With the Communications Decency Act now identified by the Supreme Court as a bad idea whose time would never come, the Professional Worriers and Hand-Wringers Association, while it waits for someone to come up with a new law it can sneak past the Supremes, is temporarily pinning its hopes on so-called "blocking software", which intercepts any Web request of Junior's and compares it against its list of verboten thoughts, words and deeds. If the software finds a match, the kid is faced with the digital equivalent of "No way, José." Programs that do exactly that have been available for a couple of years now, bearing names like NetNanny and Cyber Patrol and SurfWatch.

The $64 question is "What is getting blocked?" You're not supposed to know these things, or at least Junior is not supposed to know these things. On the other hand, a child with sufficient motivation can do wonders with computers, to the despair of parents everywhere, and getting around the blocking software is certainly not beyond their capacity. I asked the mother of three computer-literate boys, none as old as twelve, and she said the presence of the blockers wouldn't faze them in the least — unless you count derisive laughter as fazing.

And what is getting blocked? Different products have different lists, but perhaps the most extensive, in the sense of extending beyond its stated objectives, is that of CYBERsitter, a product of Solid Oak Software that apparently is heavily pushed by the microcephalics at Focus on the Family. Not only does it block stuff that might be construed as sexual, but it blocks things that don't mesh with Dr Dobson's worldview. The newest version is supposed to support third-party filter addons, just in case you thought Junior wasn't controlled enough.

All these are nifty products, if you happen to be the target consumer — a parent easily gulled by fearmongers and/or anxious to shirk responsibility by any means possible. On the other hand, if you take your job as Mom or Dad seriously, you're ignoring all the hype and laying down your own laws to the kids, and making sure those laws stick. Some things, technology notwithstanding, never change.

The Vent

26 July 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill