While it's a perfectly valid concern, I don't think it's qualitatively different from the larger concern of how do we keep our children safe in the world at large?
I started thinking about this again following an email exchange from a public librarian wanting to block MySpace and YouTube and an interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor - Internet filters block porn, but not savvy kids. The solution favored by many parents (and as a result schools and libraries) is to want to block everything that might possibly be a threat regardless of the positive aspects. A similar response in the real world would seem to be to lock a child in his room with no tv, radio, phone, internet, or social contact until he turns 18. Sure he'd probably be SAFE but he'd also miss out on a lot of experiences that could make him a well-rounded adult who could contribute significantly to society.
I also think that indiscriminate blocking can lead to a rebel attitude in young people. If we indiscriminately block everything that might possibly be objectionable to anyone, we're only going to encourage our creative young people to find ways around the filters. And when they do, and discover that what we're blocking is trivial, they're going to think we don't know anything. And they may well be less likely to listen to us when we try to warn them about something that's truly significant.
There's no indication that either the internet or social software is going away in the near future. So, the question becomes how do we integrate it into the educational and social lives of our children? IMO, the best way to do that is not going to be blocking it all and pretending it doesn't exist. Even if that could be successful, we'd only be sending naive adults out into the world. Rather we want to work with them to show them the pros and cons of providing information about themselves and interacting with strangers online, and how to set boundaries and behave responsibly in these new virtual environments.
And that's going to take educated parents, teachers and librarians. As I stated in a previous blog entry on March 2, internet fears are nothing new. We owe it to ourselves and our children not to remain ignorant while letting our fears get the best of us. Instead we need to take the time to explore some of the new tools and resources so we can better understand both the allure and possibilities. Only then, can we help our children make good decisions.
Check out some of the library pages on MySpace:
Another one, I like a lot is Magnum A.L. from American Libraries magazine.
BTW, there are firms making social software specifically for educational purposes.
- Elgg - from the University of Brighton. I believe this requires your own server and some knowhow to tweak the open source software but it's in use in quite a few schools (primarily universities) areound the world. FREE.
- Digication - created by educators in the U.S. Free for up to 1,000 users in any U.S. accredited school.