemination
of violent and abusive material.
Every parent knows how to teach
a child to cross a busy street. When children are too young to recognize the danger
and do not have the skills to safely negotiate crossing a street, we keep them
in safe places and only allow them to approach a busy street when there is an
adult present holding their hand. We talk to them about the dangers and teach
them the skills necessary to avoid danger. We emphasize the value of making safe
choices. Gradually, we allow them more freedom, but are on the watch for any unsafe
behavior. If unsafe behavior occurs we use this as a teachable moment to reiterate
the dangers and the skills necessary to avoid the dangers. When children are old
enough and have demonstrated that they understand how to make good choices, they
are allowed to cross the streets by themselves.
The same strategy can be used
to help our young people gain the knowledge, skills, and motivation to use the
Internet in a safe and responsible manner. We need to keep children in safe places
on the Internet when they are very young. The use of filtering tools or the establishment
of "safe places" can be helpful strategies at this stage. But we also must impart
the values and skills that are the basis for the safe and responsible use of the
Internet. As young people gain independence in their use of the Internet, we must
teach them to how recognize potential unsafe situations and places and we must
help them gain practical skills to handle the dangerous or tempting situations
that may emerge when they use the Internet. Education, supervision, monitoring,
and appropriate discipline are critically important during this stage.
Eventually, inevitably, young
people will have unsupervised access to the Internet. We cannot prepare them for
this eventuality by trying to keep them in a "safe place" using technology tools
until they are 18 anymore than we could hope to protect a child from traffic by
always holding onto his or her hand. We must focus our efforts on strategies that
will empower young people with the values, knowledge, skills, and motivation to
make the right choices in their behavior.
The focus of my work at the
Center for Advanced Technology in Education, at the University of Oregon College
of Education is to:
- Gain research insight about
the behavior of young people when they are using the Internet.
- Develop and disseminate recommended
policies, practices, and educational strategies to assist schools in helping young
people engage in the safe and responsible use of the Internet.
What is the appropriate
role of schools in teaching young people to make safe and responsible choices
in the use of the Internet?
Schools must play a leading
role in the effort to ensure that our young people learn to use the Internet in
a safe and responsible manner. Schools are the most universal location where students
in the U.S. are learning how to use the Internet. Not all parents know how to
guide their children's use of the Internet, not all young people use the public
library, not all young people have access through community technology centers.
But schools have the ability to partner with parents, libraries, community technology
centers, and other organizations within a community to create a community-wide
effort to promote safe and responsible use of the Internet. Schools are a well-placed,
efficient vehicle to provide education to parents on these issues.
Schools must establish guidelines
for student use of the Internet that are in accord with educational standards.
Schools cannot enforce a wide range of different family values. However, schools
can and should encourage parents to engage in dialogue with their children about
their personal and family values as they relate to their children's use of the
Internet at school.
Is the use of filtering
technology in schools the best way to address the safety and responsible use concerns?
The biggest problem with the
use of filtering technology in schools is the false security and complacency that
most often results from a decision to install filtering. When schools install
filtering they often believe that they have adequately addressed safety and responsible
use concerns related to the Internet. Schools that rely on filtering generally
do not adequately address the search skills that young people can use to avoid
inadvertently accessing this kind of material, nor do they discuss issues around
the "darkside" of the Internet and the need to make responsible choices to avoid
such material. Schools that rely on filtering often become complacent about supervision
and monitoring, thus leading to other problems related to the use of the Internet.
Often the choice to install filtering reflects inadequate dedication to professional
development and Internet curriculum development.(4)
Most significantly, the concerns
about safety and responsible use are more than simply concerns about the inadvertent
or intentional access of potentially harmful material. Schools that rely on filtering
generally are not addressing how their students will make safe and responsible
choices in their behavior at those inevitable times when they will have unsupervised
access through an unmonitored and unfiltered system.
The use of filtering in schools
also raises first amendment concerns. These concerns are addressed in-depth in
an accompanying document that outlines legal issues related to filtering in schools.
