New report examines filtering issues and offers 4 recommendations

internet-filteringGrowing up in the digital age means that students have an infinite amount of information available through the internet, but it also means learning reasonable and safe behavior while online.

Federal regulations such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires schools and libraries that receive federal funds to install filtering software in an attempt to keep users from accessing online content deemed harmful for obscene, have in recent years been the subject of heated debates between those advocating for unfiltered internet access in schools and libraries and those who prefer a more secure learning style for younger students.

Filtering also raises issues for adults using public and school libraries. Many school libraries open up to the community after regular school hours, but filtering software aimed at young students may keep adults from accessing valid websites they need for research or personal information.

“This overreach stems from misinterpretations of the law, different perceptions of how to filter, and limitations of internet filtering software. The net result is over-filtering that blocks access to legitimate educational resources while often failing to block the images proscribed by the law,” according to Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later.

(Next page: Three ways filtering inhibits learning)

The report details three ways in which internet filters stunts learning opportunities.

1. Filtering hinders library patrons’ needs

“Given the sensitivity and privacy of health-related topics, for example, it is difficult to gauge how frequently adults are denied access to such information, as users may be loath to request that a website be unblocked or a filter turned off,” according to the report.

2. Filtering software blocks more than required by CIPA

Schools often tend to block all content to ensure that they meet CIPA requirements, but this results in many educational and informative sites ending up on the “blocked” list.

The report also notes that many schools use filtering software to address copyright and cyberbullying issues.

3. Too much filtering keeps students from developing and honing digital citizenship and media literacy skills

“Today, mastering these skills is vital for college, career, and overall life readiness,” author Kristen R. Batch notes.

This practice creates two groups of students: those who have unfiltered internet access at home and those without home internet access, who only have filtered internet access at school.

“Those who rely on public libraries for some or all of their internet access likewise are disproportionally affected by internet filtering practices,” the report says.

The report includes four suggestions to help students cultivate important digital citizenship skills despite internet filtering issues:

  • Increase awareness of the spectrum of filtering choices
  • Develop a toolkit for school leaders
  • Establish a digital repository of internet filtering studies
  • Conduct research to explore the educational uses of social media platforms and assess the impact of filtering in schools