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Preventing Children from Accessing Porn

The following was written by Stefano Cosentino in regard to the ongoing efforts of the Australian government to censor the Internet with “protecting the children” as an excuse.

All these Internet filtering ideas that have been in the news lately has made me voice my own opinion on the matter as a non-expert. I’m an IT advisor. I take someone’s problem and help them fix it.

I have a few clients who provide laptops to their students, everything is done with these laptops. The students have no books. The school provides laptops to their primary school students as well as their high school students. They have done this long before the public system started to hand out laptops to a select number of high school students.

When you provide a child with anything, there are always areas where a child will find that you may have overlooked. In fact, a young kid will probably find a host of things that you might have totally missed or didn’t ever know about. One of these things is the inappropriate nature of information you may find that are associated with computers. This can be anything. But specifically, what the filtering argument has been about has been leaning towards Internet pornography and I would imagine, more specifically content of a pedophiliac nature.

I’m not against child pornography being banned or filtered. I personally think this is one of the most cruel, inconsiderate, disrespectful and self centered behaviors a person could display. Their psychological makeup isn’t the scope of this article. However these ideas must be conveyed when discussing the Internet as a modern technological device that can be used for both good and bad.

The primary school students that I attend to aren’t very interested in this stuff and as it has been mentioned long ago by others who have joined this argument, are more interested in online flash games that include characters such as Ben 10, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. When I’m called in to scan these computers during the school holidays and hand the laptops back to the kids or when they get handed back after 3 years for new ones, I find that the older primary school kids computers are usually more prone to the adult orientated content. To me this is the first sign of a filter’s failure. This customer of mine spends more money on the filtering devices they use on campus than I charge them for a few days of work.

Does it work?

Sadly, I hate to report that no, it does not. It’s completely useless. The kids still have files and traces of files on their computers that isn’t suitable for young children. Not only pornography but also content of a violent or morbid nature. As young and impressionable people, everything they read, see and hear is absorbed. This shapes the way society will become in years to come. Since no one can realistically tell the future, wouldn’t it be nice if we could make sure that the people looking after us and our lives forty or fifty years from now have a sane mind free of blemish?

It’s a different story for the high school children. While scanning their laptops I have to contact the police on a daily basis because of the nature of the content I find during my day. Some things you can let slip, today’s version of a pinup girl, or a provocative pic of whatever skimpy clad girl the record companies are flogging off these days as musicians. But sadly that’s rare. I won’t go into detail of what I find on these laptops of 14 year old boys, but it ranges from some innocent growing up curiosity right to perverted, sick and most if not all of the time, illegal content. The filters fail again. The kids find a way around it. And they find it easily.

I’ve seen filters work and not work at all with young kids right through to young adults. All the filters do is either hinder the poor kids actually trying to do research of scholastic nature or prolong the inevitable and temporarily block a determined child’s interest in the search for some adult related material. The filter might prevent accidental viewing but it doesn’t stop the deliberate finding of pornography and other illegal content.

How does a filter stop this from happening? How does a filter stop a child taking their parents adult videos and copying them to their laptop or finding dad’s stash of Penthouse? How does it stop a school mate bringing this stuff to school to show everyone at lunch time or to trade for other content they found by other means. Remember back to when you were their age and caught a glimpse of your big brother’s room wall. How many times did you try and catch a peak at that Samantha Fox poster hanging off the wall?

Where’s the filter now? Here’s some thing to think about.

The filter shouldn’t be a thing, it should be a person. They’re called “responsible”. They’re called parents.

What priorities do parents have if their child feels that what they look at online that is of an adult nature is acceptable? Or maybe the kid knows better, knows it isn’t acceptable but still goes out of their way to get the stuff on their computer? Sneaker Net still exists, USB memory sticks are cheap and can now have two or three straight DVD rips on them, or perhaps five or six encoded films on there. Hundreds and thousands of images and so on. Filter failure again.

When the kids go online, they know of the technology used to block them from gaining access to what they want to see. Chances are, they’ll know what a proxy server is and does. Then they’ll figure out what they need to do to get around the filter. I, myself did this back in high school and TAFE when I couldn’t find photographs of a particular device I was researching. Turns out the name is also a form of sexual activity, in another language, but still. The filter stopped me from not only looking the offending content but also to look at the legitimate data that I needed to complete an assignment.

I got around the problem by researching some more information and the following day I was breaking through firewalls and proxy servers with easy. Filter failure.