In brief, school officials have the right and responsibility to determine the
appropriateness of materials for their students, but may not restrict students'
access to material based on a desire to suppress unpopular ideas. When school
officials install filtering, they are delegating the responsibility for the determination
of the appropriateness of materials to private companies that make blocking decisions
based on vague criteria and do not disclose their list of blocked sites to the
schools. These companies are often found to have blocked sites presenting unpopular
ideas in the same category as sites clearly are inappropriate for children, such
as blocking access to information on safe sex or for gay and lesbian teens in
the same category as pornography. Some companies have undisclosed agendas to use
their filtering software to engage in viewpoint discrimination and suppress access
to unpopular ideas.
Legislation currently pending
in Congress that would require all schools receiving E-rate funds to install filtering
will be held unconstitutional. Congress may not require that school officials
entrust their important decision-making responsibility for the selection of school
materials to private companies, especially given the significant deficiencies
of today's filtering technologies.
Why would a school choose
not to use filtering technology?
- Have good policies and
- Educate students about
the importance of engaging in safe and responsible behavior
- Engage students in high-quality
educational uses of the Internet
- Place the computers in
locations where the monitors are easily visible
- Use effective supervision,
monitoring and discipline strategies
do NOT have problems with
students accessing inappropriate material.
The choice not to install filtering
software in schools reflects the recognition of the important responsibility placed
on schools to prepare young people to make the right choices and a determination
that the use of filtering does not assist in achieving that objective. From a
developmental perspective, technical monitoring systems are a far more powerful
tool than are filtering systems. Monitoring systems place the responsibility on
the young person for making the right choice and can detect when a wrong choice
has been made. The detection can lead to a "teachable moment." This approach can
be very helpful in helping young people learn to make decisions based on internalized
Here is how the Tom Ward, Principal
of St. Michael School, Olympia, WA, described the rationale for his school's decision
not to use filtering:(5)
"I feel that an assertive approach,
works very well in every aspect of life, not just with a single medium. Therefore,
an "Acceptable Use Agreement" for students, and staff, with clear, concise expectations
outlined, will place the responsibility of each person's actions squarely on that
person for his/her use the internet. Does that mean all have free reign? Absolutely
not. The younger the child the more supervision and guidance is necessary.
The point is to not offer the
easy way out by providing the excuse of "It's THEIR responsibility for what I
do" but to instill the understanding that "I am responsible for the choices I
make and I am accountable for what I choose to do". This is not only emphasized
for a child's use of the net, but all forms of media during and outside of school.
Education and community interaction
not only occurs in school. It is important for youngsters to develop the need
to make the right choices when they are NOT being "watched". Education is a life
long process and our kids need to be able to function properly after 3:00 PM and
after graduation. A youngster encouraged to develop a strong, value based character
who can function independently and properly now will have the greater, more positive
affect of influencing peers and raising the next generation than any outside control.
Educating our children is the
best method of protecting them."
Here is a statement discussing
an effective non-filtering-based strategy to address access to inappropriate sites
by Rick Spitzer (6), Director of Technology and Information Services, Widefield
School District #3, Colorado Springs, CO.
"Our district does not filter.
I randomly check a program that captures every URL requested in the district.
In a day we may have 3000 to 5000 URLs requested. There are usually two to three
inappropriate sites, and many of them are probably accidental. When we have observed
problems they usually turn out to be adults. Sweepers, part time custodial help
and so on are most likely because of times and locations. We deal with individuals
and the students and staff know it.
All of our computers are in
open areas and easily visible. The staff has been told to watch student activity
and assign specific tasks.
Students and staff have been
told that "You understand that the software you use tracks all "surfing" done
on these computers. You also understand that your access privileges may be revoked,
school disciplinary action and/or appropriate legal action may be taken if you
do not use the Internet in a responsible manner." In fact this is part of the
browser startup screen on many district computers students use.
This does not guarantee that
we do not have some problems or that we will not have problems in the future.
Just as I cannot guarantee that there is not an adult magazine in our schools
I cannot guarantee that a student has not see pornography on our computers. My
observation at this point is that it is not worth the cost of the filtering software
and the manpower required to do filtering. Students should be taught that this
stuff is out there and if they run into it hit the Back button and move on. As
long as that holds I will spend our technology funds on other more pressing issues."
Unfortunately, in the rush
to find the simple solution -- a "technology tool" -- many schools have forgotten
that education, supervision, and appropriate discipline are far more effective
approaches to help young people learn how to behave in safe and responsible ways.
How should schools address
concerns about the safe and responsible use of the Internet by young people?
