An old Greensboro friend and blogging buddy Roch Smith asked me a couple weeks ago if I’d be willing to help him out with a little project. Of course, I said yes.
The Greensboro City Council was considering the addition of stronger pornography filters to the computers at its libraries. Unfortunately, most porn filters end up filtering out more than just porn. Many times, the filtering software limits access to non-obscene, medically accurate and beneficial information. Sometimes that is an unforeseen byproduct of the service/software providing the filtering. Other times, as was the case in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System when I was a student there, improper filtering of non-obscene material is by design.
For Roch’s project, I headed to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library in Plaza-Midwood and logged on to one of their networked computers. Roch had me visit a slew of non-pornographic websites. Many of them were accessible. Others, however, were blocked. (Roch has the short list of websites blocked in Charlotte and a bit of commentary at his site.)
The Greensboro City Council last night decided against stronger filtering software. It’s a victory, even if only for right now.
After two hours of debate, the City Council unanimously decided against adding pornography filters to library computers.
The council did, however, ask for a report in 90 days detailing the extent to which the computers are being used to view pornographic websites.
The debate came after Councilman Danny Thompson asked the library to use filtering software to prevent patrons from viewing inappropriate sites.
But after hearing that reports of people caught viewing pornography have decreased 80 percent this year, council members chose to keep using the current software.
“Statistically speaking, as it sits in front of me right now, it is not hundreds of (incidents),” said Councilman Zack Matheny. “The people going into our library system right now should feel safe.”
But, exactly why does it matter if some non-obscene websites are the unfortunate victims of not-so-perfect porn filtering? A person visiting a library, especially an adult, shouldn’t have the government looking over their shoulder deciding what is or is not appropriate for them to view. In the instance of minors, this argument becomes a bit more fluid. Regardless, filtering software often kills access to vital information some adults and even youth might need, like access to information on safer sex practices or other sexual concerns.
In Winston-Salem, as mentioned above, the by-design blockage of all websites deemed “Lesbian or Gay or Bisexual Interest” prevented youth from accessing websites belonging to non-profit LGBT organizations. In particular, the software blocked access to the website of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
It was an unjust situation I addressed as a young high school student in a December 2004 letter to the editors of my school newspaper, Reynolds’ Pine Whispers (wow, that seems like such a long time ago — amazing issues then, and so local, are still salient):
Last spring a new category in the school system’s Internet filtering software appeared. The category, “Lesbian or Gay of [sic] Bisexual Interest,” blocks websites concerning homosexuality, websites such as www.glsen.org , which is the website for the national offices of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Is it any coincidence that the new filtering category and the blocking of the GLSEN website came into being right after last year’s controversy with the School Board and the addition of questions concerning anti-gay harassment into the school system’s school climate surveys?
The addition of the questions was spearheaded by Winston-Salem’s local chapter of GLSEN. I believe that the blocking of the national GLSEN website and the addition of the new filtering category is being used as a form or retaliation against the local gay communities by members of the School Board or by staff of the WS/FC Schools.
I find it very disturbing that anti-gay websites, as well as other websites like the KKK’s website, can still be accessed by students, but pro-gay websites like GLSEN’s cannot. This type of censorship will only hurt students in the long run. Without access to various types of information and viewpoints, students will not be able to freely form their own opinions and beliefs — another form of bullying.
I hope that during the next election for school board members, our city and county citizens will have enough pride and integrity to elect those who will stand up for ALL students, regardless of their beliefs. It is time for our leaders to stand up and make the right decisions in order to create safe and positive learning environments for the students entrusted to their care.