Should we Regulate Childrens Use of the Internet?
by Courtney Strohm
There is a commonly held belief that pornography on the Internet presents a serious danger to children online (Safeteens). Today the Internet is the most widespread technological tool in the world. Internet pornography regulation is the basic issue on which my paper will be based, but there are many other issues dangerous to children to be aware of. For example, Lawrence J. Magid from Safeteens commented, "I worry more about the possibility, however remote, that a child could be physically harmed by someone he or she encounters online and later meets in person. I also worry about online encounters with other kids or adults that could effect a childs self- esteem or threaten a childs privacy" (Safeteens). It is amazing that some sites are permitted to exist on the Internet considering the negative messages that they promote. Examples of such Internet sites are those dealing with bigotry articles about guns, bombs, and other implements about violence. Others were even worse with displays of swastikas, burning crosses and nooses. Lawrence Magid from Safeteens said that she had read a site that mixed hate with stories and photographs that celebrate sex and violence in the most extreme way imaginable. "What is most disturbing about these sites is that theyre very easy to find. Unlike most pornography sites, the people who run hate sites dont usually put up even a feeble effort to keep out children. On the contrary some overtly invite children and teens to participate" (Safeteens, p.2). Two Students at East Garner Middle School, in North Carolina were suspended for downloading nude photos on the computers in the school library. Principal William Crockett told the Raleigh News and Observer, "They knew this was inappropriate, just like bringing Playboy to school." (American Libraries, p.30)
Another issue to be aware of is false information from advertisers, Informational Web Sites, newsgroups and chat areas. Children sometimes believe that everything on the Web is actually true, and they use that information for school related projects having the idea that it is all fact. A lot of children these days are using sites called Geocities or AOL Hometown, which are free Web site hosting services to create their own sites. These sites are often innocent, but parents must watch what their kids put down to make sure they are not using photos or personal information about themselves or anyone else. The article, Spinning a Web of Hate, mentions white supremacists and Neo-Nazis are discovering that the Internet is a perfect way to recruit todays kids to join them. "Children have the access to print out coloring books, crossword puzzles, and even comic strips. These sites seem innocent until you take a closer look and you can see that they are actually teaching kids to hate Jews and blacks" (Spinning a Web). These people have many deceptive ways to get kids involved. Black says his 10-year-old son runs it and that the site has animated banners that read, "White Pride, World Wide". "I have decided to make this a kids page to reach other kids of the globe", says his son. "I will be adding fun games, contests, and polls, etc." (Newsweek, Vol. 139, p. 28). Some sites exploit rebellious teens. The Ku Klux Klan site tells teens that they were brainwashed as children and discriminated against. "Resist and youll be a hero", says the Klan site. "If Mom and Dad get in the way, resist them too." (Newsweek, Vol. 139, p.28)
After researching this subject for a while, I had found some government documents that dealt with hearings that have come about over this subject. I have also found some information on Acts that were created to prevent children from accessing these sites. Montgomery, along with the representatives of other advocacy groups and the online industry, created the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. This law, which will go in effect in April 2000, requires Web Sites to obtain parental consent before they collect any information from kids under the age of thirteen. "This law also gives parents the right to prevent the further use of data that has already been collected, including the right to review the data." (Safeteens) The Internet should be used for children to learn and have access to information that would not otherwise be available.
There was a hearing held in front of the U.S. Senate and Congress that discussed the availability of bomb-making information on the Internet. The following quotation is from an actual Internet bomb-making site that appeared shortly after the Oklahoma City Bombing:
"Are you interested in receiving information detailing the components and materials needed to construct a bomb identical to the one used in Oklahoma? The information specifically details the construction, deployment, and detonation of high-powered explosives. It also includes complete details of the bomb used in Oklahoma City, and how it was used and how it could have been better. The information will be provided to anyone who properly requests it and is provided solely for informative purposes" (Avail. of bomb-making).
On the Internet, there is also a book called Big Book of Mischief that gives instructions on how to make a bomb with ammonium nitrate, a Molotov cocktail (easy enough to be made by a ten-year-old), and book bombs (Avail. of bomb-making). Honorable Herb Kohl, a U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin, said in the hearing about bomb-making:
"As you have pointed out, anyone proficient enough to navigate it can obtain things like bomb recipes, hate literature, terrorist manuals, lewd photographs, or they can participate in adult classrooms, and some of the most adroit navigators, unfortunately, are children. For example, just days before the explosion in Oklahoma, a 12-year-old Missouri boy downloaded a recipe off the Internet and constructed a crude napalm bomb. All it took was gunpowder, gasoline, and foam chips. Fortunately, his father found the bomb before it detonated and turned it in to the local police" (Avail. of bomb-making).
What can we do to keep kids away from this kind of material? Children are interested in the things they know they are not allowed to see. Safeteens says, "The most dangerous places on the Internet are chat rooms, newsgroups and e-mail programs where kids can disclose information about themselves". It is a good idea to make sure that your kids know not to give out information like their name, phone number or address, and never agree to get together with someone they may meet online. One other good idea for safety with your children on the Internet is the location of the computer. It is a bad idea to put a childs computer in their bedroom. They may close their door and enter any online destination they want. A good idea is to have the computer in the family room or some other place where you will have the ability to watch what sites they are visiting. "It is not what the kids read or view which can get them into serious trouble, it is what they write and post that is dangerous"(Safeteens). Programs such as Surf Net, Cybersitter, Cyber Patrol, and Net Nanny are designed to block out these violent, politically incorrect, or X-rated pages. Basically what they do is protect children from clicking into sites that are not meant for their eyes to see.
In conclusion, I am arguing that this matter of Internet regulation for children calls for something to be done. Too many children are getting into sites that lead them in the wrong direction of life. Kids should be visiting sites that involve games or movies and music, not violence, pornography and bomb making. There has been much controversy over this subject to protect kids online but it all leads back to the first amendment and the right of free speech. I think that if anything is done in preparation to keep kids out of these sites that it would make society a better place.
For further reading:
Negative Effects of Computers in the Classroom by Jessy Norman
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