Current Pitfalls in Internet Use (page 2)
As it has become a society-wide tool, the Internet also has spawned its share of society-wide debates and problems. In many ways, it is a reflection of the best and worst qualities of our society. Problems with equity and human behavior (and misbehavior) have already begun to emerge. Five kinds of potential problem areas are discussed here, along with strategies that educators can use to make the Internet a safer, more worry-free place for teaching and learning.
Potential pitfall #1: Accessing Sites with Inappropriate Materials
Like a big-city bookstore, the Internet has materials that parents and teachers may not want students to see, either because they are inappropriate for an age level or because they contain information or images considered objectionable. Yet the Internet is designed to make information easily obtainable, and unfortunately, such materials can be accessed all too easily by accident. For example, for years only the domain designator differentiated the website for our nation's Executive Branch (http://www.whitehouse.gov) from one with X-rated images and materials. Because it is so easy to access these sites, preventing students from accidentally landing on them can be difficult.
The Children's Internet Protection Act, signed into law December 21, 2000, is designed to ensure that libraries receiving federal e-rate funds take measures to keep children away from Internet materials that could be harmful to them (McNabb, 2001). Most schools have found that the best way to prevent access to sites with inappropriate materials is to install firewall software and/or filtering software on individual computers or on the school or district network that connects them to the Internet. Firewall software protects a computer from attempts by others to gain unauthorized access to it and also prevents access to certain sites (e.g., Norton Internet Security & SpyWare Doctor). Filtering software limits access to sites on the basis of keywords, a list of off-limit sites, or a combination of these (e.g., Cyber Patrol & Net Nanny).
Potential pitfall #2: Safety and Privacy Issues for Students
Although most social networking sites are blocked in schools today, the dominance of them outside of school and the lack of experience most students have, put young people at special risk on the Internet in three ways:
- Online predators — Some people get on the Internet to seek out and take advantage of vulnerable young people. Young people tend to believe what they hear and read. Therefore, in a chatroom (an online location where people can drop in and exchange messages), they may not consider the possibility that a 12-year-old named "Mary" may actually be a 50-year-old man. Mitchell, Finkelhor, and Wolak (2007) encouragingly report that the percentage of Internet-using youth (ages 10 to 17) who are exposed to unwanted sexual solicitation has declined from 19% in 2000 to 13% in 2005; however, incidents of harassment and unwanted exposure to pornography has increased. Students should be told never to provide their complete names, addresses, or telephone numbers to any stranger they "meet" on the Internet, and they should report to teachers any people who try to get them to do so.
- Sales pitches aimed at children — This is a problem similar to that posed by television commercials. Many Internet sites have colorful, compelling images that encourage people to buy. Young people may make purchase commitments they cannot fulfill.
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