Making Room for Protection

When I taught computer classes in a Catholic school, some years ago, my lunch hour reading habits periodically snagged me inexplicably in the system’s Internet filter. The most unexpectedly blocked site was that of a Catholic writer caught up, perhaps, by hostile Web sites that linked to him or comments that he didn’t delete quickly enough. Some filters keep lists. I’ve read about some that take into consideration the number of skin-tone pixels that a site presents to the screen.
Jonah Goldberg and Nick Schuz propose a child-safety system that would begin to change the way the Internet operates:

Right now, there are many “top-level domains” — .com, .org, .biz, .gov, .edu., etc. We propose the creation of a .kids domain that would be strictly reserved for material appropriate for minors 18 years and under. Most sites would probably be able to mirror themselves on a .kids domain with little to no extra effort. Most corporations, schools, and other organizations have perfectly harmless material that kids and teens can view without causing their parents to stay up at night. The sites of the Smithsonian, McDonald’s, Disney, PBS, and countless other institutions are already perfectly safe for minors. Other websites would need a little tweaking, but not much. Only a relative handful of them — porn, dating services, adult-themed chat rooms, R-rated movie sites, et al. — would be explicitly barred from the .kids domain. The others would simply have to tone down or pare down their offerings.

Top-level domains currently don’t serve much purpose but to confuse visitors to who don’t know which to type. The .gov domain makes some sense, in that visitors can at least trust that the site is government operated (for whatever that’s worth), but .com and .org don’t really tell one much about the site. Beginning to segment the Internet into communities does make sense and would require minimal additional effort on the part of administrators of small sites, unless they’ve got content that would have to be targeted to specific audiences.
Of course, from a parent’s point of view, I’ve found that the only real option is to hover around when the kids are on the Internet. It can be a hassle, but parents have a responsibility to keep track of the inputs forming their children. Tools toward that end can help, and knowing that a a .kids filter is in place in a daycare or school would be a comfort, but there’s no substitute for presence, on multiple levels.

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BobN
BobN
11 years ago

I recoiled until I reached Justin’s last point. Yes, parents – and teachers in school – are the right guides and monitors for childrens’ internet behavior.
My problem with the .kids idea is that it establishes an institution, run by someone, to act as a censor. And like all regulatory institutions, it would have a very high probability of becoming bureaucratic and abusing its power, and a fairly good chance of even becoming corrupt. It would also be a bright red target for hackers who would inevitably breach its defenses just for the challenge of it.
Establishing top-down bureaucracies to control behavior has never worked, and it offends our principles of individual freedom and personal ponsibility.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

When I was around 11-12, my parents got AOL and put me on the “teen” setting. I could go to about 10 websites total: AOL.com, Yahoo.com, Disney.com, Nickelodeon.com, and several other kid-oriented sites. No IM, no games, basically no anything fun. I grew frustrated after about a week of this and downloaded a program to hack through the setting. I used the internet freely for the next few months until they figured it out, they were absolutely furious and punished me with no computer. So I used it at a friend’s house instead, big deal. The only effect was making me resent them for their arbitrary dictates and apparent lack of respect for me, the same way stupid laws make us feel about government when we get older.
Of course from the time I was 6 to that time I had probably seen hundreds of murders on television, watched hundreds R-rated movies and a few XXX ones on scrambled television, played through hundreds of violent video games, knew more dirty language than they did. Tame compared to a lot of my friends, of course, which was how I got to a lot of that content in the first place. And if not from them, I would have found another way.
It’s all misguided Puritan nonsense. There is no evidence whatsoever that exposing children to “bad content” has any long-term negative effect on them. I was a model student all through school, held jobs, never had any trouble with the law.
I maintain that religion, government, and parental censorship are all part of the same misguided feel-good human attempt to exercise control over the uncontrollable. At least parental control ends at some point.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

I understand the concept of what they’re trying to get at, but I don’t see how it could work. Once someone gets their TLD, they can put anything they want on it. And where’s the line of what is “for kids” and what is not? And what age of kids? Are 17 still kids? Could I get iam17.kids and publish stuff that is appropriate for 17 year olds but might make the parent of a 5 year old blush?
They can go in the opposite direction with the TLD and they have. They just created the .xxx TLD, which is for the porn sites, helping to make it a little more obvious for people as to what content they’ll see. I don’t see how the .kids would work in reality.

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