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Opinion | Wrong solution to a real problem: Device filters miss the mark

There are more effective, more practical ways to protect our kids without handing over the role of parenting to the government.

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In Alabama, we have a long tradition of maintaining strong family values, and in today’s digital age, those principles are more important than ever. With devices like phones, laptops, and tablets, our children have endless information at their fingertips. It’s a reality that means our kids have the opportunity to learn quicker and communicate faster but of course, new, rapidly changing technology comes with risks. 

Today, one of the threats that’s top of mind for parents like me is the dangerous and explicit material on the internet. As a parent, I know how important it is to take a proactive role in keeping our children safe online. That means understanding and using the resources at our disposal to protect our kids and communicating with them about how to tailor their online experiences to their specific needs.  

That’s why I’m concerned about legislation supported by some lawmakers in the Alabama State Legislature that would undercut those goals by requiring new devices to be outfitted with so-called “content filters.” This kind of proposal might be well-intentioned, but the fact is that there are more effective, more practical ways to protect our kids without handing over the role of parenting to the government. 

First of all, mandating content filters on new devices isn’t a realistic way to block dangerous online content. The technology required to preemptively and selectively enable filters on devices purchased for children before coming out of the box doesn’t exist, and even if it did, most experts agree such legislation has numerous Constitutional concerns and would likely be struck down in court. That’s not to say there isn’t a role for governments to help shield children from harmful content. In other states such as Louisiana and Virginia, elected officials have taken a different, more practical approach to solving the problem by passing bills requiring websites known to carry explicit content to verify users’ ages

But besides the technological limitations of device filter legislation, blanket government-mandated content bans have another fundamental problem. 

Compared to other solutions meant to protect our kids online, device filters risk minimizing the role that parents like myself have in raising my own children. Take, for example, legislation passed in Florida that requires children to be taught about online harms and responsible device and social media use. In Utah, Governor Spencer Cox has led by example, launching a public service announcement campaign to encourage children to warn about online dangers. These initiatives encourage parents to play a greater part in their child’s education by having open and honest conversations about online dangers and using tools like parental controls to block explicit content. 

Device filter bills would do just the opposite. The simple fact is that we should empower parents to make choices they know will meet their children’s individual needs. We shouldn’t encourage legislation that would let the government undermine parents’ roles in their own child’s life by letting bureaucrats make a one-size-fits-all decision about what content should be available online. Ultimately a legislative solution might not be required at all versus simply educating constituents about all of the publicly available tools and resources readily available in the market today. 

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I know how difficult it is to raise a child in the face of constant online threats, and of course, it’s the goal of every parent to protect their children from explicit material and dangerous content. But that doesn’t mean broad government mandates are the right answer to the problem. Instead, we need our lawmakers to look toward other successful initiatives that have made real progress in protecting our kids while making sure parents can do what’s best for their children. 

Donna Skipper serves as President of the Republican Women of East Alabama.

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