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A ray of hope: Missouri school’s Internet filter use leads to viewpoint discrimination

Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments





by Megan Fromm

SPRC board members hear it time and time again.  The biggest threat to a responsible, educated, well-rounded student media these days just might not be the principal.

Instead, Internet filters make it next to impossible for student journalists to conduct research and adapt their products to an online world.

As educators, we know Internet filtering is unnecessary, detrimental and misserves our students who must learn to responsibly engage in and contribute to a digital world.

Last week, hope arrived in the form of a Missouri federal district court ruling. The verdict:  A state school district must stop censoring content related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community via its Internet filtering software.

Viewpoint discrimination means blocking one side of a topic or issue. Thus a gay porn site is not the equivalent of an anti-gay church site. See the discussion in the court’s decision.

The SPRC is ready to take on the challenging of unlocking the Internet for our students, and we’ve gathered a team to begin doing just that.

While we are still in the planning stages, we hope you’ll consider how you can contribute to the cause in ways big or small.

Have an idea? Let us know.  Make a suggestion.  Give us feedback.  There is no time like the present to make our voices heard on such an important issue.

Internet filtering team plan of action:

  • Educate ourselves.
    –Find out the scope of the problem. How many schools have filters? Do student journalists get unrestricted access? What are the biggest flaws in the filtering software?
  • Document the problem.
    –Where are the success stories? Who is currently fighting this fight? How does it hurt our students, not just student journalists? What are the attitudes toward filtering?
  • Educate others.
    –Develop a plan to educate decision-makers that Internet filters don’t have to be at maximum restriction. Show that lifting filters has educational value.
    –Improve public awareness on how filters harm more than help.
    –Educate others that internet filters are an almost insurmountable obstacle to teaching the responsible use of social media and technology.
  • Identify partners.
    –Who can help get our message across?
  • Go big.
    –How can we take this to a national scale?

You can also help us identify schools where Internet filters create instances of viewpoint discrimination by blocking one side of a topic or issue. For example, school Internet filters have been know to block the pro side of sex education and contraception while allowing access to the other point of view.

If you or your students have experienced this viewpoint discrimination, please send the following information to :

Name of student media (or individual name if individual research)
School name (and city/state)
Name of site blocked
URL of site blocked
Name of site unblocked (for viewpoint comparison)

URL of topic site that was unblocked (for viewpoint comparison)
Filtering system your school uses

Next: Journalism lessons for this week and beyond

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