Dwight Watt Internet Article #29

#29 - Censorship and filtering software 8/18/1999

#29 - Censorship and filtering software

There is a lot of smut, trash (garbage is probably a better word) and other offensive material out there on the Internet. This kind of stuff most of us don't want to see and we don't want our young people seeing. However the Internet is also a very powerful media that puts lots of useful information at our fingertips. What can we do?

The Internet is just the latest technology advance that those dealing in pornography and offensive ideas to society have used to advance their causes. With the advent of the magazine, we saw the various sex magazines appear. By using various wrappers, we have attempted to keep them out of children. We have seen video tape industry make a bunch of pornographic videos, but control them through where rented or sold. As we were reminded during the Monica and Bill mess even the telephone is used for pornographic purposes.

Appearing on the scene in the last few years has been a number of products to filter the Internet. Often these are referred to as filtering software. They work in one of two ways. The first is that they have a list of sites that have been determined to be offensive and that they will not let the user onto those sites. The second works the opposite in that it has a list of good sites and will only let you on these sites. They use two methods to determine what is an acceptable site. The first is by looking for certain key words or setups of the site that show it to be offensive. This is usually done a computer running spiders or robots all over the Internet looking at sites. The second method used is for humans to look at sites and determine if the site is offensive. The also accept input from their users in what is an offensive site.

Key words such as "Adult only", "nudity", "sex" and lots of pictures are usually the key ways the automatic systems work. Also multiple links on a site to offensive sites will usually do the trick.

Now what is the problem with filtering software? First it will not always keep the user out of offensive sites and will also not allow the user into acceptable sites. The news media has already reported on cases of where young people researching a paper for school on breast cancer or on chicken breasts were blocked because we all know breast is a pornographic word. However it can get you in other ways. A site that contains lots of pictures looks to the computer like a pornographic site since pornographic sites obviously have lots of pictures.

There is a major push on to have filtering software installed in college computers, library computers, etc. The odd part to me is that in the libraries quite often you can find Playboy and other "sex" magazines and books. To me the big thing is people need to watch what their children are doing on the computer. Since the Internet is worldwide, there is no way that it can be policed to stop these items from appearing on it.

Now for a note of apology from me. A week ago I sent out a notice about the pictures I took on my mission trip to Brazil that I had posted on the Internet (http://dwight-watt2.home.att.net) Little did I know at that point that my web pages had been marked as offensive by at least one filtering software. SurfWatch had marked all of my sites (http://dwight-watt/home.att.net, http://ibbgcm.home.att.net and http://dwight-watt2.home.att.net) as offensive. They have since removed the block. The Brazil site I understand as it has links to 163 pictures (only skin shown is faces, legs, and arms; not even any beach shots) and apparently 163 JPG files threw up a flag. NetNanny did not block my pages.

So in summary, Internet filtering will prevent you from seeing many offensive sites, but it will also prevent you from seeing some sites that you want to see and last it may allow you to see some sites you don't want to see. Parental watch of children and young people on the net and monitoring of their activity is the best control. Censorship does not always produce its intended results. One thing is if you are concerned as a parent who can not watch your child always on the Internet, is to learn how to read history files, cache files, etc. to see where your child has been. The last thing is teaching your children, yes you don't depend on the schools, what is right and wrong.


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