Web filtering is required by law, as long as schools wish to receive e-rate funding to supply their digital classrooms. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires that schools “block Internet access to pictures that are (a) obscene (b) child pornography or (c) harmful to minors.” CIPA also requires schools to monitor student online activity and provide training for responsible technology use.
The general sentiment: students –especially teens– hate web filtering*. Most students find web filtering to be unnecessarily inhibitive, citing that it blocks perfectly acceptable web pages due to one keyword or denies access to social media pages. One argument goes that filtering prevents exploration and blocks students from using tools like Facebook for academic causes. Another, that it is a breach of student privacy.
*Misdirected blame: Web filtering is different at each school. Federal law doesn’t specifically require schools to block Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your web filtering provider doesn’t dictate that X, Y, or Z website needs to be blocked. Besides fundamental protection against pornography and similar graphic content, it’s at the discretion of each school district to whitelist or blacklist the specific sites that students take issue with. Some schools leave social media open, some schools restrict access, etc. Web filtering, when used correctly, can be utilized to help –not hurt–the student experience.
Web filtering applies to all schools, which means the measure applies to all students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Older students are particularly irked by filtering and feel that although filtering content is necessary to shield younger kids, it is gratuitous for those close to adulthood. Web filtering does vary dramatically from elementary, middle, to high school – however, it offers additional aspects often forgotten that are equally optimal for students of any age.
1. Cyberbullying & Self-Harm Detection
Particular web filters can screen for instances of bullying and self-harm in social media posts. From 2007-2016, the number of students who experienced bullying roughly doubled from 18.8% to 33.8% according to a Cyberbullying Research Center report. The CDC analyzed cyberbullying by age group and found that 15.5% percent of high school students are cyberbullied, as are 24% of middle school students. Technology is now integrated into daily life at a very young age, leaving even elementary school students at risk for cyberbullying.
37% of cyberbullying cases go unreported; often, students are fearful that 1) the bullying will get worse 2) they’ll be considered a “rat” 3) no one will listen if they seek help. Given bullying’s devastating consequences, detection of bullying and negative sentiment can allow schools/parents to give students the proper care. And even save lives.
2. Productivity and screen time management
In our recent international survey, 53% of students aged 9-18 reported being productive only half of the total time spent working on school assignments. Blocking sites like social media and gaming (especially for younger children) keeps students focused on learning. Some filtering services even allow the admin to establish time restrictions on certain sites (social media, gaming, entertainment, etc.) to create a good balance between recreational and study time.
Also, overexposure to screens may have harmful consequences for cognitive development. Although 5-year-olds may not have research papers to write and assignments to finish, web filtering can help parents and educators manage healthy levels of device usage.
3. Defense against malware and phishing
We asked students their take on web filtering. One student responded, “You don’t get rude ads or viruses.” Pop-ups and pseudo-content are not only annoying but also often dangerous. Online aggressors specifically target children, enticing them to click on attractive advertisements or links leading to viruses.
A web filter screens the origin and content of a web page, checking for objectionable content, spyware, and viruses that may compromise your network. It helps keep students safe online and protects from intrusive viruses, malware, and ransomware.
4. Helps teachers understand students
On his blog, an IT admin expressed how web filtering helped school staff understand student preferences: ”…you can see stats for student web access. Not blocked pages, which they have a view for too, but sites kids are using. In our case, as we begin having discussions about whether Newsela is a service we want to pursue as a district standard, we now have compelling data telling us that it’s already being widely used and is, in fact, our most accessed website on a weekly basis.”
Teachers can use these insights to create engaging lesson plans and foster a collaborative learning environment, while best-integrating technology into their classroom.