The Topeka Capital-Journal spoke to software companies and Internet security advocates about how to address suicide content online. Here are a few answers that parents with concerns might find useful:
John Ahlander, senior director of product management for Blue Coat Systems, said his organization's product, K9 Web Protection (which has Windows, Mac, iOS and Android versions and is free) can block sites that detail suicide methods, without blocking suicide- prevention sites. The former falls under the Violence/Hate/Racism category, the latter under the Health category. Ahlander adds: "While it is good to block access to undesired content, it's also important for parents to understand what types of sites are being visited. So, the reporting function can help."
Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, says parents should be aware that blocking certain websites isn't a cure-all. "As terrible as it is for vulnerable children to have access to a how- to on suicide, that's not the cause of the problem," Collier said. Awareness about mental health issues and warning signs is crucial, she said. "The No. 1 online safety tip is to talk with your child." If parents use monitoring software, she also said, they should preferably be honest about it to avoid jeopardizing trust and communication with their kids.
Russ Warner, CEO of ContentWatch, said the company's product, Net Nanny (for Windows, Mac, Android and iPhones), can block suicide method websites, while letting parents approve suicide-prevention sites. ContentWatch also offers Net Nanny Social, a cloud-based service that monitors children's comments on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Net Nanny Social looks for key words and notifies parents. "If the child is being bullied or saying terrible things," Warner said, "those kind of things flag an alert." But he noted that parents also should be aware of what apps their children use. "There's not a real good way to monitor apps."
Parry Aftab, an attorney at WiredSafety.org, says monitoring online activity is preferable to trying to restrict it. "We need to recognize that the problem with information is not trying to block it," she says. Aftab recommends installing monitoring software, such as SpectorSoft, on laptops, tablets and smartphones. If kids are accessing suicide websites, it is time for a talk, she says, and if kids are being bullied, parents need to be "hypervigilant."
Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate at Symantec Corp., said the company's product, Norton Family, can record search words and lets parents customize Internet access for each child in the household and view data on what sites their children visit. The product includes suicide websites among the list of content that can be blocked.