Activity 2D
C&I 335
Summer, 1998

Sue Bogren
Urbana Middle School
Urbana, IL 61801

Fraud on the Internet

The Federal Trade Commission is making an effort to alert Internet users to the "'hazards' on the information highway". An online article "Online Scams" emphasizes that only the medium has changed, not the scams. They encourage readers to be skeptical, never make a decision to purchase based on only one source of information, beware of overstated claims of product effectiveness or profit, and never trust "inside" information without checking. In other words, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Introducing this to students could be done within the context of determining the validity of Web sources. For most students comparisons with televison commercials and infomercials would make the topic relevant. Those teachers whose curriculum includes consumer education should include Internet fraud along with other kinds of misinformation that consumers are likely to see. Of course, students should know to be extremely careful about the personal information they make available.

Sexual Predators

All of us have read or heard news articles about pedophiles who use the Internet to find vulnerable children. Pedowatch is an Internet site that attempts to alert adults to the hazards to children who surf the net and recommend actions that adults can take to inhibit the exploitation of children. Many students are vulnerable to the attentions of strangers either because they are lonely, curious, or at a developmental stage that leaves them uncertain of their current identity. Predators pose as friends who care about the student and want to help. Using text can disguise the predator's age, gender, voice, and intent.

Just as we tell children not to wander into strange places alone, we should warn them of the dangers of chatrooms and penpals. Middle school age students have all heard the warnings about taking candy from strangers; they need to hear about the more subtle "gifts" offered by predators. This can be introduced during the discussions about kinds of websites, by counselors during general presentations, and as the opportunity arises when students are doing research online. Of course, here again students should be extremely careful about the personal information they make available.

Filtering Software and Freedom of Speech

The Freedom Forum is an organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights in all media. As technology charts new legal ground, its progress is followed by Freedom Forum and reports and advocacy of freedom of speech is published. A recent report in free!,an online magazine-type document of the Freedom Forum, addresses the response of Federal Judge Alex Kozinski when he found that a filtering software program had been installed on his computer without his knowledge. The use of filtering software has interesting implications for educators. While we want to encourage students to explore new ideas, we also have an obligation to protect them from information that is harmful to them. The difficulty with filtering software is that it is impossible to create a program that blocks only those sites an individual feels should be blocked and does not block constitutionally protected material at the same time. Urbana District #116 addresses the issue of freedom of speech with its acceptable use policy. The parent and student acknowledge that the student may encounter objectionable material while doing educational research, but the responsibility for guiding a student toward suitable material rests with the parent. The student accepts the responsibility to use material that is not offensive, obscene, or harrassing. Educating students about these matters should be done when they first encounter the acceptable use form. Frequent reminders when new assignments are given reinforce the importance of balancing freedom of speech with responsible use of material.


Closely linked to First Amendment issues are issues regarding censorship. Many Americans feel strongly about the right to access whichever materials they choose. Peacefire: Youth Alliance Against Internet Censorship is run by teens. Their mission is to guard against censorship in the Internet and to monitor legislation and Internet filtering products. Their homepage even provides a link to TracerLock which can monitor search engines and notify you when a search term is found. Peacefire presents news stories that focus on censordhip issues of all kinds, but in particular on those instances when a teenager has been blocked from access to information or disciplined for accessing information. As stated above, I feel that rather than block students from information or information from students we should be reinforcing those values taught by their parents. We can better help our students deal with the plethora of information by helping them evaluate what they find. When we help students determine whether information is factual, whether it deals with material that is considered to be offensive by the community, or whether it may bring harm to others, we help them learn to make decisions for themselves. We can focus then on education and not on power struggles.

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