“Hey, buddy! Is your refrigerator running?”

In simpler days–before answering machines, voice mail, and Caller ID–the barely stifled giggle on the other end of the line was the tip off: You’d just picked up a prank phone call.

One might be angry or amused, but hardly anybody thought to slap a ban on telephones or limit their use by school-age children. The telephone was seen as a neutral medium. You could use the phone to call your dear old mother or to make a bomb threat.

When it comes to the internet, though, it’s a little harder for people to accept the neutrality of the technology. This probably has to do with the national news media and their unrelenting fixation on the salacious. No sooner had reporters figured out what a modem was than their editors were demanding lurid stories about the “dark side of the internet.” These spicy tales embody a perfect combination for the media: Producers and editors get to peddle shameless titillation while remaining sanctimonious.

Chance encounters with the unsavory also are nothing new. If you walk the wrong way long enough, every road eventually will bring you to a brothel. Even so, you don’t have to mount the stairs, give the password, and stroll inside. In life, you’ve got to know when to walk away, hang up, click off. . .and somebody usually has to teach you.

Admittedly, it’s trickier with the world wide web. If you browse the web a while, you’ll eventually run into something you wish you hadn’t. Sometimes you can get an eyeful before you even fully realize what you’re stumbling into.

And this is one reality that’s led to the boom in internet filters–what their publishers like to call “internet-content solutions.” On page 35 of this issue, we take a comprehensive look at the many solutions designed to protect the unwary and impressionable from all those internet evils Eyewitness News has been warning us about.

As an educator, you might love internet filters or loathe them, but chances are you’re going to get them.

The push comes from those very same statesmen, resolved to get government off our backs, who have long proclaimed their absolute abhorrence of unfunded federal mandates–except, apparently, when it comes to the internet.

Because lots of educators want internet filters anyway, this wouldn’t be so bad–if Washington would just send some money with its mandate. But when the least expensive filtering solution comes in at around $6 per student, the unfunded price tag for all that software will run up into the millions nationwide.

Now, if you’re selling “internet-content solutions,” that’s the good news. But if you’re managing a school budget, it just might make you nostalgic for an era of childish phone pranks or for those good old days when the government had another prescription for helping kids avoid temptation: “Just say No.”

Gregg W. Downey

Editor & Publisher