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The problem of how children can be protected on the internet by the society has been a thorny issue for parents, the industry, and the government for a long time. Various measures have been input to safeguard the internet for children. Efforts such as legislative mandates, enlightening campaigns, browser filters, and systems of rating have had differing levels of success yet the problem persists. This shows that there is no effective method for protecting children from internet pornography.
The idea of an internets’ ‘kid space, has gained some momentum in the recent years. The USA congress has, since the Internet became generally accessible, made attempts to insulate children from sexual contents, hate speech, and other contents of "adult nature” on the Internet. These attempts have mostly failed. In 2000, Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers that is responsible for regulating Universal Resource Locaters (URLs) was asked by a number of companies that manage URLs to design a new domain to be called KIDS, as a substitute to the generally used .COM, .ORG, .INFO, etc.
This would create a safe surfing place on the Internet for kids. The safe place would exclusively host web sites devoid of violent behavior, sexual content and other adult contents. The idea was discarded due to the complexity of indentifying worldwide applicable rules. A bill (The 2001 "Dot Kids Domain Name Act) seeking to compel ICANN to set up a “Dot Kids” domain was debated in 2001. However, the bill proved impractical. To get the world agreeing on what is appropriate content for children is an insuperable task.
In March 2002, a resolution to create "KIDS.US" (a 2nd level domain) was passed by the House Telecommunications Subcommittee. To enhance the chances of the bill being passed, the age range was lowered from 16 to 12 and below. This was possibly done without the involvement of the ICANN since the domain would just be a variant of ".US" top level domain which is in existence already. KIDS.US would be comparable to "a safe fenced playing field." The bill, in its text compared it to "a children's division in a library. To limit access to internet by children, Internet censorship software would be used on home computers by parents. The children would be restricted to only surf web that has a KIDS.US URL.
The bill was almost unanimously passed in the House and the Senate. In December 2002, President George Bush signed it into law. It became known as Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002. The legislation commissions NeuStar, as the United States domain administrator, to launch a kids.us domain. This domain will serve as a safe place for children online shielding them from exposure to destructive content on the internet as well as promoting helpful experiences for children and families that use the Internet. NeuStar set up an autonomous committee to determine the conditions to be fulfilled by webmasters who wished to have their sites integrated in the domain.
A grace period was given to give time to companies to register URLs with their own trademarks. After that process was completed, the sub-domain was availed for general use. Neustar projected thousands of registrations. It commissioned Cyveillance to scan KIDS consistently.US web sites by using robotic “spidering” technology. Then Cyveillance should inform NeuStar of any questionable content. NeuStar will usually allow the offending webmaster to get rid of the offensive material. In serious cases however, NeuStar will have the site shut down. The bill is designed to aid in categorizing suitable content for kids in a protected cyber zone (Flanagan, 2002). That it organizes kid-friendly contents in a way that enables parents to ensure their children's are only surfing within this domain.
This “safe place” for children on the internet had various shortcomings. Firstly, the requirement that severely offending be shut down is not fool proof. Shutting down an offending website does not eliminate its accessibility. An IP address that is associated with a web site URL exists. If the IP address is put into the place of the web sites’ name, then access to a kid.com web site could still be obtained even with its name taken offline. Secondly, even though NeuStar's regulations demand termination for offending web sites (containing adult content or inappropriate language), web sites that contain hate speech are apparently less severe. Uninterrupted spreading of hatred goes for hours online as the offending webmaster is given time to modify the content.
Furthermore, the “safe place” for kids also took the unique step of potentially setting up a government contractor to make and maintain a considerable financial loss on a government contract. This it does with utter disregard of the effect that loss could have on the kids.us or even the .us domain. In addition, it enforced a timeline on the development process. This was likely to stifle the implementation of the kids.us vision in sustainable way. Hence, the bill was less likely to realize its policy goals.
The other shortcoming is that the idea of a limited cyberspace and heavy restraints on the Internet created an artificial sense of security. The question of whether parents will be pleased with NeuStar's assertion of what is proper for their kids also lingered. In addition, keep an eye on many Web pages would be costly in terms of both money and time. The Dot kid framework elicited concerns that the dot-kids domain would in a short time be jammed by commercial instead of educational content. Further, the dot-kids domain would be unviable in a school situation where children frequently use contents in other domains like dot-edu, dot-com, dot-org, dot-net etc. Another shortcoming was the lack of features such as instant messaging services and chat rooms. Children love the social aspect of the internet like, browsing, networking, chatting, and playing online games and hence restricting this service will be counterproductive. The sites in this domain will be unappealing to the same audience that it is attempting to attract.
The idea of a safe “Kids space” on the internet, even though had good intentions, is a classic half-baked solution anticipated to protect children but in fact could no. Unless one manages to make every other part of the internet inaccessible to children totally, the solution cannot work. A safe “green place” place for children, however, can only be efficient in protecting children if it is put into place alongside other mechanism, which includes parental/ adult control/ supervision, educational support, and openly accessible, easy to use, and cost-effective technological tools.
Parents can regulate web access on one computer, but children will find a different computer to use unregulated. As an alternative to attempting to control every technology, the solution is in education (Willard, 2007). The best approach to protecting children from materials of sexual nature in the internet and falling into the hands of pedophiles is to educate them on can and cannot be tolerable actions from adults. They should be helped to recognize that the world can be a perilous place and shown how to discover it without putting themselves into risk. The children should be armed with awareness they so need to survive instead of viewing them as innocent children who need to be shielded from danger.
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