Schools must address all issues
related to the safe and responsible use of the Internet by young people. This
includes all of the safety and wellbeing issues, as well as the responsible use
issues outlined above.
The important foundation for
the safe and responsible use of the Internet is:
- Teachers who are prepared
to lead students in exciting, challenging, high-quality learning activities using
- A school environment that
fosters responsible behavior and personal integrity throughout all aspects of
The vast majority of school
districts have adopted Internet Use Policies, also called Acceptable Use Policies,
to guide student and staff use of the Internet.(7) The Internet use policy essentially
establishes the "rules" for use of the Internet. Internet Use Policies address
a wide range of safety and responsibility issues, including personal safety, illegal
activities, system security, inappropriate language, privacy, resource limits,
plagiarism, copyright infringement, as well as access to inappropriate material.
If a student violates the provisions of an Internet use policy, he or she can
be subjected to a range of disciplinary actions in accord with the district's
disciplinary guidelines. A frequently used disciplinary action is denial of access
to the Internet for a period of time. Internet Use Policies also address issues
of students' rights in the context of their use of the Internet at school. These
rights include the right of free speech, access to information, and due process.
It is also important to establish the clear understanding that the use of the
Internet is school is limited to educational purposes -- class assignments, career
development, and high quality personal research, and not entertainment or shopping.
A representative sample of
a district Internet Use Policy as well as a detailed legal analysis of Internet
use policy issues that was recently published in the Brigham Young University
Journal of Law and Education have been attached.
The Internet Use Policy should
only be considered the first component of a comprehensive strategy to assist young
people in gaining the knowledge, skills, and motivation to use the Internet in
a safe and responsible manner. A comprehensive strategy will address environmental
and technical factors, instructional objectives and strategies, and intervention
It is my recommendation to
educators that they develop a plan of action to address the safe and responsible
use of the Internet. The overall plan initially should be developed at the district
level in partnership with the representatives from the local public library, local
community technology centers, and parent leaders. This overall plan must be refined
at each school level to reflect the different facilities and needs of students
at those schools.
To develop such a plan of action
will require that educators have a greater understanding of the issues and concerns
involved in addressing the safe and responsible use of the Internet by young people.
Educators also must have an understanding of how the use of information technologies
can affect how young people make decisions about their behavior. Educators need
access to information about strategies that other schools are using to effectively
address issues of concern. Currently, information and resources are not readily
available to educators.
What are the best strategies
for schools to address concerns of students accessing the "darkside" of the Internet?
Schools must do more than simply
control student's use of the Internet during school hours. Schools must help students
learn to make good choices in their use of the Internet at all times -- in school
or not, supervised or not, filtered or not. To successfully address concerns about
access to and engagement in the "darkside" of the Internet, it is necessary to
distinguish between inadvertent access and intentional access. The former is a
safety issue; the latter is a responsibility issue.
Inadvertent access of "darkside"
sites can occur in several ways: a) conducting a search on an innocuous term that
results in the presentation of a site with inappropriate material and accessing
that site without a careful consideration of the description provided by the search
engine; b) mistyping a URL; and c) selecting a link on a page when there is no
description for the link or without reading the description. A school-based strategy
to prevent the inadvertent access must begin when children begin to use the Internet.
The foundation of an approach to avoid inadvertent access is to encourage students
to "Read, Think, then Click." Unfortunately, many edutainment software programs
for young children reinforce "mindless clicking," a bad habit that must be undone.
Children must be warned of the presence of material on the Internet that is unacceptable
for them to access. They must be provided with instruction in effective search
strategies and learn how to quickly exit inappropriate sites, especially sites
that have set "traps."
Children must be kept in child-safe
places until they have successfully demonstrated that they understand how to avoid
the inadvertent access of inappropriate material and how to quickly exit an inappropriate
site. Child-safe spaces can be established through the use of portals or school
web sites that are child-friendly, non-commercial, and educationally oriented.
Addressing the concern of intentional
access to "darkside" sites and engagement in "darkside" activities is more complicated.
To address issues of intentional access it is important to understand the range
of motivations that may underlie intentional access. Many young people will access
the "darkside" of the Internet because of curiosity. No creature is more curious
than a teenager -- especially if adults are making a fuss about something. Most
young people will explore the "darkside" of the Internet just to see for themselves
what is there. Young people who find that the material is not consistent with
their values will self-censor. Some of this exploration is simply a natural component
of a young person's emerging sexuality. This kind of exploration has been present
long before the Internet and cannot be expected to diminish when such materials
are more readily available. The most important strategy to address concerns about
curious teens is a focus on personal values, including healthy sexual values.