How do I get around this issue when speaking to younger kids that need guidance and knowledge on how to deal with this situation? I hold talks at the school I provide my services to. I talk to the parents, no kids. The talk costs less than a broken filter they keep throwing money at keep up-to-date. The school puts these filters in place to appear responsible, because while the kids are attending their school, the school is in fact responsible. In fact, there is nothing more the school can do. They could educate the children, but you can tell someone what to do, and the chances of them doing it are pretty dismal. Music is not allowed on their computers either. Yet we constantly find iTunes on there and a host of music that traces to certain peer to peer applications where they acquired the stolen music.

If a kid can learn how to do that, imagine what sort of influence can be placed on them from a more positive angle. Like maybe parents providing an explanation for starters of what it is they’re looking at. What it is they’ll find online. What material is inappropriate. What material should you tell an adult about. Why do I get stupid emails with Russian girls wanting to marry me.

Kids absorb everything. Parents have relegated responsibility but not delegated it. This filter idea might help slow down a child’s enthusiasm to learn about everything, both good and bad. But educating the kids from an early stage in life about morals and the modern world where lets think about it, we have absolutely everything we need and want at our finger tips will be more valuable than any filter. But the fact that we have so much available makes it difficult to say what is and isn’t appropriate for a child to see. It is up to us to inform the children of what’s out there is the world. It may or may not stop them from seeing the adult related content, but it will help them respond to it in a mature and adult manner. We all know, kids aren’t stupid.

So, if the filters worked, why am I called in once a year, every year to give my talk to parents?

6 comments to Preventing Children from Accessing Porn

  • Creating a filter should have the goal of making it hard to stumble over the material by accident. That’s where resources are best spent.

    Trying to prevent children (or adults) from accessing certain types of material, is very much like security work.

    To prevent a dedicated person from obtaining what they want, you need to be lucky every time, while they need to be lucky only once.

  • sin

    Censorship has no excuse. Too bad that no on seems to learn from history that trying to censors things does not work. It did not work in communist states to the extent that the “Party” would have wanted, it’s mind blowing to think that it might work in a democratic environment where people, by constitution, have the right to unhindered information.

    I looked at porn when I was about 12 years old. Did not undesrtood it at first, it was just something new you could see on a VCR. Did that turned me into a bad person or did it affect me ? No. I turned out alright, or so I say :)) I think that it depends on the parents how kids are raised and by the moral values they inspire, not by what kids are not supposed to see on the internet until they’re 18 or some other number pulled out the arse by some government when they think we should be allowed to do more stuff.

  • nick

    Full Ack,
    children watching porn or whatever is not the problem!
    The problem is their parents not putting things into a sensible context.
    I’m 21 and a computer science student and I can definitely guarantee you that there is near to no male person in my age group here in Germany who hasn’t watched porn, most of them with high certainty below the age of 16.
    Is there any sign for my generation of being more pervert than any other? No, sorry don’t have any hints pointing to this conclusion.
    The more open parents will handle the issue and make clear to the child that there is one basic rule. And that is that whatever you do, you must not harm anybody. be that by insulting or making them do what they don’t want to do.
    If that rule is obeyed I don’t see how any of that “pervert” stuff can have any bad influence.

  • steffen

    > Is there any sign for my generation of being more pervert than any other? No, sorry don’t have any hints pointing to this conclusion.

    Seriously? How do you intend to find something abnormal about the things your generation regards as normal? Did you ever ask somebody considerably older about this?
    Recently there was a very good documentary ‘Generation Porno’ in German TV. Go watch it.

    Of course this is not limited to porn. Look at the ‘violence’ in older movies. Look at how Haiti is covered in mass media. This is all a side-effect of the media fighting about peoples attention. To sell stuff. And their science does not only apply to children. Even if parents had all the time in the world to tell their children about proper behavior, even if filters would work perfectly fine, this constant influence of mass media and other ‘services’ are still going to transform society as a whole in the long term.

  • etbe

    Stig: Also we might want to consider mitigation. When (not if) children search for porn it would probably be best if they find sites like playboy.com and playgirl.com which are very tame. I just did a Google images search for “girl” with safesearch turned off, one of the entries on the first page apparently concerned a fetish that would be considered unusual by most people.

    nick: While I generally with you, I don’t think we should push the “context” angle. South Park had an amusing satire of this – after one of the boys watched a hard-core porn his father had a conversation concerning “when two men and three women love each other very much” (or something similar).

    http://etbe.coker.com.au/2007/07/30/porn-vs-rape/

    There is also the fact that an increased incidence of porn use is correlated with a decreased incidence of rape.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

    steffen: Steven Pinker gave an informative TED talk about the decline of violence during all recorded history. I am not aware of any evidence of a change in that trend.

  • etbe

    http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/Bessy-Keeps-You-Safe.aspx

    The Daily WTF has an amusing and interesting article about a porn filter preventing students from studying biology – but they work around it…