Internet Censorship Essay, Research Paper
Surfing the Internet is like strolling through a library. With just one click of the
mouse, a person can enter an amazing world of information. The Internet takes away the
inconvenience of having to drive to the public library, plus, the Internet is open
twenty-four hours a day. But, not only can a person research information on the Internet,
he can shop for products, read the latest news and stocks, meet new people, not only in
the United States, but in other countries as well, look for a job, and more. With the many
application of the Internet, so many more opportunities for individuals exist. Also, a new
meaning of ?It?s A Small World After All? comes to mind when surfing through the World
Wide Web. But not all is grand and spectacular in the Internet world. The Internet has
been a major concern of the American people and government for the last few years with
controversies over certain types of web sites displayed over the Internet including
pornography, hate group web sites, ?inappropriate? literature, and other various kinds of
web sites. Their main concern for these types of web sites is that this material is easily
accessible to a young, impressionable audience. Some believe that censorship of the
Internet is not the best solution. There are other alternatives to censorship that won?t
violate the free speech clause as stated in the First Amendment.
First of all, the reason why censorship is not the best solution is because the
censorship of expressions of speech is a violation of the First Amendment of the United
States Constitution. This argument is supported by the United States Supreme Court
ruling in the landmark case of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) v. Janet Reno.
?On June 26, 1997, the Supreme Court held in ACLU v. Reno that the Communication
Decency Act, which would have made it a crime to communicate anything ?indecent? on
the Internet, violated the First Amendment? (ACLU) This ruling declared that the Internet
is entitled to the highest level of free speech protection. In other words, anything printed
on the Internet deserves the same amount of protection as any book or magazine that is
sold at a store or available at the local library; this is why surfing the net is similar to going
to the public library.
Although the Communication Decency Act (CDA) was declared unconstitutional,
a supporter of the act, Senator J. James Exon, did have good intentions in trying to come
up with a solution for the Internet problem. The main goal of the CDA was to protect
children from the ?indecent? material accessible on the net. I think that protecting the
children is a very crucial element that must be considered in developing the best solution,
however, not at the expense of free speech. Abridging the First Amendment right of free
speech is the flaw associated with the CDA, which is the reason why it is wrong.
Another reason why Internet censorship should not go into effect is that the
methods of censorship including rating systems and filters are prejudice; rating systems do
not accurately judge. Rating systems are deficient because they will cause controversial
speech to be censored. According to the ACLU, ?Kiyoshi Kuromiya, founder and sole
operator of Critical Path AIDS Project, has a web site that includes safer sex information
written in street language with explicit diagrams, in order to reach the widest possible
audience? (ACLU). If his web site is rated, it will be in the same category as pornography
as a result of its references to sex and it will be blocked by a majority of the audience that
he wishes to view his web site. In all actuality, his Critical Path Aids Project web site is
just an informative speech about the prevention of AIDS, not pornography. This type of
rating system is not fair because even though his web site mentions sex or deals with sex,
it shouldn?t be considered pornography or placed in the same category as pornography.
Rating systems are simply unequipped to properly rate or judge the diversity of content
that is available on the Internet. To put it briefly, rating systems are based on taste and
opinion, which does not accurately fit the disposition of the general population.
One question that poses a problem with the rating system is how will foreign
material be rated? Since ?half of all Internet speech originates from outside the United
States,? how would American rating make sense to a Turk whose standards and beliefs are
totally different from American culture (ACLU)?Despite all good intentions, the
application of rating systems is unsuitable for the Internet. The Internet isn?t like the
television where the Playboy channel can be clocked and the Discovery channel is kept
unblocked as well. There?s just too much information in cyberspace to keep tabs on.
Even if all controversial speech is blocked, it will still exist because hackers will always
have the ability and technology to escape through filters and establish their prohibited,
?x-rated? web sites.
