While there are physical and geographical boundaries which limit the flow of information and media products in the real world, the internet does not have such constraints. This has created a world in which people have been empowered by the accessibility to all sorts of useful information, yet at the same time, also find easy access to what can be termed "harmful content".
- Websites that promote self-harm, e.g., sites that encourage suicide, promote eating disorders, drug use and other anti-social behaviour
- Extremist sites that promote hate, extreme views and terrorism
- Age-inappropriate sites refer to websites that host content that may not suitable for those under 18 years, for example, gambling or adult sites
- Illegal content refers to websites that host content that may be illegal, depending on the local laws of the land. In most countries, child pornography sites are illegal.
It is not too difficult to stumble onto "harmful sites" as users conduct legitimate online searches. For example, a student searching for information on Bulimia for a school project on eating disorders may come across websites that promote binge eating. Meanwhile, another student who wants to find different ways of bingeing can purposefully look for sites that encourage the behaviour.
Site Blocking & Filters
In Singapore, the Info-communications Media Development Authority blocks 100 websites with objectionable content as a symbolic reflection of and statement on our societal values. These are largely pornographic and extremist or hate sites. Internet Service Providers or ISPs also offer filtering software that can block sexually explicit content or help parents keep track of where their children have been.
Since 23 February 2012, all service providers have been required, by law, to offer optional filtering services for fixed residential Internet access and for such filtering services to be highlighted to consumers at the point of subscription or renewal of Internet service. The ISPs are also required to provide and promote filtering services for mobile Internet access from 30 June 2012.
However, as the internet is a free information highway, it would be impossible to fully block objectionable and harmful content beyond the symbolic gesture, be it pornography or hate content. Research suggests that rather than shield children and students from negative content, the more effective thing to do would be to talk through with them on why something is wrong.
It's about seizing the moment to teach values and critical thinking skills, to get young people to reflect, to evaluate and to choose to do the right thing. This will make for more resilient people and build a more resilient society.
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