While the protection of children from inappropriate content when they are online has been a key focus for many for some time, bullying tactics increasingly used by pupils against their teachers online is leading to claims that ISP’s should be responsible for policing Internet use.
The recent announcement by the UK government that it is planning to crack down on online defamation is the result of mounting pressure from teachers about the growing tendency for children to use the Internet to attack them. This is undoubtedly a serious problem. We have heard of cases where students have set up facebook sites in their teachers’ names with the sole purpose of providing a platform for defamation of character and where pupils and even parents have discussed teachers in a derogatory nature online.
- vnunet.com: Straw plans crackdown on internet libel
- Teachingexpertise.com: Cyber-bullying of teachers
Such incidences show just how easy it is now for children to start using the Internet as a way of abusing teachers. A recent survey suggests as many as one in ten teachers have fallen victim to cyberbullying.
- The Guardian: Cyber-bullying ‘affects 1 in 10 teachers‘
This of course is not just a problem in education – it is a massive issue in business as well. There have been many documented cases of email bullying and libellous statements being made via emails and IM. With the use of ‘social’ networking sites such as twitter also growing in business the prospect of individuals spreading inaccurate or malicious material about their competitors is very real.
The question at the heart of all these issues is who controls and is responsible for content? This is a massive issue because, by default, if you restrict what can be done on the Internet or with messaging, you will also restrict the freedom of the users. In any event, the Internet is almost impossible to monitor and control.
You may be able to prevent users or schoolchildren from accessing web sites with inappropriate content by using blacklists or white-lists, for example. However, savvy users will usually find ways around these and, while kids can be controlled inside a school, there is no way of knowing or managing what they do at home. The subject of parental monitoring and control of Internet usage is far from new. Surveys have regularly shown that parents are often unaware of their children’s true online activities despite their best attempts to monitor and control their usage.
- The Guardian: Parents ignorant of children’s internet use, report reveals
- The Register: 40% of kids regularly visit forbidden sites
Monitoring emails is not simple either and the law here is complex. If you are going to monitor everyone’s emails you need to make sure that employees know you are going to monitor them. They need to sign up to the policy and it needs to be applied to everyone, including senior management. Implementing appropriate processes and security to manage all this will potentially be expensive and a real drain on resources. How will you make sure this information is kept secure and who will you make responsible for the monitoring?
Faced with these dilemmas, some people will point to the ISPs and say that they should be monitoring content and ensuring that nothing unsavoury either gets through or can be created. ISPs also have a dilemma though. They cannot simply start monitoring every bit of content that is carried across their network or start scanning emails for content that might be considered inappropriate. Putting in systems to do that also requires massive investment in new technologies and systems and that is going to take time and add to the ISPs’ costs.
If ISPs were forced to monitor all content, the impact on performance (and probably prices) would be dramatic and likely to draw such an outcry from business users and consumers that restrictions would soon have to be relaxed to some degree, thus creating holes in the system that allow undesirable content to get though again. In addition there is the obvious concern over privacy and security of data. As we have asked in some of our previous articles, where does protection end and censorship begin? Would you want an ISP to have access to all the data you send across the Internet?
This is not a simple issue to address and we don’t pretend to have the answers as yet at Entanet. What we are certain of is that, if the responsibility for content monitoring is imposed on ISPs, service performance may be affected while price undoubtedly will be. We are not convinced the market will stand for that.
What do you think?
We want to hear your thoughts on this issue, so please leave us a comment below. If you are an ISP or a reseller, how would this issue affect you? If you are an end user customer, what is your view on how content should be policed?
- The Guardian: Teachers warned about cyberbullying
- The Times: Soaring number of teachers say they are ‘cyberbully’ victims
- The Register: Teachers cower in face of cyberbullies
- The Register: Teachers crucified by coughing pupils
- BBC: Cyber bully pledge for teachers
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