Lisa Napoli: MSNBC Correspondent
msnbc.com

Today’s kids are the Internet generation, natural users of the online medium. Their active, adroit minds adapt to the Web’s conventions and innovations with ease. But the sheer number of young people surfing the net complicates enormously the issue of how to police the Internet for pornographic content. Both in the courts and in the court of popular opinion, the issue rages. Yet rarely are kids themselves asked their opinions about the issue. Here’s what several had to say via e-mail.

Editor’s Note:The remarks have been edited for length.

Brian, 14, Damascus, Md.

Finding porn on the Web is easier than researching for a homework assignment. What kid can’t type in “porn.com?” It’s constantly being blasted at (us) from all directions.

Venture into a chat room, and undoubtedly the junk mail will begin to flow. In recent months, unsolicited Instant Messages from AIM users frequently pop up on my screen, advertising various pornographic Web sites. All I know is that when one of those unsolicited messages appears and the Web site accidentally loads, along with it comes a massive burst of pop-up ads offering more, more, more.

Obviously, schools should block access to pornography. But the methods currently used are outrageous. By blocking porn, schools often restrict almost all access to the Internet. The Web is a proven tool for education. Most schools simply block basically all Net access. It’s funny because we watch as the librarians and teachers look over our shoulders, yet don’t understand anything we’re doing.

LINK: Internet Underground
The school system does not adequately teach sex education. Of course, if they try to, it will be knocked down by certain advocates and the Feds. The Internet is an anonymous location to learn what is not taught in school — and it is used that way, myself included. Nothing particularly explicit, of course, but common sorts of things. (formen.ign.com comes to mind)

In school, sex and violence has never been brought up specifically. Instead we get lectured time and time and time and time again on what not to do on the computer: In other words, do very little. We know they are tracking our every movement. We sign documents stating that we won’t disrupt the network, visit inappropriate sites, etc. In the end though, if we’re determined, we will. That’s the overall sense I get: Some kids are curious and they are destined to seek out and explore explicit content on the Net. It is no different than other mediums, a la movies, TV, magazines. ... But on a much grander scale.

I feel that it’s inevitable: When you give a kid everything the world has to offer, he’s going to explore everything. Yet in this media-centric world, as kids and teens become desensitized to inappropriate content, it may no longer surprise those who come across it.

When I told my mom that I was helping you with the article, she agreed that access to pornographic content is ridiculously easy. But my parents don’t patrol my Internet use — they never have, in 10 years of computer use and five years of Net access. It’s not necessary, and they know it. Perhaps that lingering concern over being caught is another reason for kids to venture onto explicit sites — the thrill, the danger. Once in a while my mom will ask me who I’m talking to online, when she hears the IM sound being repeated more often than usual. But other than that it’s not a concern to them or myself, and for good reason: I know it’s not appropriate and that if I did visit the sites, eventually I’d be caught.

Craig, 16, Lynnfield, Mass.

Porn is everywhere on the Internet. If you don’t seek it out, it comes to you. Most often when you’ll see advertisements for it it’s on ‘warez’ pages, where you can download software that you haven’t purchased illegally. Apparently the people that run those warez Web sites think that software pirates are also very interested in porn. If you’re seeking it out, it’s definitely one of the easiest things to find on the Internet. Far easier than Napster. It’s simply thinking of a dirty word and adding on “.com” or typing it into AltaVista or any other search engine. There’s no stopping it.

My school has a proxy server that attempts to filter out porn. However, kids have found ways around this. These methods include using the AOL Web browser from school, which bypasses the proxy server. On top of that, the proxy server can’t block every site.

I think that if there’s anywhere where it’s OK to block porn on the Internet, schools are the place. I don’t think that the government really should be involved in this if it’s at home. I’m more saying this because I think that it’s a step toward more unreasonable censorship than any other reason.

With friends, we never really “discuss” it but it’s been known to happen that guys will look at stuff like that together on the computer if no one’s around. Same type of thing, as, say, guys looking through a Playboy magazine they found, I think.

I think that being kind of liberal, my attitude about the whole thing is, ‘What’s the problem?’ I think that all teens see that kind of stuff and there don’t seem to be any long term adverse affects. I think most people overestimate the impact things on the Internet really have on kids that see them — really, it’s nothing they wouldn’t have seen elsewhere. I even remember reading about some well done study saying that it actually had a positive impact on development, but of course the House of Representatives condemned it.

Gio, 15, Miami

It seems to be very easy for kids to find porn on the Internet. Most of the time, I stumble upon the porn sites. For instance, I was looking for pictures of elephants for my aunt and I stumbled upon pictures of women having sex with animals, not a pretty picture.

Today I was looking for a good teen Web site that had entertainment, sports news, a place where teens can interact. I typed in www.teenzone.com and it was a teen Web site but not too good of one so I typed in www.teenscene.com. To my surprise it was a porn site. It’s terrible how people are using the names of things young people might want to see and it comes out to be something perverted.

Children have access to these things and just by putting a warning message on the front page doesn’t prevent kids from seeing this type of material.

My parents sometimes worry about what I would see on the Internet because of all the stories that have been aired on our local news. We are a Christian family so we aren’t so much into pornography.

My schools have put in filters so that the kids won’t be able to access porn material. Online porn is changing the minds of young kids, kind of putting the message in their minds “porn is OK” and perverting their minds. Online porn is not OK and it is ruining young children.

I believe that the government should ban these porn sites all together. ... The minds of many young people are destroyed very frequently by this. I think that those who have “perverted” minds, should not be ruining the ones of others.

Internet blocks are not working very well. In fact, I wanted to prove this theory to myself. I installed a pornography block into my computer and I went into one of those sites. Guess what, the site was not blocked. I then tried it with the block that is in the AOL system, and the site still was not blocked. Therefore, children have much more easier access to porn on the Web rather than on television or movies.

Lisa Napoli covers the Internet for MSNBC.

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