Myspace fails to meet school web site standards
Woody Filley, technology director at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, says that access to Myspace.com is blocked at all the Island public schools - but not because of any local decision.
"We don't actually do the blocking," Mr. Filley explains. "It's done by our Internet provider."
The provider of Internet service to all the Island schools is MECnet, a project of the Merrimack Educational Center in North Billerica, the largest provider of Internet services to schools, cities and towns across Massachusetts. MECnet uses a content filtering service to ensure that all schools meet the standards of CIPA, the federal Child Internet Protection Act. Complying with CIPA, Mr. Filley explains, makes schools eligible for big savings on their telecommunication and Internet costs.
Mr. Filley says he and his colleagues are aware that Island parents have lots of questions about Internet safety for their children. "One of the things we've been talking about here is should we be trying to find ways to get out and show parents some of the pitfalls of the Internet. Everyone is kind of grappling with this, because it's such a new thing."
Mr. Filley believes the press sometimes overstates the dangers of Internet use by children. "I think that when negative things happen," he says, "they get reported - and they get reported sometimes as ooh, this is what's happening everywhere!"
At the same time, he agrees that many Island kids are making unwise decisions regarding how much they reveal on sites like Myspace: "You wouldn't have a kid walking down the street, handing out their telephone number and address to strangers. We need to teach our kids the same savvy about the Internet."
But when kids share personal information online, Mr. Filley wonders whether it's a question of technical naiveté, or perhaps something else. "Is this really because kids are not savvy enough, or is there some hidden exhibitionism here?"
Perhaps, he suggests, young people simply haven't fully thought through the fact that when they're putting private information online, they're actually broadcasting that information publicly. "It's one thing when a peer looks at their pages," Mr. Filley says, "but I think a lot of kids are repulsed by the idea that strangers can check them out. I've heard kids talking about how they're making their pages private now. Maybe that's where we're moving - maybe the default is to make these things private."
Speaking more personally, as a tech-savvy person who is also a parent of two grade-school children, Mr. Filley says: "Actually, our kids are not allowed to be online at this point. I think it really gets down to individual parenting styles - how people decide to bring their kids up - and technology is only one of many influences out there that they have to be aware of. Kids can get into trouble in all sorts of areas, if they're allowed to. Right now, technology is one of the things a lot of people are focusing on. But in the end, we're still talking about how you as a parent interact with your kids, how you participate in the activities that they choose to do."
He concludes, "In essence, the medium is new, but the problems are all the same. And as educators, perhaps something we can do is try to get kids to think more critically about all this. Where do you draw the line between having fun and being safe? You don't have to be a total square about it."