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Promoting Online Safety: The Home-School Partnership

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National Research Council Study Concludes No Single Approach Can Protect Children from Online Pornography

A two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council has concluded that no single approach is sufficient to protect children from online pornography. Instead, the report recommends a combination of approaches that can be adapted to fit the circumstances of different communities.

The report, "Youth, Pornography and the Internet," was released at a May 2 press conference and is available here. It was mandated by Congress as part of the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998.

In a statement, former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh said: "For the most part, the public-policy debate thus far has focused on the use and effectiveness of filters. These and other technologies do have an important role to play in giving parents and other responsible adults additional choices. But our study found that technology cannot provide a complete-or even a nearly complete-solution. Indeed, though some might wish otherwise, no single approach-technical, legal, economic or educational-will be sufficient to address all of the relevant issues. Rather, an effective framework will require a balance composite of all of these elements, and real progress will require forward movement on all of these fronts." Thornburgh served as chairman of a diverse committee representing parents, educators, librarians, the technology industry, the legal and law enforcement communities and child safety experts that guided the report's preparation.

The report took no formal position on the Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires schools and libraries to adopt a technology protection measure that blocks or filters certain kinds of online content as a condition of receiving certain kinds of federal technology funding. The report said that filters can be "highly effective" in reducing minors' exposure to inappropriate material. But it said that relying on filters alone could provide a false sense of security.

Among other things, the study provides an overview of the current technological solutions and a framework for evaluating different approaches. However, Thornburgh said, "It should be emphasized that our report is not simply a report on filters."

Among the "take-away" messages that the report directed at teachers and librarians were:

  • The educational and informational needs of young people at different ages can vary enormously and Internet content must be matched to their needs, skills and maturity.

  • Teachers and librarians have an important role to play in educating parents about Internet safety.

  • Transparency is a virtue for both adult supervisors and children, and can include an understanding of why a site is inappropriate, information about what is appropriate, knowledge of how their actions are being monitored and the ability to override third-party decisions on appropriateness.

  • The total cost of technology solutions, rather than just the initial deployment costs, need to be evaluated, including the staff time necessary to process requests for filtering overrides or handling parental complaints if controls are not in place.

  • Efforts to reach out to parents must take into account busy schedules as well as some inherent resistance to technology by users who are unfamiliar with it.

The report cited the role that the Consortium for School Networking and a number of its members played in supplying "community teams" for one of the workshops that helped inform the report's conclusions. This workshop, it said, provided "information to the committee regarding how the expert but largely theoretical testimony might be interpreted and applied in practical terms by education and library professionals working in the field."

2006 Consortium for School Networking. All rights reserved.