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Internet Censorship Against Essay Research Paper As

Internet Censorship- Against Essay, Research Paper As the end of the twentieth century nears, a new medium and tool has emerged as the future of communications, business, news, education, and entertainment. This tool is the

Internet Censorship- Against Essay, Research Paper

As the end of the twentieth century nears, a new medium and tool has emerged as the

future of communications, business, news, education, and entertainment. This tool is the

Internet, a worldwide network of computers currently connected by phone lines. While it

is still in its infancy, its power as a medium is very great, and this is being recognized

ever more frequently by the businesses and people it connects. However, it is also

abundant with information that is considered inappropriate, adult, and/or vulgar by many

people. Many social groups and politicians are alarmed at how children and teenagers

can readily access this material. Around the world, the call has gone out for restriction

and censorship of the Internet. This rally has been met with mixed results. People who

support freedom of speech on the Internet quote from the first amendment of the

Constitution. In addition, many groups are in favor of restricting the Internet, similarly to

how television is regulated in the United States. In favor of this regulation are groups

emphasizing values and some foreign governments. In the latter, often the government

does not want the citizens being introduced to new ideas, which may cause discontent

and unrest in some cases. Whether the Internet should and can be censored is one debate

which affects much of the modern world. Though there are strong arguments on both

sides, by examining evidence it can be decided that there is no feasible way to regulate

the Internet at the present time in the United States.

Before any censorship can even be attempted, some serious questions must be

answered. The most important of these is “What is the Internet’s identity?” What this

means is that the type of media the Internet represents has not yet been determined. It

must be decided whether the “Net” is considered a broadcast system, which could be

subject to regulation, or a communications system like phone and mail systems, which

could not be legally regulated (Jones, 18). Additionally, values and morals must be

questioned. Many people believe that responsibility should be handled between parents

and children, not by the government. The American people and people around the world

may not be willing to hand this responsibility to politicians, who could hypothetically use

this power to their advantage in some situations. Many proponents of Internet restriction

have rallied around “community standards.” However, it should be noted that these

standards have not yet been implemented in any medium currently available, with the

exception of television (Robischon, 57). Even here, their effectiveness is the source of

fierce debate. The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently submitted a list of Internet sites

which negatively depict Latinos, Jews, Gays, and African Americans (Jones, 18).

Though such ideas may seem disgusting to many people, free speech is protected in the

Constitution, and a child with “proper” values would not be drawn to this type of site in

the first place. People, not the computers that simply relay the information are to blame

for situations such as this. Lack of understanding of the Internet is also a reason

opposition has risen, particularly within the U.S. Congress. Most senators have admitted

that they are net-illiterate (Yang, 73). This situation has caused Internet proponents to

strive towards educating Congress through use of demonstrations on the Senate floor.

Another question that must be answered is whether current obscenity laws can be applied

to the Internet. Before any action can be taken, these questions and countless others must

be answered.

Another reason the Internet is not censurable is because of its vastness. The Internet

contains chat groups and newsgroups, which are bulletin boards where individuals can

“post” messages. These messages can be read by anyone in the world and are so

numerous that they are impossible to regulate. On average, there are about 10,000 chat

groups available on each Internet service provider (James, 26). The huge number of

messages sent each day would be impossible to control and regulate by any current

means. Also, the term “indecent” has not yet been clearly defined. Because of this, there

is no way that is technologically feasible to screen for “indecency” without cutting out

legitimate speech, such as discussions about AIDS. Many values groups have

complained about how easily children can stumble across indecent material; such is not

the case. Even an expert witness from the government (which for the most part favors

censorship), said that chances are slim of somebody coming across indecent material

(Robischon, 57). The largest argument against regulation comes directly from the

Constitution. Citizens are assured of their rights to free speech and freedom of the press,

and proponents believe this should also apply to the Internet. From the viewpoint of

proponents of free speech, the Internet is seen as the biggest form of free speech in

history, and they believe that it should be protected in its infancy (Robischon, 56). At the

present time, there seem to be too many obstacles in the way of bringing censorship to

the Internet to make it effectively possible. In general, proponents of freedom of speech

have been greatly aided by the court system, which had handed down many important

decisions.

