Censorship & High-Tech Politics: Webmaster Removes AOL From School Library's Computers

A. C. Szul mack97 at EROLS.COM
Sun Oct 19 19:27:02 MDT 1997

"It's like going into a school and saying,
             'Free Sex Here,' " he said. "AOL gives away
              free disks everywhere -- it's like drug
              dealers, they give it away to get people

Webmaster Removes AOL From School Library's Computers

New York's Murry Bergtrum High School is flanked by City Hall
nd the Brooklyn Bridge, but it no longer has a window to the
world through America Online. The school's webmaster, Ted Nellen, an
English teacher, has removed the service from the school's library

"It's not the Internet I'm after -- it's AOL,"
Nellen said Friday from his wired classroom at
the school, where access to the Internet is still
available. "AOL is a playground without a fence.
It's a field day for predators. I will put it back on
when they clean up their act, but until they show
some humanity, I'll keep it off."

Bergtrum High School, and Nellen, are seen as
innovators in wired education, but the
Superintendent of Manhattan High Schools,
Granger Ward, said that Nellen's policy wouldn't
automatically extend to other schools in the city.

"We look at individual situations and schools,"
Ward said. "But certainly Bergtrum is more
technically advanced, so we'll be looking at what
they've encountered."

Nellen said he asked for AOL to be taken off
the dial-up access computer in the school library
in the wake of recent scandals in which children
who met adults in AOL chat rooms were later
abused. And he is angry at what he feels is a
popular misperception that AOL equals the

"Ninety-nine percent of the time when there's a problem, the common
denominator is AOL," he said. "It's not the Internet that's causing pain
-- it's AOL."

Nellen said it was his responsibility as an educator to keep students
away from the Vienna, Va.-based online service. Manhattan high school
policy forbids the use of classroom computers for personal
communications of any sort, but such use does happen, he said.

"It's like going into a school and saying, 'Free Sex Here,' " he said.
"AOL gives away free disks everywhere -- it's like drug dealers, they
give it away to get people hooked."

Tricia Primrose, a spokeswoman for AOL, said
that keeping the service safe was the company's
"top priority." She cited controls available on the
service that allow parents to restrict their
children's access to certain areas. Obviously, she
said, AOL cannot control what happens to
people when they meet in real time.

          "We can't always be standing over their
          shoulder, but we can put these limiting tools in
          place," Primrose said. "We're very focused on
          creating the tools and making them easy to use.
          We make it easy for parents to control. If we
          come across something that is unlawful and
          illegal, we terminate the account."

But Nellen says that children have little trouble working their way
around parental controls, and he says that entering racy chat rooms is
"like taking Dad's Playboy in the old days and looking at it." Though
students are instructed not to go into these rooms and are told not to
give out their names and locations, he says, they often still do it.

"We give condoms away here," Nellen said by way of comparison. "We
don't have conversations about how to have sex. We know why they use
AOL, and they know we know why they use AOL."

Nellen described himself as a free speech advocate and said that his
decision to remove access was "painful."

"It's not the Internet I want to have regulated," he said. "It's the

So far, he has not heard feedback about the missing online access, nor
has the school librarian, who says that students could easily bring in
their own disks and re-install the service.

SOURCE:  NYT, CyberTimes Extra, 10/19


Out of curiousity, anyone who still has AOL considering dropping them
after reading this NYT article?

Re consorship & its role in poltics, can we -- or political candidates
out to "clean up the Net" -- differentiate between the "Internet" and
"AOL" or other "Internet service providers" when its comes to "indecent"
material on the Net?

Can you "go after" AOL and not attack the entire Internet at the same
time, as Nellen indicates above?

Do folks want AOL to start monitoring chat rooms and somehow *edit out*
or *censor* "objectionable" material?  What effects could such a move
have on the First Amendment?  Will AOL need to go to that length in
order to keep its customers from jumping to "pure" Net providers like
Erols, etc?

>From the PR perspective, how could Primrose have handled it differently
- if at all possible - when responding to such concerns/reporters'


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