Since we’re in the middle of Banned Books Week it seems like a good time to talk about web filters used by many schools to control what students can see on the Internet. To be clear, typically these filters are used in primary and secondary education (i.e. elementary, middle school, and high school). Almost never will you see such filters at the university level (Macdonald-Kelce is 100 percent filter free). Though, occasionally, you will run into filters in public libraries.
Most commonly, filters are used to keep underage students from accessing pornography. They are also sometimes used in public libraries to keep the patrons from accessing pornography if the screens are easily viewable by any patron walking by (including children).
However, because of the imprecise nature of filters, they sometimes end up censoring sites that may be beneficial to underage students. The ACLU recently launched their “Don’t Filter Me” campaign to address the unintentional consequences of internet filtering. You can learn more about their campaign here.
Issues of free speech, access to information, and intellectual freedom often enjoy broad bi-partisan support. Supreme Court cases about first amendment issues, for example, are often unanimous or significant majorities. However, in the interest of fair play, here’s an op-ed from the conservative site RedState on the ACLU campaign, and here’s an op-ed from the LA Times.
From the Don’t Filter Me campaign site —
“Many public schools use web filtering software to block students’ access to pornographic websites, in accordance with federal law. Unfortunately, many of the most commonly used web filtering software packages include a special category for websites that contain information about LGBT issues and organizations, even though the websites are not sexually explicit in any way.
“When public school districts block these LGBT categories, preventing students from accessing websites for positive LGBT rights organizations, they often still allow access to anti-LGBT sites that condemn LGBT people or urge us to try to change our sexual orientation. This viewpoint discrimination violates students’ rights under the First Amendment.”