Chicken Soup, Homosexuality and Erotic Content Everywhere.
Ever since Internet access at Almaty International School was restricted in 2011, things just have not been the same. The school initially feared that students would be distracted by social networks and a myriad of other websites that did not align with scholastic purposes. The reasoning was sound enough, so the school started off by banning specific websites such as Facebook that, it was argued, often diverted students’ attention from education to entertainment. For the duration of the initial policy, students had few objections. After all, even the “lost generation” had sense enough to see that certain websites were unnecessary in school. They accepted a restriction of their liberty. Enter Traffic Inspector.
To say that Traffic Inspector became an obstacle would be an understatement. It turned into a massive wall in the way of research and efficiency. It forced students into a cell from which they were expected to learn and explore. It destroyed their freedom of investigation. The limitations have been especially damaging this year, and the effects of the flawed server proxy are being felt more than ever before. Would you like to access Gmail in order to communicate on a school project? Too bad— Gmail is blocked. Want to search something in Google for a class? Nice try— you’ve most likely just attempted to access pornographic content, according to Traffic Inspector.
Seeing as Traffic Inspector has been in place for two full years, it begs the question of why the school hasn’t done anything to improve it. Students are extremely frustrated by the dysfunctional proxy server, and thus far the school has done nothing to placate the student body. Some problems with the program include an issue with constant expiration. According to Jun Su Park, “The Traffic Inspector [login] expires… the Internet [is] down frequently, even though normally that wouldn’t be a problem.” This issue has been recurring ever since the program was first installed in school, and numerous students, as well as teachers, have been affected by this problem over and over again.
Traffic Inspector’s constant expiration is not the greatest obstacle in the way of research and education, however. The single most pressing issue is that the proxy server blocks much-needed websites and research tools. The most basic example is what every student relies on to search for information: Google. When someone goes on Google, they will notice that many search results cannot be opened. This, citing Traffic Inspector, is most commonly due to “pornography and erotic content.” When trying to open a harmless link such as an ESPN article about basketball player Rudy Gay, it will be blocked due to “gay” content, of course.
In the words of Alex Penskiy, a student at AIS, “Traffic Inspector blocks websites for the wrong reasons. It tries to ensure a zero percent chance of any inappropriate content at any cost […] so instead of blocking only what is actually explicit, it blocks nearly everything.” In the minds of many students, a proxy server should only prevent people from accessing content that is guaranteed to be inappropriate for school or malicious. Websites that are guaranteed to distract students should be targeted, rather than all websites that may distract students.
Yet another problem that must be addressed is the reason for why Traffic Inspector blocks certain content. Why are practically all Google searches blocked for “Pornography and erotic content”? Why can Gmail not be accessed due to “legal services”? Why is eBay blocked for “child pornography”? Why, for the love of all that is holy, is the second Google search page often blocked for “gay content”? What is implied by “gay content”? Is the second search page blocked because it contains explicit homosexual content, or is it simply because in someone’s opinion homosexuality must be censored? According to Traffic Inspector, homosexuality must be eradicated in every corner to avoid subjecting kids to things that they should not see.
The morality of what Traffic Inspector blocks must be put into question. Kazakhstan is not Russia, where homosexual “propaganda” is banned, so why would the program ever give the students such reasoning? It is clear that Traffic Inspector is an impractical solution to moderating web access, so what can be done to approach the issue in a sensible way? There are a couple options. One is to simply entirely disallow web access for all students, in which case there will be no censoring problems, and only teachers will have to suffer with an obsolete server proxy. The other solution is to remove Traffic Inspector entirely, in which case many students will be distracted by irrelevant websites that will take a toll on their performance in school. The school could apply itself to fixing an ever-present issue by only targeting a specific group of websites and webpages that are guaranteed to have explicit content.
According to Alex, “Only students that actually need Internet, such as those in Research class, the newspaper or any other class that needs access should have it. For example, there is no point in providing most kids in middle school with Internet access if they will only be distracted by it…” Perhaps this is the best solution, in combination with modifying web access restriction, to provide AIS with a functioning, satisfactory Internet connection that will not stop people at every corner with warnings about inappropriate content on their favorite chicken soup website.