Title: How to Give Your Online Filter a Simpson Test
Date: February 8, 2008; Length: 7:17 (video), 6:47 (audio)
The Simpson Test is a test given to an online filter to see if it is effective at blocking inappropriate images. Dr. Curtis gives you step-by-step instructions that will let you run the same test on your home computer. You can listen to or watch the podcast at the following links:
Note: the video version is slightly longer because it includes a demonstration of the test.
Podcast Timeline (video version)
0:18: Common online hazards
1:13: Three ways of dealing with online pornography
1:35: Key issues with online filters, and what makes a filter good enough
2:13: Description of how the Simpson Test is used on an online filter
2:45: Step-by-step instructions for performing the Simpson Test at home
3:22: Demonstration of the Simpson Test performed for the name “Bart”
4:25: What to do if the filter fails the test and needs adjusting
5:20: Filter issues for the Google, Yahoo!, and Windows Live search engines
6:30: Additional resources from Speedbrake Publishing
Hello, and welcome to Parenting and the Internet. I’m your host Dr. Todd Curtis, and I’m also the author of the book Parenting and the Internet, your how-to guide for managing your online child
In this show, I’d like to talk about online filtering. Every parent should be concerned with what their children do online. One of the questions you should ask yourself is whether you are doing enough to protect your child from pornography and other inappropriate online content. I’ve developed something I call the “Simpson Test” that you can use to check your computer to see how well it protects your child.
Before I talk about the test, let me talk a little bit about the online hazards your child may face and your options for dealing with them.
There are a wide range of online hazards. Most, like online predators, can be easily avoided or dealt with because once you learn how to recognize the signs of a potential problem, there are many things you can do to keep that danger from affecting your child.
Other hazards, like pornography, are a constant danger that anyone can encounter online, often by accident. There are three basic ways to deal with online pornography
First, have very clear rules about what is allowed and what is not allowed both at home and away from home.
Second, teach good online habits when it comes to using search engines, email, and other online services.
Third, you should take steps to filter content. Filtering can take many forms, including buying additional software for your computer, using filtering options that may be offered by your Internet service provider, or using filtering options built into search engines like Google.
No filter or filtering system is perfect, since there is always the possibility that something you don’t want will sneak through. However, most parents would consider a filter to be good enough if most of the bad stuff gets blocked.
My position is that if a child wants to find something, no filter can stop him or her. At the same time, it should be reasonably hard for a child to find inappropriate material online. While there is certainly some written material I don’t want a child to see, inappropriate pictures and videos are a much bigger concern.
I’ve found that most parents agree with me on this last point, and would also agree that a filter should be good at blocking inappropriate pictures or videos.
An easy way for you to test your filter is to first run a test with the filter turned off to see just how bad things can be, and then run the same test with the filter turned on.
In the tests that I ran, I pretended to be an innocent child and used a search engine to look for something interesting. If I found inappropriate material with the filter turned off, and then didn’t find any with the filter turned on, then I judged the filter to be good enough for me.
I call this the “Simpson Test,” and I’ll show you how you can run this same test at home.
If you’re going to do this test at home, I strongly suggest that you do it without any children around. Some of the results will definitely be unsuitable for them .
I’ll talk you through the upcoming steps, and those of you looking at the video version of the show will then see an actual demonstration. If you are listening to the audio version, you can find a link to the video version at filter.speedbrake.com.
Before you begin, turn off any filtering software that may be running on your machine.
- Go to the Google home page at google.com
- Click on the ‘Preferences’ link near the search box
- Scroll down to the ‘SafeSearch’ Filtering section, and select ‘Do not filter my search results’
- Select ‘Save Preferences’ and then select ‘OK’ on the popup
Now comes the fun part. I want you to pretend to be a child looking for a picture of a ‘Simpsons’ character
- Go to the Google home page and select “Images” in the upper left corner
- Type the first name of a popular ‘Simpsons’ character. I used Bart in video example, and I suggest that you do this at home using Bart one of the other popular character names such as Homer, Marge, Lisa, or Maggie.
- Start the search, and see what shows up on the first page of results
- If something shows up that is not acceptable, then the filter fails the test
- Why stop at the first page? It’s simple, most people, children included, will likely only look for something on the first page of results.
I used ‘Bart’ as the example in the video demonstration because Homer, Marge, Maggie, and Lisa all failed when the filter was turned off. While running this test, I also discovered that there are people out there who take classic cartoon characters and create drawings that depict these characters engaged in highly, highly inappropriate behavior. If you do the Simpson Test for Lisa and scroll through several pages of results, you’ll know what I am talking about.
If the filter fails, you’ll want to make some changes, and run the test again to see if it passes.
If it fails even for the strongest filter setting, then it is time to get a new filter
Google, Yahoo!, and Live Search at live.com are the most popular search engines and together they are responsible for over 80% of online searches. They also have built-in filters, so if your family regularly uses one or more of them, you may want to set the filters to an appropriate level.
My suggestion for parents is to pick one of these top three search engines as the main search engine for your family, and to become very familiar with how that search engine works.
I’ve run the Simpson Test for a variety of common words, and the results illustrate several general realities about search engines:
- There are some words or word combinations that attract a lot more foolishness. As the Simpson Test showed, sometimes even innocent words like the name ‘Lisa’ can unleash all kinds of online demons.
- In general, one word searches are a bad idea for two reasons: first, they are too general and generate too many results, and second, often the web pages that show up on the first page of results are pages that have inappropriate content.
- The most important search engine reality is that learning the basics of searching is easy. You should take the time to learn a few basic techniques, and you should also take the time to teach your children how to search both effectively and responsibly.
If you want to learn more about protecting your child online, especially how to use search engines and how to filter content, please visit filter.speedbrake.com. You’ll find links to many useful resources, including lessons on how to use a search engine and other advice for the parents of online children.
Once again, that address is filter.speedbrake.com.
Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next time.
Dr. Todd Curtis is the author of the book Parenting and the Internet (Speedbrake Publishing, 2007) and is also the host of the podcast of the same name.
For more information about the podcast, visit podcast.speedbrake.com.