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Filter does not do it, education does
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11:34, June 11, 2009

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By Li Hong, People's Daily Online

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's latest decision for all computer terminals to be installed with newly developed filtering software beginning July 1, to block sexually explicit, violent and other offensive Web contents from children viewing, has met fierce opinion bloodletting in the cyberspace.

Critics suspect the administrative decree, not facilitated by an enacted specific law, could go astray in implementation, possibly encroaching upon the individuals' rights of choice. Others complain that mandatory planting of the filtering gadget could restrict adults' free access to all Internet contents, including adult graphics. Some are particularly concerned with the ability of the new software to trace a computer terminal's web-surfing records, which is afraid of violating personal privacy.

I would say the ministry's driving initiative to protect juveniles under 16 from getting addicted to sexually seductive and offensive online contents, is impeccable. The launch might also meet the request of some parents who are too busy to spend more time together with their children, and, could rein in those profit-seeking neighborhood Internet cafes which illicitly let in under-ages where they browse whatever they could find online.

But, the urge of the government directive for all computers to be indiscriminately planted with the filter, is improper and not cost efficient. The ministry could have done a much better job to solicit public opinion and attain majority consent on the new software prior to an abrupt announcement this week that it had done it, meaning coherently that the public must accept it.

No wonder the uproar was caused. Many pecked at the ministry for squandering the taxpayers' 41.7 million yuan to develop the filter while disabling or harassing their traditional free web-surfing experiences. And, some overseas media outlets have made use of the public uproar, criticizing or second-guessing our government's intention in developing and installing the blockage software as "controlling free flow of information" and "online censoring".

It is really important that the ministry or other relevant government agencies to outline and state clearly what criteria will be used to making blocking decisions, since the software is believed to hold up other harmful contents in addition to porn. Then, there lies the problem: Who decides what is harmful?

Violent pictures many be deemed perilous, but nobody would argue that children shouldn't learn about the past, say, the Holocaust. Some might consider nudity inappropriate, but nobody would suggest that teenagers shouldn't see Michelangelo's "David". Yet most Internet filters can't make these simple distinctions.

Experts say that in stead of blocking those harmful graphics from children, a more practical approach is to start early in teaching children how to evaluate what they are watching or discovering on the Internet.

Parents will be considered evading duty if they get too involved catering to themselves but leaving their children alone. Some explain that if parents promptly educate their kids with due knowledge about human bodies and reproduction, their kids will be more likely to turn off sex-related topics. The habit of parents and young children routinely exploring the Internet together and conversing about what they are watching on the net is good for education, and family chemicals.

So, taking a hard-line approach by a universal planting of filters in all computers in order to prevent children from seeing sexually graphic and inappropriate materials online could backfire. It might disdain the government. The wild assault on the ministry has proved it.

The article represents the author's view only. It does not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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