Social Impacts: Pornography and the Internet

Solutions For Parents

As in life, there are unpleasant people and places online. Pornography is a concern in any medium, and the Net is no exception. However, the headlong rush to regulate may turn out to be far more dangerous to democracy, civil liberties, and intellectual growth than any amount of sexual swill pouring from the computers of a few technologically savvy social deviants n10.

As Internet access becomes a growing feature of schools and homes (as distinct from universities and other institutions), parents worry about what their children are seeing and reading in class or in the privacy of their rooms, and teachers are concerned about the implications if, during one of their classes, a pupil stumbles across (or goes looking for) a pornographic image, a discussion on abortion rights, or where to buy marijuana n9.

Many have agued that, rather than introduce sweeping legislation which will, it is claimed, be the end of the Internet, parents should take responsibility for their children's actions. Parents should accompany their children on their first Internet surfings, pointing out the dangers in the process n9.

Even if legislation such as the CDA were desirable in theory, the very nature of the Internet will make it logistically impossible to enforce; after all, this medium was designed to resist a nuclear attack, surely it can survive congressional action. Censoring the Internet would be like building a wall of sand to hold back the tides--an exercise in futility. Rather a healthy respect for, and understanding of, its potential will empower its users, limiting the number of victims who fall prey to its dangers n10

Computers offer enormous advantages to our society. They are a vital part of the information and communications revolution which has transformed our lives in the past two decades. From medicine to car manufacture, from banking to defense, computer technoloy has enabled progress at a rate hitherto unimagined. Information technology capability is essential to our national prosperity and development n11

As in all areas of a child's upbringing it is important to know what is happening. There are some pratical ways in which a parent can keep in touch with what children are doing with computers. As a parent, you need to know that your child can obtain undesirable computer generated material by: (1) sending for it by mail order, (2) buying it in the street or swooping it in the playground, and (3) getting it from the computer if it is linked to a telephone n11

As a parent, you can bring the computer into the living room, take an interest in what your child is doing with the computer, ask your child to show you how it works and explain how they use computers in school. Finally, make sure that computing and video game playing are only two activities among many that your child enjoys n11

You need to know that computers linked to telephones can run up large bills. If your child has access to a credit card they could use it to buy inappropriate material without your knowing. It is a good idea to be ready to talk about pornography or violence with your children if these issues come up. A disscussion about what pornography is and why you object to it can help your children to form balanced opinions and set standards which they will apply to any new material they meet n11.

To help parents and teachers in their efforts to shield children from questionable material, a number of software packages have been developed to shut out access to the more offensive material. Programs like NetNanny,CyberPatrol, and Surfwatch block access to sites containing certain listed words: this list comes 'built-in' to the software, but it can be added to by parents to suit specific requirements n9.

NetNanny provides a list of obscene words and phrases, and forces the system to stop downloading material where these are found. This software also allows the user to program any word or phrase he or she considers objectionable, and it can screen incoming as well as outgoing messages. NetNanny also monitors all activity taking place on the computer on which it is loaded, including access to commercial billboard services that are not part of the Internet, where some of the most objectionable material resides n10.

Along with blocking access to pre-programmed and self-programmed Internet sites, Cyber Patrol allows parents to restrict access to certain times of day, and limit the total time spent either on a daily basis or a weekly basis, or both. A Deputy password provides the adult user with unrestricted Internet access n10

Children, however, are curious and clever, and while filtering programs provide safety for a child exploring cyberspace and some parental peace of mind, they are not foolproof. Without a doubt, the least coercive and the most positive approach to the stated problem is parental guidance and discussion n10.

Children will be exposed to sex and violence, whether in the real world or the cyberworld. They need to be taught how to handle it. Besides, the perils of online sexual explicitness may be far less damaging than many of the atrocities children must deal with on a daily basis: gang violence, crime, drugs, guns, abuse. The Internet provides an open forum for discussing many things, including sexuality, one of the most important areas of human activity. The anonymous nature of the Internet allows for frank and open dialogue about important sexual issues, such as teen pregnancy, rape, and AIDS prevention. Parents should join their children and discover the unfettered environment of cyberspace where free speech reigns. The paramount responsibilty of deciding what material a child is ready to experience, lies in the hands of a legal guardian; in other words, a child's censor should be his/her parent, not his/her government n10

Internet World Magazine has recently rated several different software packages that filter out "naughty" bits on the 'Net. This is a very good resource if you are a parent looking for help.

Additionally,NetNanny, CyberPatrol, and Surfwatch offer great Web sites that detail there services.

The Communications Decency Act

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Created by Debra Deardourff
Graduate Student at The University of Florida
Spring Semester 1997: Electronic Publishing: Dave Carlson