Do Filters Work?

I just read Andy Woodworth’s post about filters, and was reminded about something. A couple days ago, I visited my church’s website while in the library. We filter both public and staff computers … and guess what I found (see the image above)? My church’s website was blocked, because 8e6 (our filtering provider) thinks it’s a porn site. Wow – my church is apparently much wilder than I thought!

  • OK – first off, my church isn’t really all that wild. Probably much the opposite!
  • Second – it’s most likely filtered because of overblocking. Some web filters block whole webhosting services because of content. For example, if the webhoster hosts 20 “naughty” sites and 2 “nice” sites, all 22 sites will be labeled “naughty” (until someone tells the filtering company they’re wrong – then they usually correct the problem).

Do filters work?
Honestly, yes and no. Yeah, sure – most of the “usual sites” can be blocked (but not all – filters don’t catch everything). And no – the example above is a great example of a filter in action, unfortunately.

Another complaint
I’m also going to complain about the Safelibraryproject website, and the ALA page they quote (from the Office of Intellectual Freedom). Because both sites seem to be putting a bit of spin on their ideas, to prove their points. Plus, there are some glaring problems on each page. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s start with Safe Library Project:

  • Just being picky here – guys, please get a proofreader! Your About page is labeled “Abou” – which would be forgivable if it weren’t for some other errors on the “Abou” page that could have easily been caught by proofing your content. Errors like these:
    • “Most all pornography commercial websites is hardcore” I think you meant “are” …
    • “the overwhelming amount of Internet porn is be soft-core” I think you meant “is” …
    • “This in not accurate” You are correct – not accurate at all!
  • Enough grammar cop stuff. How about this? “Most all pornography commercial websites is hardcore and therefore can be charged by prosecutors as obscene.” – ok. Can you prove that, with citations?
  •  “The seemingly endless number of free porn sites depicting actual or simulated sex and other lascivious depictions are also hardcore and can be charged as obscene.” Again, ok … “seemingly endless” … proof? With citations? “can be charged as obscene” … again – proof?
  • “Does ALA really think the American public is so uninformed…” The information you quote wasn’t really meant for the “American public.” It was meant for libraries creating public PC and Internet Access policies.
  • “The ALA site also strongly suggests that Internet filters are inadequate” – well, yeah – there’s a reason for that. See my example above.
I have no issue with their viewpoint (though I don’t agree). Viewpoints differ, and you have to have two sides for a debate. But if you make broad statements like they do, you should back them up with facts. Or you’re just blowing smoke.
And now for ALA. Go to the page Safe Library Project quotes (you have to copy/paste the link text, since for some odd reason they didn’t actually make it a link). I think some improvements are in order here, too. For example:
  • The paragraph Safe Library Project quotes is an odd one, to me anyway. For example … “In the millions of Web sites available on the Internet” – way more than “millions” now.
  • “there are some—often loosely called “pornography” – Loosely? What? Where did that statement come from?
  • “A very small fraction of those sexually explicit materials is actual obscenity or child pornography” – ok. That’s also pretty broad statement. Can you prove that, with citations?
  • This info hasn’t been updated for 10-11 years. A LOT has changed on the web in 11 years. Maybe time for a rewrite?
  • The “Related Files” link at the bottom of the page is a broken link. That makes ALA look a bit shabby IMHO.
So – phooey on the spin. Do you filter? Does it work? Do people complain? Is it as bad as the Safe Library Project people think? I don’t think so – what about you?