The Communications Decency Act brought about the first real attempt to regulate the

Internet. The Act, supported by the Justice Department, quickly faced opposition.

Instantly, pro-freedom of speech activists declared the Act unconstitutional. The first

major blow to the Act came on June 11, 1996, when a Philadelphia court struck down the

Act, declaring it unconstitutional (Yang, 72). Quickly thereafter, a similar ruling was

handed down in Manhattan. In July of the same year, in Shea v. Reno, the Act was

similarly struck down. The court attacked the Act, calling it “Too broad to be effective”

(Reid, 11). These court rulings stated that indecency was best addressed by teachers and

parents and that the government should not interfere. They were hailed as landmark

cases in the fight for first amendment rights. They have been called “The Times v.

Sullivan of cyberspace.” This refers to a 1964 ruling that protected the rights of

journalists (Robischon, 56).

Although there are no ways the Net is currently being regulated, operators of websites

have taken measures in an effort to please those in support of regulation. Almost all

indecent and “spicy” sites now use warning pages which warn the user that he/she must

be over 18 to access that site. Many sites have more than one of these, and most even

provide alternate links to more “friendly” pages (Robischon, 57). However, this doesn’t

prevent the person from going into the site, it merely offers a warning. It is debatable if

these pages do any good, especially with teenage users. Currently there are many filter

programs available that allow parents to designate different access levels to each child.

The major online services (i.e. America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, and The

Microsoft Network) are following this path, and allow parents to regulate each user’s

level of access. These programs often come with a list of sites that cannot be accessed

when the program is used; this list cannot be erased, only added to. They also disallow

the use of certain words in e-mail and newsgroup messages. These words are

programmed by the parent and can include the child’s name, address, and/or telephone

number. Finally, these programs can deny use of certain newsgroups. They give an

accurate example of how parents can safeguard their children without government

interference.

The question of the future of the Internet will be one to debate as we pass into the

next millennia, and will continue until an adequate means is reached. At the present, this

solution is nowhere in sight. Until further research is done and people are further

educated, censorship of the Internet cannot be achieved without limiting constitutional

guarantees.

Bibliography

Curtis, S. “Policing Cyberspace.” [Programs to block out pornography.]

Maclean’s, 19 Feb. 1996, pp. 56-7.

Dodd, J. “Who owns the Information?” PC Novice, May 1996, pp. 73-4.

Frankel, M. “Intellectual Popcorn for the Net.” The New York Times Magazine, 21 April 1996, pp. 26.

Gleick, J. “This is Sex?” The New York Times Magazine, 11 June 1995, pp. 26.

“Grappling with the Internet.” World Press Review, June 1996, pp. 14-5.

Gray, V.L. “Policing the Net.” Black Enterprise, Dec. 1996, pp. 26.

Jones, M. “Censorship in Cyberspace.” Home Office Computing, Nov. 1994, pp. 18.

Reid, C. “Supreme Court to Review.” Net anti-smut statute. Publishers Weekly, 16 Dec. 1996, pp. 11.

Robischon, N. “Software Filters: How Well Do They Work?” Time, 24 June 1996, pp. 57.

Yang, C. “Justice is Blind, but Net-Savvy.” Business Week, 1 July 1996, pp. 72+.

As the end of the twentieth century nears, a new medium and tool has emerged as the

future of communications, business, news, education, and entertainment. This tool is the

Internet, a worldwide network of computers currently connected by phone lines. While it

is still in its infancy, its power as a medium is very great, and this is being recognized

ever more frequently by the businesses and people it connects. However, it is also

abundant with information that is considered inappropriate, adult, and/or vulgar by many

people. Many social groups and politicians are alarmed at how children and teenagers

can readily access this material. Around the world, the call has gone out for restriction

and censorship of the Internet. This rally has been met with mixed results. People who

support freedom of speech on the Internet quote from the first amendment of the

Constitution. In addition, many groups are in favor of restricting the Internet, similarly to

how television is regulated in the United States. In favor of this regulation are groups

emphasizing values and some foreign governments. In the latter, often the government

does not want the citizens being introduced to new ideas, which may cause discontent

and unrest in some cases. Whether the Internet should and can be censored is one debate

which affects much of the modern world. Though there are strong arguments on both

sides, by examining evidence it can be decided that there is no feasible way to regulate

the Internet at the present time in the United States.

