IL2009: Trying Not to Filter: Internet Filtering Technologies Update

Tuesday morning I headed to a presentation in the Internet @ Schools West track given by Sarah Houghton-Jan on Internet filtering.

Some of the key points from this session:

  • Filters do not work because the current definition of obscenity does not work on the Internet.
  • Accuracy of filters is still an issue–in both directions–filters both over block some good material and under block objectionable material.
  • Sarah spent months testing filters and found that among the four she tested, the accuracy for filtering text-based Web pages was 81%, accuracy for image searches 44%, and accuracy for e-mail attachments 25%.
  • 81% was the best rating out of all the filters tested for any category.
  • When patrons hit a blocked site they will most likely be too embarrassed to ask for legitimate sites to be unblocked.
  • Examples of legitimate sites that were blocked: WebMD, wikipedia entry about Hustler, WWII history site, National Geographic site about beavers.
  • It’s not only commercial Web sites that were blocked. The library’s own online resources were blocked.
  • It’s also easy to get around filters with portal sites or sites that allow you to click through via a thumbnail image. Adult images on Web pages that did not have sexual text were not blocked. Sites that contained misspelled words such as pron or pr0n instead of porn were not blocked.
  • Sarah cited other studies conducted between 2001-2008 showed about the same ratings as SJPL.
  • In sum, “All filters block a wide range of constitutionally protected content in attempt to block other content.”
  • Filters falsely block many valuable web pages and other online resources such as war, genocide, safe sex, public health.
  • If you have filters in place advise your customers what their experience is going to be like and that good sites WILL BE BLOCKED.
  • Do not send the message to parents and patrons that filters will protect children.
  • To combat filters: use stats from other studies, do good research, collect anecdotal stories.
  • Final result for SJPL: Filtering was not put in place. Now there is a resolution to NEVER filter so it can’t come up again.
  • Price makes a difference. The more you pay the more flexible the filter is. You really get what you pay for.
  • “ERATE isn’t worth it” for filtering according to Houghton-Jan. Have to figure in other costs…staff time for research, install, maintenance.

One of the key take aways from this session is that if you are living with filters in your library, education for the community is key. If you want to fight filters take a look at the work already done by San Jose Public Library.

You can find a copy of Sarah’s slides and links to more resources at her site librarianinblack.net.

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.

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