April 20, 2018

Internet Filters Block Useful Health Information

By W. M.

Internet filters in schools and libraries are impeding children’s access to
helpful health information. Software set to highly restrictive levels blocks 91
percent of online pornography, as well as 24 percent of Web sites dealing with
health issues. However, filters set to their least restrictive settings block
only 1.4 percent of health sites and 87 percent of pornographic sites, says a
study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation called “See No Evil. “

“I hope this study will cause schools and libraries to focus on how their
filters are configured,” says Vicky Rideout of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Kaiser Foundation researchers tested six of the most popular
Internet-filtering products in schools and public libraries–SmartFilter, 8e6,
Websense, CyberPatrol, Symantec, and N2H2’s Bess–as well as America Online’s
Parental Controls, often used by parents at home. The software was set to
varying degrees of restriction, with the most restrictive blocking sites dealing
with topics such as tobacco, jokes, and profanity. Researchers searched for a
list of commonly used health information terms, such as “condom,” “safe sex,”
“ecstasy,” “jock itch,” “gay,” and “lesbian.” The health terms, among the most
popular with teenagers according to a previous Foundation study, were blocked by
filters 25 percent of the time.

The American Library Association’s Washington office director. Emily
Sheketoff. says the best way to prevent children’s exposure to online
pornography is through education, not filters. “This study shows that filters
don’t work,” she says. “If 87 percent of pornographic sites are blocked, that
means that 13 percent–about 50,000 sites–aren’t.”

A summary of the study is available at www.kff.org/content/2002/20021210a.