Presently, it is evident that the Internet has achieved momentous growth and now surround children and teenagers in the modern household (Livingstone & Helsper 2008), but concerns about unhealthy use of this invention continue to hit world headlines with heightened vigour.
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These concerns have elicited debate on the viability of Internet filtering to not only regulate but also check access to information on the Internet. Ladies and gentlemen, this debate aims to explicate the negatives and positives of internet filtering on teenagers.
Starting with an exposition of the negatives, it is evident that Internet filtering constricts access to relevant information as many known filtering software applications fail to accurately recognize and aim at specified categories, hence block a number of sites that could provide critical educational, health, lifestyle and entertainment-related information to teenagers (Herumin 2004).
Such a predisposition not only hinders the free flow of information and ideas among teenagers but also compromises their freedom of speech and expression (Sutton 2006), leading to the actualization of a greatly unenlightened society.
The second negative is premised on the issue of mistrust. Just as is the case in the organisational context where Internet filtering is perceived as an indication of mistrust between the organisation and employees (Sutton 2006), in the home context it can be perceived as an indication of mistrust between the teenagers and parents, hence leading to a breakdown in communication, decline in motivation, tension and other adverse reactions that bring deviant behaviour among the youth.
Additionally, expounding further on Holzhauer (2009) point that autocratic leaders and dictatorial regimes may employ Internet filtering to eradicate access to any information that criticizes their ways of governance, it may also be possible than some authoritarian parents may want to use the same applications to limit the information their teenage sons and daughters are able to access, thereby hindering their thought systems and social identity.
Moving on to the exposition of the positives, it is clear that uncensored access to the Internet may impact negatively on the teenagers’ attitudes, behaviour and safety (Livingstone & Helsper 2008), hence the need to employ Internet filtering.
We all know that adolescence is a phase of life where individuals actively seek to become independent, but many do not demonstrate the desired behavioural orientation that they will exercise the newly-found independence with a good measure of responsibility (Australian Government NetAlert 2007).
Consequently, some teenagers often visit online phonographic sites that definitely impact their behaviours and attitudes in a negative way (Sutton 2006).
Others, due to either ignorance or lack of knowledge, visit sites that may compromise their safety or accelerate possible exploitations, including kidnappings, exposure to undesirable content, theft of critical personal information, and even murder.
Owing to the fact that most of these teenagers are yet to demonstrate responsible decision making, we feel that parents and other relevant others should step in and somewhat regulate access to specific sites to avoid the pitfalls mentioned in this discussion.
In the absence of extensive filtering approaches it has been observed that many internet users, especially children and young adults, develop behavioural disorders and lawlessness of the Internet (Sutton 2006).
As younger teens between the ages of 12 and 18 become more independent and self-assured, yearning for more freedom and coming under more peer influence (Australian Government NetAlert 2007), they start experimenting what they see on the Internet and often rely on their peers for responses and reactions rather than confiding in their parents.
Those who become hooked to phonographic sites often internalize specific behavioural disorders such as masturbation, while others who visit online sites set up by known terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda become increasingly radicalized and a threat to the national security.
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Such behavioural orientations and radicalization of the youth provide stakeholders with justifiable evidence to block specific sites.
In a more economic sense, it is imperative to limit access to individual sites that are mostly visited by the youth to deal with the issue of computer viruses effectively.
Many young people are fond of visiting specific unsecured gaming sites, therefore falling prey to the masters of viruses and other computer worms (Sturges 2008).
If available literature on the issue is to be used, it would be clear that in excess of 1,500 new macro viruses were discovered in 2000, compared to just over 40 different viruses in 1996, and that approximations of computer losses to sustained virus attacks was evaluated to be over US$50 million in 2000 (Mamaghani 2002).
It is generally felt that young internet users are the usual targets of these virus attacks due to their inexperienced and sometimes ignorant use of Internet resources. Consequently, it is the families of these young users that shoulder the most significant economic costs caused by virus attacks.
If these factors are to be put under careful consideration and analysis, the only justifiable way would be to exercise a certain level of precaution against the viruses by employing software applications that limit access to specific sites known or suspected to be harbouring these viruses.
To extend the debate further, it could be argued that the young internet users may find themselves increasingly embroiled in legal suits involving misuse of intellectual property rights in the event that the Internet is not filtered on their behalf by government and other relevant agencies, including educational institutions (Sturges 2008).
Indeed, legal suits involving the misuse or abuse of intellectual property rights are particular costly and have seen the demise of several previously well-known organisations due to heavy penalties and legal costs involved.
Educational institutions dealing with adolescents, for instance, may become particularly vulnerable to these abuses or misuses of copyrighted intellectual property, in large part due to the irresponsible, uninformed and ignorant nature of young Internet users.
It is therefore plausible for such institutions to put in place mechanisms and applications that would discourage the abuse or misuse of intellectual property rights among students. This argument, in our view, is reasonable, valid and justifies the use of Internet filtering software to prevent costly legal suits involving the misuse or abuse of intellectual property rights.
To conclude, it is clear that both the negatives and positives of Internet filtering have been well illuminated in this debate. The task for all stakeholders concerned, it seems, is to develop justifiable frameworks intended to guide teenagers on the best practices of Internet use without necessarily limiting their rights to information.
Of course, these frameworks will definitely involve filtering some sites considered as harmful to teenagers, but extra caution should be employed to ensure their rights to information and knowledge are not hampered.
Australian Government NetAlert 2007, A parent’s guide to internet safety: How to keep young internet users safe. Web.
Herumin, W 2004, Censorship on the internet: From filters to freedom of speech, Enslow Pub Incorporated, Berkeley.
Holzhauer, JL 2009, Filtering the Internet and its effect on K–12 public school classroom instruction, ProQuest, Ann Arbour.
Livingstone, S & Helsper, E 2008, ‘Parental mediation and children’s internet use’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 52 no. 4, pp. 581-599.
Mamaghani, F 2002, ‘Evaluation and selection of an antivirus and content filtering software’, Information Management & Computer Security, vol. 10 no. 1, pp. 28-32.
Sturges, P 2008, ‘Access denied: The practice and policy of global internet filtering’, The Electronic Library, vol. 26 no. 6, pp. 4-23.
Sutton, L 2006, Access denied: How internet filters impact student learning in high schools, Cambria Press, New York.