Instead of using censorship, I recommend that the choice be left up to the Internet
user. The primary responsibility for determining what speech is appropriate or
inappropriate should remain with the individual Internet user. Let the individual censor
what he doesn?t want to see or read. When an individual logs onto the Internet, he has the
choice to double-click on the link that leads to pornography or to the commentary on the
Klu Klux Klan. Even though ?pornography had been the most controversial topic arising
from the use of the Internet in recent years, its availability on the Internet has caused fear
and a moral panic among almost everyone? (Elmer-Dewitt 35). I can understand this
outrage from the public against pornography on the Internet. It?s a scary thought to know
that a child can accidentally stumble onto a web site that is filled with pornography, but a
child can also accidentally come upon dad?s hidden stash of porno magazines the same
way. From my own experience, every time I log onto my e-mail server, my mailbox is full
of porno mail. I don?t even look at the junk mail; only delete the unwanted mail and block
the sender from ever sending me mail again. I wasn?t forced to look at the pornography
because I still had a choice to not look at the undesired material. And I chose not to look
at the material because my parents instilled in me values and morals.
As far as protecting children from the ?indecent? or ?controversial? material,
parents should take the responsibility for determining what their children should access on
the Internet. Parents already take on the responsibility of determining what their children
watch on television, listen to on the radio, and read; they should supervise where they surf
on the Internet as well. Parents may act as if it is a big hassle to watch over their
children?s shoulder, but a small price to pay to protect them from the ?indecent? material
on the Internet. Perhaps parents need to educate their children more thoroughly about the
Internet and its dangers. Web sites that teach kids valuable tips on the net are available on
the Internet. The Federal Trade Commission, who provides one of these types of web
sites, has been a big supporter in protecting children on the Internet. Recently ?the
Children?s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was passed by the U.S. Congress in
November of 1998? (FTC). This act requires that operators of online services or web
sites must ?obtain parental consent prior to the collection, use, disclosure, or display of the
personal information of children? (FTC). This act just went into effect April 21, 2000.
From now on, privacy policies are required to be available through a link on every web
sites? homepage where general information about the web site is provided. COPPA is just
one of the few ways that children can be protected on the Internet. But, more
importantly, it is up to the parents of these children to supervise their activity on the net.
Since parents can control what children watch on television with a v-chip (violence
chip) that blocks certain channels, maybe parents can control what their children see on
the Internet with user-based programs that allow the parents to make their own list of
blocked sites, parents should be able to determine what sites they want blocked. It is very
important that the user-based software provide maximum user control. If the online
software companies have most of the control, the companies? rating system would
discriminate against or censor much of the content, as mentioned previously. ?There are
many programs available with parental control features, but sometimes this kind of
software goes too far and limits access to or censors inconvenient web sites, or filters
potentially educational materials regarding AIDS and drug abuse prevention? (Akdeniz).
This ties into the reason why censorship and rating systems are wrong.
Whether playing, shopping, studying, or just surfing, today?s children are taking
advantage of all that the Internet has to offer. At the same time, children are susceptible
to the dangers of the Internet as well, including pornography and other inappropriate
material. Some propose that censorship is the best solution. I disagree with that proposal
because censorship of free speech is a violation of the First Amendment and the rating
systems and filters used to regulate content on the net creates discrimination and
censorship as well. The number one priority in creating a solution is the protection of
children, and this protection begins with the parents. Parents know best what material is
appropriate or inappropriate for their children. Parents have the responsibility to
determine what their children watch on television. Also, parents need to educate their
children about the dangers on the Internet and they need to explain to them why they
don?t want them to visit such web sites. Censorship of the Internet is just a ?quick-fix?
and inefficient solution to solving the Internet problem.
Akdeniz, Yaman. ?The Regulation of Pornography and Child Pornography on the
Internet.? The Journal of Information, Law and Technology. 28 Feb. 1997
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). ?Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace
Burning?? Cyber-Liberties. 1997 .
Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. ?On a Screen near You: Cyberporn.? Time. 3 Jul. 1995:
Federal Trade Commission (FTC). ?Children?s Online Privacy Protection Act of
1998.? 20 Oct. 1999. .