In my latest Guardian column, I explain how UK prime minister David Cameron’s plan to opt the entire nation into a programme of Internet censorship is the worst of all worlds for kids and their parents. Cameron’s version of the Iranian “Halal Internet” can’t possibly filter out all the bad stuff, nor can it avoid falsely catching good stuff we want our kids to see (already the filters are blocking websites about sexual health and dealing with “porn addiction”). That means that our kids will still end up seeing stuff they shouldn’t, but that we parents won’t be prepared for it, thanks to the false sense of security we get from the filters.
David Cameron’s attempt to create a Made-in-Britain version of Iran’s “Halal Internet” is the worst of both worlds for parents like me. Kids are prevented from seeing things that they need to access – sites about sexual health, for example – and I still have to monitor my daughter all the time when she uses the net (or teach her how to cope with seeing things no kid should see) because the filter won’t stop her from accessing the bad stuff.
And for parents who don’t understand that filters are bunkum, the situation is much worse. It’s one thing to know that there are risks to your kid from the internet. But parents who rely on the filter are living in bubble of false security. There’s nothing more deadly than a false sense of security: If you know your car is having brake problems, you can compensate by driving with extra care, increasing your following distance, and so on. If you falsely believe your brakes to be in good running order, you’re liable to find out the hard way that they aren’t (if you survive, you can thank Bruce Schneier for that apt and useful analogy).
For me, parenting in the internet age means sitting with my child while she’s online and still small enough that I can perfectly regulate her network usage – not just to ensure that she doesn’t happen on to the bad stuff, but also to instill in her the responsibility, sense and good habits that will help her to steer clear of the bad stuff when she gets a little older and I can no longer monitor all her online activity. It’s hard. Parenting is hard. It’s scary.
What does David Cameron’s Great Firewall look like?
(Image: David Cameron official, 10 Downing Street/Wikimedia Commons, OGL 1.0