Some teens are part of peer
group -- a "tribe" -- that reinforces ongoing involvement with "darkside" sites
and activities during the period of teen age and young adult years. Given the
strength of peer influences in the life of teens, early intervention in fostering
positive teen tribes and assisting young people in resisting peer pressure to
engage in activities that are contrary to their values are important prevention
The teens that present the
greatest concern are those who engage in continued, excessive participation in
"darkside" sites and activities and those who become victims of sexual predators
or hate group recruiters. The teens who are likely to be most at-risk are those
who perceive themselves to be outcasts in the school environment and those who
have come from dysfunctional families where they have been the victims of emotional,
sexual and/or physical abuse. Some at-risk teens may become involved in the establishment
of "darkside" sites and may engage in online predation, harassment, and stalking.
Their online involvement may also translate into "real world" activities of rape,
sexual predation, stalking, domestic violence, and other illegal activities. Other
at-risk teens may become the victims of online predators or recruiters. Teens
who do not have "real world" connections with loving and caring adults and healthy
peer relationships are the most receptive to the online grooming behavior of predators
and recruiters. Clearly, there is a need for greater research insight to address
the concerns presented by these at-risk young people.
"You are not old enough to
look at this material," is an extremely weak argument against the "darkside".
Such an argument will likely be dismissed by most teens, who consider themselves
to be every bit as competent and capable as adults. The argument that they are
not old enough flies in the face of the messages they have been receiving from
the marketing moguls of the vast entertainment industry. It is probable that we
will have much greater success in reaching young people if we focus the greatest
amount of attention on the sites that contain violence and abuse and label these
sites as such. The argument that "these sites foster violence and abuse" will
likely be much more powerful than "you are not old enough." We also need to impart
to young people an understanding of how viewing of and participation in violence
and abuse activities can affect their perceptions, values, and behavior.
To lay the groundwork for success
in fostering the safe and responsible use of the Internet, it is necessary that
schools have well-developed programs addressing media literacy, character education,
at-risk students, racial discrimination, and sexual harassment. These programs
can provide an essential foundation for imparting the values that are necessary
to support safe and responsible behavior online.
Media literacy program will
help young people develop skills in discerning when others are trying to manipulate
their attitudes and exploit them. Unfortunately, the marketing techniques used
by many of the dot.com sites aimed at children have the potential to undermine
efforts to empower children to avoid unsafe activities and situations on the Internet.
The marketing techniques used by legitimate dot.com companies are the same as
those used by those who would recruit our young people to "darkside" sites and
abusive activities. Here is an example: X is using the Internet to solicit personal
information from a young person. X will use this information to develop a one-to-one
relationship with the young person for the purpose of influencing the young person's
attitudes and behavior. Did this describe a sexual predator, a hate group recruiter,
a scam artist, or a dot.com children's site? The techniques described are used
by "all of the above." We must assist young people in understanding when such
techniques are being used to manipulate and exploit them. Media literacy programs
can address these issues.
Character education programs
seek to impart good values to young people. One potential problem with many character
education programs is that they are frequently rule and punishment based. On the
Internet, inappropriate behavior frequently goes undetected and, thus, unpunished.
When working with young people using the Internet it is important to keep in mind
how features of the technology can impact ethical decision-making. As young people
grow, their ethical decision-making is largely influenced by external factors.
The two most significant external forces are perception of the harm they have
caused by their actions, which leads to feelings of guilt and remorse, and fear
of detection, which could lead to punishment or loss of reputation. Technology
interferes with both of these external forces. When we use technology, we are
distanced from recognizing any harm that we may cause. We also feel invisible.
As young people are growing up using the Internet, we must enhance their recognition
of potential harm caused by their actions and diminish their perceptions that
they are invisible. Our character education programs must focus their attention
on enhancing internalized control through an understanding of how our actions
can cause harm to unseen others.
Students who are determined
to be at-risk for other behavioral problems, especially the school "outcasts,"
are also the ones who are most at-risk of becoming involved in "darkside" activities
on the Internet. Educators must recognize that any student who does not feel a
part of the school community is likely to be finding an online community or an
individual predator ready and willing to exploit his or her loneliness. Helping
students feel connected and cared for in their home, school, and community takes
on even greater importance in recognition of the potential that young people who
do not feel connected and cared for are extremely vulnerable on the Internet.
With the growth of hate sites
on the Internet, it is evident that schools need to address issues related to
hate materials and hate group recruitment in school-based programs that address
racial discrimination. Many hate sites are using sophisticated communication techniques
and creating well-designed web sites that provide a façade of legitimacy. Young
people need the knowledge and skills to recognize hatred and disrespect regardless
of the form in which it is presented online.
In 1993, the American Association
of University Women published a peer sexual harassment study. The study showed
that 81% of students had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Eighty-five
percent of girls and 76 percent of boys reported experiencing 'unwanted and unwelcome
sexual behavior that interferes with their lives."(8) The values and attitudes
of students that underlie involvement in peer sexual harassment are likely to
be the same values and attitudes that support intentional involvement with the
sexual "darkside" of the Internet. Aggressive school-based programs to address
sexual harassment are likely to provide an effective foundation for addressing
involvement with sexual "darkside" materials on the Internet.
What should be done?
The following are some practical,
- Encourage school districts
and schools to develop a plan of action to address how they will assist students
to engage in the safe and responsible use of the Internet. Schools should work
with parents, public libraries, and community technology centers to develop a
comprehensive, community-wide approach. This approach will move schools beyond
the simple adoption of an Internet Use Policy. School districts and schools will
need support for this planning through the provision of information about the
issues of concern and access to recommendations for effective strategies. (If
Congress is intent on enacting legislation to address these concerns, a requirement
for such a plan could added to the requirements necessary for funding through
the E-rate program.)
- Develop a comprehensive taxonomy
of educational objectives related to the safe and responsible use of the Internet.
Providing guidelines for learning objectives that are appropriate for different
grade levels. This taxonomy should provide the basis for the development of curriculum
materials and approaches.
- Provide professional development
for teachers and administrators regarding safety and responsible use issues.
- Support research to gain a
better understanding of how use of the Internet is affecting the social and moral
development of young people and to understand how to assist young people in engaging
in the safe and responsible use of the technology.
- Revise media literacy, character
education, at-risk, racial discrimination, and sexual harassment curriculum programs
to incorporate concepts necessary to support making safe and responsible choices
using the Internet.
Dr. Suess provided excellent
guidance on this issue. In his book Oh the Places You'll Go! he wrote:
"You'll look up and down
streets. Look 'em over with care. About some you will say, 'I don't choose to
go there.' With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you're too
smart to go down any not-so-good streets."(9)
The answer to our concerns
about the "darkside" of the Internet is to focus on strategies that can help our
young people gain those "heads full of brains and shoes full of feet" so that
they choose not to go down those not-so-good cyberstreets.
- Naisbitt, J., Megatrends: Ten new directions transforming our lives,
New York, N.Y. Warner Books, 1984.
- I have choosen to use the term "darkside" to describe the kinds
of sites others are calling "harmful to minors." I believe that we need
to tell young people that the reason these sites are "harmful" is that
they reflect the "darkside" of humanity. Here is how I have described
such sites in a student handbook addressing the safe and responsible use of the
Internet: "These sites contain pornography and other profane and obscene
materials, hate material and violent games. These sites promote violence and hatred.
They foster sexual and racial harassment and disregard for the rights of others.
They encourage crude attitudes. The individuals creating these sites simply do
not share a vision of the world as a peaceful place, where all people and other
living things are treated with caring respect."
- Oldenburg, A., "TV, Films blamed for child violence" USA Today
July 26, p. 9D
- One administrator said to me, "We installed filtering because our teachers
are not prepared to handle students' use of the Internet."
- Permission to reproduce and distribute this message was granted by the writer.
- Permission to reproduce and
distribute this message was granted by the writer.
- A recent survey conducted by Quality Education Data revealed that in 1999
over 90% of school districts had adopted Acceptable Use Policies.
- American Association of University of Women Educational Foundation, "Hostile
Hallways: The AAUW Survey on Sexual Harassment in American Schools" June
- Suess, Dr. Oh, the places you'll go! New York: Random House. 1990.