Vice President Al Gore has unveiled a plan to make the internet a safer place for your students when they’re at home. Called “One Click Away,” the plan makes safety resources readily accessible from the major portals that families use to get online.

Reacting to the Colorado school shooting, which sparked a national debate about the internet’s role in the tragedy, Gore announced on May 5 that several of the nation’s leading internet players have agreed to make readily available tools for parents to protect their children while they’re surfing the internet.

Under the agreement, internet companies will include on their home pages a link to a new web site featuring a long list of aids for parents and teachers.

The Parents’ Protection Page will include a “guide to good content,” which will allow parents and children to access safe and educational web sites instantly.

Parents will have access to blocking and filtering software and will be able to monitor the web sites and chat rooms their children have visited. They’ll even be able to limit the amount of time children spend online.

The Parents’ Protection Page also will contain information for parents, teachers, and children on how to report online crimes or suspicious behavior.

Most of these resources should be available on the new site in July.

“We understand the internet’s stunning technology gives children and families access to an incredible world of information and, like life itself, most of it is great, but there are some dark corners,” Gore said. “There are some free-fire zones and red light districts in cyberspace from which children must be protected.”

Many of the internet’s biggest players have agreed to the plan, including America Online, AT&T, At Home Network, Bell Atlantic, Commercial Internet eXchange, Disney Online, Excite, Lycos, MCI WorldCom, Microsoft, MindSpring Enterprises, Netscape Communications, Network Solutions, Prodigy Communications, and Yahoo.

Gore said the web sites and portals run by these companies account for 95 percent of all internet traffic.

While the resources to be offered on the Parents’ Protection Page are not new–and though many web sites already promote child safety–backers of the initiative say the link from major internet sites and the push from the vice president could help spur parents to get more involved in their children’s online activities.

A survey conducted in February by the market research firm Greenfield Online found that when it comes to internet use in the home, parents tend to take a strict approach for children under age 11. But once children reach age 12, most are allowed to “go online whenever they feel like it” and with little or no supervision.

The internet’s role in the Littleton massacre has been hotly debated since the April 20 shooting spree.

In a Gallup poll taken just one day after the tragedy, respondents placed nearly as much blame on the internet as the easy accessibility of guns. According to the Gallup poll, 82 percent of the 659 adult respondents said the internet was at least partly to blame for the Littleton tragedy, while 88 percent said the same was true of gun availability.

Another new survey, this one conducted several months before the shootings, found that parents of school-aged children have something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde view of the internet.

The report, commissioned by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and released May 4, found that parents of school-aged kids are “deeply fearful about the web’s influence on their children.”

The study showed that over 75 percent of parents are “strongly” or “somewhat” concerned that their children might view inappropriate web content. Two-thirds agreed that the internet can cause their children to become isolated, and 42 percent believe too much internet use can cause children to develop anti-social behavior.

At the same time, however, parents believe the internet to be an important educational tool and something that can help their children with homework.

“We found this incredible conflict,” commented Joseph Turow, who wrote the Annenberg report. “People trust their kids with the internet, but they don’t trust the internet with their kids.”

The Jekyll-and-Hyde persona the internet has developed was perhaps never more evident than it was following the Littleton shooting–a good-versus-evil conflict not lost on Gore.

As the vice president pointed out, the perpetrators at Columbine High School used the internet to create and spread messages of hate. But at the same time, the internet played a valuable role in connecting the Littleton community to people who had experienced similar tragedies in other parts of the country.

And in the aftermath of the Columbine school shooting, Gore said, “too many parents feel now that they’re faced with a false choice–between unplugging that computer in the family room, or spending every single moment looking over their child’s shoulder.”

The vice president is hoping to give parents a third choice with the Parents’ Protection Page.

Annenberg Public Policy Center

Greenfield Online