Parents and Educators Should Focus on Internet Safety Education, Say Online Experts

Broadband's Impact July 28th, 2009

, Reporter-Researcher,

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2009 – Parents and educators need to educate children about online safety issues, rather than censoring content, a panel of think tanks, industry officials, and online safety experts agreed on Monday.

The experts spoke during a panel discussion sponsored by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy.

Jim Halpert, a partner at the law firm DLA Piper, cited awareness of how the Internet is used as one of the factors influencing the debate on online safety, privacy, and free speech.

Recently, the focus has shifted from censoring content to promoting education on these issues.

The rise of MySpace was one factor that has raised concern over online safety and privacy issues, according to Executive Director Parry Aftab.

When parents are first presented with these issues, she said, they generally respond that it does not impact “my kid” – but then they see their children on MySpace and realize that these issues do apply to them.

Todd Haiken, senior manager of policy at Common Sense Media, agreed with Halpert and Aftab that the main focus now should be on education and empowerment, rather than censorship.

People are starting to realize that this is a “public health” issue, rather than a crime prevention issue,” he said.

Haiken added that if public schools receiving e-Rate funding were required to ensure that students are not able to communicate with predators online, as the proposed Deleting Online Predators Act would have mandated, then students wouldn’t have been able to use the Internet at all.

When this fact became widely known, said Haiken, most observers realized that it would be better to require the schools to provide internet safety education.

Such education is also important because parental controls don’t always work.  After a certain age, teenagers will learn how to get around parental controls, and if content is not available on school computers, they will go somewhere else, he said.

Although age verification requirements have been proposed as a way to protect children’s online safety, Halpert said it is not very effective.

It is usually “expensive and burdensome” for websites to obtain age verification, as well as “narrow and difficult to use,” he said.

A “great shift in expectations” is an important part of this education, according to Berin Szoka, senior fellow and director of the Center for Internet Freedom at the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

“Kids are being used as a device to accomplish other policy goals,” he said.

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