I have a new appreciation for the challenges parents face raising children in the internet age. Not being a parent, I have never looked critically at the tools available to them. I know “Parental Controls” can be applied at the browser, network, and ISP levels. The banks where I worked had tight controls around where employees could go on the ‘net using bank computers. The filters were not perfect, of course. Most employees learned the hard way that “fanny.com” is not the URL for Fannie Mae. Many businesses that offer “free wifi” for their customers’ convenience restrict access to certain types of sites. What these tools have in common is the goal of limiting access to content someone other than the user has decided is inappropriate. I know there are separate categories of tools available that monitor activity so parents can protect children from potential threats and help them to understanding what they encounter in their stops along the ‘information super-highway’. If my own browsing activity is anything like ‘typical’ that must daunting task.
I hear a lot, though probably still not enough, about protecting children from predators and from being exposed to pornography. I hear far less about the issue of helping children understand what they see on the web. Many websites use terms like “Alternative Lifestyle” to promote agendas some parents might wish to help their children understand. The same would be true of groups using the terms “Family” or “Freedom” to promote political agendas some parents may see as extremist.
I thought of this because I spent some time yesterday browsing internet resources to learn something about an organized-crime figure named William Bioff whose name I’d encountered. See https://harpersvalley.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/eliot-ness-baby/ What became obvious, and very quickly, is that it was difficult to keep my ‘wheels-between-the-ditches’ on the information super highway.
Mr. Bioff was a long-time associate of Johnny Roselli; though less so after his testimony put Mr. Roselli in prison. Mr Roselli seems to be the jumping-off point into the world of conspiracy theorists covering topics as varied as Marilyn Monroe’s film career, President Kennedy’s sex life, and plots to assassinate political leaders; including JFK himself. There is historical evidence to support some of these allegations though the amount of historical evidence does not seem to be a limiting factor for many writers in this area.
On the other side of the road, to further torture my highway metaphor, I entered the world of Holocaust revisionism and what I’ll call ‘scholarly’ anti-Semitism. I use the term ‘scholarly’ to make it clear that I am talking about anti-Semitism as an underlying paradigm. These are not neo-Nazi or Skinhead hate-sites. The meaning may not be substantively different but they are far less likely to have been blocked by any content filter I might have had in place. As an aside, apparently people who don’t believe the Holocaust occurred prefer the term ‘Holocaust Revisionist’ to “Holocaust Denier”. Who knew? The nexus to Mr.Bioff is a little more tenuous here but seems to revolve around the fact that he was Jewish, he was a criminal, and he had some tangential connection to the media as a Labor Leader in the motion picture industry.
To be clear, I do not believe there should be limitations, technological or otherwise, that would have prevented me from taking these detours into niche areas of belief. I am a competent adult. People have the right to hold beliefs outside the mainstream and to write about them. When I encounter beliefs in which I find no value or which offend me, I click the ‘X’ in the corner of the screen or move on to the next link. In a society that aspires to freedom of thought, competent adults have absolutely NO right to expect not to be offended at times. There are very few things I feel more strongly about than this; so much so I will table that for another post.
This experience prompted me to consider how parents provide context when their children encounter points of view where some healthy skepticism might be appropriate. There are conspiracy theorists and Holocausts revisionists in the world and some of them have children. They would probably not be horrified for their children to encounter these messages. Parents with other views probably feel differently.
This is an area where my values are in conflict. Restraining the flow of ideas is bad; yet everything is not suitable for everyone. Censorship, in one form or another, is a necessary evil. It is necessary but it is evil. Someone must make these distinctions. Many people agree that having the government do it would not be desirable. Political groups? Churches? That get’s scary quickly. For my parents it was easy. The internet didn’t exist. Movies had ratings and television had network censors. Also, I was precocious and practically perfect in every way.
I have no solutions to offer…. just ‘hat’s off’ to modern parents trying to raise their children to be responsible adults in a very complex world. Helping their children make sense of the massive amount of potentially inappropriate content bombarding them must feel like trying to bail out a leaking boat with a sieve.