Many public places, such as restaurants, public libraries, schools, computer laboratories, etc., have implemented the use of a program to prevent people from accessing sites deemed harmful or inappropriate to the public or distracting in a learning environment. These programs are also used at home, so that parents can control what their children can or cannot do on the Internet.
Those who attempt to access a restricted website will encounter a bright red text that reads “Access Denied.” This program is called Internet filtering software and is installed in connection devices or in computers to block access to any selected websites or that is in a category deemed inappropriate. Due to the censoring nature of filtering software, it has sparked a bigger discussion on whether or not this type of program should be used. While some argue that Internet filtering software is an effective way to prevent young people’s exposure to inappropriate or harmful content, others argue that this practice could harm freedom of speech and expression and it could isolate people from valuable information and resources.
Opponents of the use of Internet filtering software argue that using these programs affects people’s freedom of speech. Since the Internet is one of the biggest platforms for people to openly share their opinions, denying access to certain websites would prevent and violate the right of people to express themselves freely. Others argue that filtering software programs are not effective or consistent, and that many filtering programs can mistakenly filter out appropriate and informative websites or ineffectively filter out websites considered inappropriate. As these filtering programs are very expensive, this could potentially be a very large waste of money.
Furthermore, those opposed to the use of filtering software have observed how these programs deny access to essential websites such as LGBT+ resource websites, sexual health websites, and women’s health websites. Opponents argue that filtering these websites could actually lead to increased stigmatization, doing more harm than good for individuals people who need these types of resources or the information from these websites. Several organizations and authorities oppose the use of Internet filtering software, including Hillary Clinton, who expressed her stance on the right to Internet freedom at a conference in 2011: “… I offered a starting point for that vision by calling for a global commitment to internet freedom, to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely … these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog” (“Remarks by Secretary Clinton”).
The United Nations Human Rights Council also opposes Internet filtering programs and has endorsed a resolution for freedom of speech on the Internet. They have established a firm position that freedom of speech on the Internet should be enforced and unlimited, as well as a recognition of the importance of free access to information and the ability to express opinions and share without interference. On the other hand, proponents of using Internet filtering software argue that these programs will prevent younger users from accessing websites that could potentially be harmful to them. They argue that the Internet is full of chat rooms and other similar types of websites that could allow others to prey upon them and lead to cyber-crimes.
Moreover, they could encounter other topics that may negatively influence them. Others argue that they must protect children from seeing inappropriate websites, specifically pornographic websites. They believe that they must protect children’s innocence by preventing them from accessing these websites and finding inappropriate and obscene images. Furthermore, proponents argue that installing Internet filtering software on public Wi-Fi will prevent people from accessing non-family friendly websites, or websites that contain obscene imagery in public places, this argument refers back to the argument of protecting the innocence of the children.
Supporting the usage of Internet filtering software is Minister David Cameron, who believes that the solution to the problem of children getting access to pornographic websites is that every home in England and every new connection device should include some sort of filtering system. He believes that children are still innocent and pure and that these filtering programs can help preserve that (“Saving Children’s Innocence”). Senator John McCain, who introduced a bill that requires all libraries and schools to install internet filtering software, also believes in protecting children from the Internet. An active anti-pornography organization called Enough is Enough also launched a campaign called “National Porn-free Wi-Fi” in which they petitioned for Internet filtering software to be installed into all public Wi-Fi in order to make public places safer for families and children.
Companies that support this campaign include Starbucks and McDonald’s. These authorities and organizations have shown how Internet filtering software can be used to protect families, children, teenagers, and others from encountering and/or accessing inappropriate or harmful websites at or home or in public. As demonstrated here, the issue of internet filtering systems is very complicated because it is essentially an argument between the safety and comfort of the younger generation and the human rights of freedom of speech and personal expression.
On the one hand, authorities and families want their community to be safe and free from harmful influences or obscene images in public or at home by installing filtering software. On the other, doing so could limit people’s freedom to express themselves and deny people from accessing important and valuable resources which could do more harm than good. No matter what position people decide to support, with the growing population on the Internet and how important the Internet is becoming in our daily lives, this topic could influence the way we use this resource forever. Works Cited “Remarks by Secretary of State Clinton on Internet Freedom.”
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