Are Internet Filters Really Keeping Children Safe?

Internet filters that screen what can be accessed over the web are becoming commonplace in people’s homes. They block access to online content that might be unsuitable, like pages that contain blacklisted keywords, as well as games and videos. The purpose is to protect children from being exposed to inappropriate material, but a recent study suggests that, in fact, these filters are not very effective. They may lull us into a false sense of security and could even be having a negative effect because of blocking or ‘over-blocking’ of useful content. I spoke to Oxford University’s Victoria Nash…

  • The data did not suggest any strong connection between internet filters being installed at home and the exposure of 12-15 year olds to ‘nasty’ experiences online.
  • Parents were asked whether they had filters installed at home and the children were asked whether or not they’d experienced between one and seven different types of “adverse experiences online.”
  • A statistical analysis revealed no change in the likelihood that a child had a negative online experience when an internet filter was installed.
  • 8% of children had been contacted by somebody that they didn’t know that wanted to be their friend – this was more common for girls than boys.
  • Other things that were slightly less common were seeing sexual content, being cheated out of money, or feeling under pressure to share information.
  • One suggestion for the findings is that a lot of children’s internet use takes place outside of the home and so a filter can only control part of their exposure.
  • Ultimately, Victoria believes that we need to more to educate children and parents about safe use of the internet and to help to ‘build resilience’ in the children so that they know what to do if they encounter risky material or experiences online in order to remain safe.


You can listen to the full interview for the Naked Scientists here.

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