Esafety, online safety, child protection – internet filtering is normally the first step any establishment takes in order to meet its statutory and safeguarding obligations. But what is internet filtering, is it esafety or is it blocking?
For clarity and ease I’m just going to refer to schools in this blog, but you can substitute the word school for academy, home, workplace, or pretty much anywhere else. It is also applicable to corporate institutions who use internet filtering software to ensure employees stay “on task”.
Simplistically, an internet filter is a piece of software in a school which sits between your device (PC, Mac, Ipad etc.) and the internet. Sometimes it is called the proxy, sometimes it is called “that software which blocks everything”. It is there to filter (or block) access to certain websites or category of website, for example – adult, gambling, homophobic, social networking. Each user or group of users (for example a class) is assigned to a profile that states which categories that person can and cannot have access to. Importantly any filter worth its salt (in the UK) will be updated frequently with the IWF blacklist. The blacklist is the list of known or suspected illegal websites.
One of the more widely known internet filters is Netsweeper. As well as on-network internet filtering (i.e. when connected to a network) Netsweeper also allows for off-network filtering (i.e. when working mobile).
Netsweeper and others are feature rich pieces of software which do far more than block websites. Arguably the two most important features are managing and reporting. I’ll talk about managing and reporting in a later part, but for now I want to ask the question – is web content filtering esafety or is it just blocking?
I have witnessed arguments for both sides. Ask a supplier and it is esafety because the filter blocks access to illegal and inappropriate websites therefore fulfilling a duty of care. Ask a child or young person and the answer you get is that it just blocks the websites they want to get to.
The truth is (in my opinion) it’s a little bit of both, but not the full story. Esafety, online safety, child protection is primarily about education throughout the whole community, raising awareness about the risks and dangers, risk assessing against those dangers, and mitigating against those risks. One way of mitigating the risk is to use internet filtering, but without raising the awareness and providing education the filter is “just blocking”, particularly if the filtering is not managed (coming soon).