Don't be like China

China has been receiving enormous amounts of negative press lately for its so-called "Green Dam" content filtering and increasingly stringent requirements for Google to limit access to pornography via its searches.

China has been receiving enormous amounts of negative press lately for its so-called "Green Dam" content filtering and increasingly stringent requirements for Google to limit access to pornography via its searches. According to the Times article,

At a news conference on Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, was quick to criticize Google for allowing too many links to unseemly sites, saying, “It is every government’s responsibility to protect their teenagers from porn and vulgar information on the Internet.”

Here in the States, we take measures to limit our kids' exposure to pornography, as well. This isn't a bad thing, of course. Schools and libraries are places for students to learn, not have free broadband to download porn faster. Content filtering, depending on how good it is, at least blocks the most egregious websites.

However, it becomes tempting to block a much wider range of content, taking a whitelist instead of a blacklist approach. After all, if kids can only get to kid-friendly sites, they can't see anything that might be a source of liability or controversy. The Chinese government has gone so far as to block sex education, sites with politically dissenting views, and sexual health information, all in the name of protecting its people.

Clearly, most system administrators will not take such a hardline view of content filtering, especially related to politics. But it certainly seems that a more moderate approach to filtering, especially in secondary education, gives students a much better handle on how to navigate and assess content. A Green Dam, or any other sort of content filter, doesn't make pornography, social media, or political dissent go away; it merely hides it temporarily.

Isn't it far better to educate our kids about online safety and appropriateness with some tools in the background to ensure that content that obviously has no educational value doesn't reach their screens?