Educators have a number of responsibilities in today’s world, ranging from providing basic skills for learning, to appreciating an increasingly diverse culture and a more closely connected world, to navigating the complex opportunities for online study. The latter responsibility involves more than teaching students about online tools and exposing them to the vast information resources on the internet. It also involves not exposing students and others to pornographic web sites because of negligence in “decommissioning” sites that end in .edu, .org, or any other domain designation.

As an educator with more than 10 years of experience on the internet—predating even the creation of the World Wide Web—I have witnessed how the ‘net changed from being primarily an educational resource to being mostly about commerce.

Karen EllisSince I founded the Educational CyberPlayGround in 1999, I have witnessed many education sites go out of business and become porn sites. This is obviously disturbing. Innocent persons click on trusted web sites and find offensive material they never intended to seek or see.

What is the explanation? Porn interests want well-trafficked sites to sell advertising. It’s about commerce—about money. Why do operators of pornographic web sites buy education and nonprofit domains for their own use? Because they can. This will stop only when domain-name owners act responsibly.

Professional educators hold students to state and now federal standards when delivering curriculum, but when educators go on the internet to buy domain names, they aren’t being held to standards of their own for the disposal of domain names. A prime example of such negligence was the 21st Century Teachers web site (www.21ct.org), which was created with $1 million in investments and grants but later became a porn site after its leaders abandoned the project. (The site is now a search engine, although the domain name’s holder is actively soliciting bids for its purchase.)

Educators and nonprofit executives have a duty not to hurt the public. They must not allow their discarded domain names to be snatched up by traffickers of pornography that students and other stakeholders might view in classrooms, libraries, or community centers. They have an obligation to protect internet users from any harm that might occur from abandoning their old web site addresses. Before purchasing the rights to a domain name, officials should discuss an “exit plan” for the domain and should plan to own it forever, if necessary.

School districts and other nonprofit organizations that receive local, state, or federal government funding are accountable to taxpayers for their behavior. They are not exempt from domain-name ownership responsibilities, regardless of their nonprofit status. Education professionals who buy or acquire a domain name are in the marketplace, and they have a responsibility to understand the commercial aspects of domain-name ownership. They need a set of standards to assist them in preventing future conversion of education-related sites to porn sites. They have a responsibility to bury their “dead dots” with dignity.

The following is a blueprint for such responsible action:

• Decide on an exit plan.
• Take the pages down and let the 401 Error page be there.
• Own the domain name until the site is removed from search engines and there is no traffic.
• Sell or give away the domain name with a contract that stipulates it will not be sold to pornographers.

Simply sending a “that’s all, folks …” message to mailing lists is not enough. When domain name owners spend time putting their domains into search engines, they’re also obligated to spend the same amount of time—and perhaps even more—removing their dead domains and cleaning up the cyber trash they are leaving behind. Search engines will remove the URL and all the others linking to it. Even if you don’t promote your site in multiple search engines, you still have a moral obligation to remove the URL from search engines that might contain it.

Before purchasing a domain name, you should thoroughly understand the process and the responsibilities involved in domain-name ownership. (For more information, see http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Internet/Home_Internet.html). When you buy a domain name, you’re entering the world of commerce. Domain names are real estate on the internet. If you build a web site for public access, you need to budget for its removal—and not just abandon the domain name and let it fall into the hands of commercial pornographic interests.