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Study Finds UK ISP Internet Censorship Not the Best Approach for Kids

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 (11:41 am) - Score 1,514

A new survey of over 2,000 children (aged 14 – 17) from across the United Kingdom, which was jointly conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute and The Parent Zone, has claimed that restricting kids from accessing the Internet by using network-level ISP censorship (Parental Control) systems might not be as effective as allowing them to self-regulate their own online use.

At present most of the country’s largest broadband ISPs, under pressure from the Government, have agreed to introduce an Active Choice+ system that presents the bill payer with an “enforced” choice about whether or not to keep adult Internet content filtering enabled (the box is pre-ticked “Yes”). Customers who decide to keep the filtering are then presented with a list of potential blocking categories, which cover everything from porn to social networks, dating and self-harm websites etc.

But this approach has proven to be controversial because related filters can and often do end up restricting access to perfectly legal websites, which can occur due to errors or incorrect categorisation. On top of that it’s incredibly easy, requiring only very basic knowledge, to circumvent network-level filters by using a proxy website/server or VPN. Children usually understand these things better than their parents.

But the new report, which is being summarised by the BBC today, concluded that the blunt tool of Internet censorship is nothing next to a spot of good old fashioned parenting. In particular it found that children who had a “positive offline relationship” with their parents were more likely to use the Internet sensibly and a similar outcome was observed for those whose parents took a more supportive and positive approach, as opposed to simply flicking the filter switch.

Crucially the report noted how teens that were left to self-regulate their own Internet and social media usage, as opposed to being wrapped in cotton wool by their parents, were more likely to teach themselves new skills and maintain positive online relationships.

Dr Andrew Przbylski, Lead Report Author, said:

Our findings indicate that good parenting, which allows children to still take risks and develop coping strategies, is integral to whether young people are able to make the most of the opportunities of the online world.”

A separate Online Safety report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which was published earlier this year, also found that website blocking by UK ISPs was “highly unlikely to be a suitable approach” for tackling adult pornography or violent material on the Internet (here). Instead it suggested that blocked should only be considered as a “last resort for particularly harmful adult websites that make no serious attempt to hinder access by children.”

According to Ofcom’s latest data, some 40% of parents make use of Internet content filtering and children of a similar age to those in the study tend to spend 17 hours online a week. However it should be said that the above study focused on teenagers and didn’t cover much younger children, where the case for blocking might be more plausible.

Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar timeless says:

    l could have told everyone this without some expensive consultation.. after all if you tell kids not to do something they will test those boundaries and do it anyway.. imho the only way one can keep their kids from viewing adult content etc is to supervise their internet activity!!!

    1. Avatar dragoneast says:

      Ah, but the poor unis and army of consultants and interest groups need to make their money somehow. And there’s always a desperate politician or journo in need of a soundbite, just waiting to be fleeced. The ever-gullible public will pick up the bill, as always.

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