Before any censorship can even be attempted, some serious questions must be

answered. The most important of these is “What is the Internet’s identity?” What this

means is that the type of media the Internet represents has not yet been determined. It

must be decided whether the “Net” is considered a broadcast system, which could be

subject to regulation, or a communications system like phone and mail systems, which

could not be legally regulated (Jones, 18). Additionally, values and morals must be

questioned. Many people believe that responsibility should be handled between parents

and children, not by the government. The American people and people around the world

may not be willing to hand this responsibility to politicians, who could hypothetically use

this power to their advantage in some situations. Many proponents of Internet restriction

have rallied around “community standards.” However, it should be noted that these

standards have not yet been implemented in any medium currently available, with the

exception of television (Robischon, 57). Even here, their effectiveness is the source of

fierce debate. The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently submitted a list of Internet sites

which negatively depict Latinos, Jews, Gays, and African Americans (Jones, 18).

Though such ideas may seem disgusting to many people, free speech is protected in the

Constitution, and a child with “proper” values would not be drawn to this type of site in

the first place. People, not the computers that simply relay the information are to blame

for situations such as this. Lack of understanding of the Internet is also a reason

opposition has risen, particularly within the U.S. Congress. Most senators have admitted

that they are net-illiterate (Yang, 73). This situation has caused Internet proponents to

strive towards educating Congress through use of demonstrations on the Senate floor.

Another question that must be answered is whether current obscenity laws can be applied

to the Internet. Before any action can be taken, these questions and countless others must

be answered.

Another reason the Internet is not censurable is because of its vastness. The Internet

contains chat groups and newsgroups, which are bulletin boards where individuals can

“post” messages. These messages can be read by anyone in the world and are so

numerous that they are impossible to regulate. On average, there are about 10,000 chat

groups available on each Internet service provider (James, 26). The huge number of

messages sent each day would be impossible to control and regulate by any current

means. Also, the term “indecent” has not yet been clearly defined. Because of this, there

is no way that is technologically feasible to screen for “indecency” without cutting out

legitimate speech, such as discussions about AIDS. Many values groups have

complained about how easily children can stumble across indecent material; such is not

the case. Even an expert witness from the government (which for the most part favors

censorship), said that chances are slim of somebody coming across indecent material

(Robischon, 57). The largest argument against regulation comes directly from the

Constitution. Citizens are assured of their rights to free speech and freedom of the press,

and proponents believe this should also apply to the Internet. From the viewpoint of

proponents of free speech, the Internet is seen as the biggest form of free speech in

history, and they believe that it should be protected in its infancy (Robischon, 56). At the

present time, there seem to be too many obstacles in the way of bringing censorship to

the Internet to make it effectively possible. In general, proponents of freedom of speech

have been greatly aided by the court system, which had handed down many important

decisions.

The Communications Decency Act brought about the first real attempt to regulate the

Internet. The Act, supported by the Justice Department, quickly faced opposition.

Instantly, pro-freedom of speech activists declared the Act unconstitutional. The first

major blow to the Act came on June 11, 1996, when a Philadelphia court struck down the

Act, declaring it unconstitutional (Yang, 72). Quickly thereafter, a similar ruling was

handed down in Manhattan. In July of the same year, in Shea v. Reno, the Act was

similarly struck down. The court attacked the Act, calling it “Too broad to be effective”

(Reid, 11). These court rulings stated that indecency was best addressed by teachers and

parents and that the government should not interfere. They were hailed as landmark

cases in the fight for first amendment rights. They have been called “The Times v.

Sullivan of cyberspace.” This refers to a 1964 ruling that protected the rights of

journalists (Robischon, 56).

Although there are no ways the Net is currently being regulated, operators of websites

have taken measures in an effort to please those in support of regulation. Almost all

indecent and “spicy” sites now use warning pages which warn the user that he/she must

be over 18 to access that site. Many sites have more than one of these, and most even

provide alternate links to more “friendly” pages (Robischon, 57). However, this doesn’t

prevent the person from going into the site, it merely offers a warning. It is debatable if

these pages do any good, especially with teenage users. Currently there are many filter

programs available that allow parents to designate different access levels to each child.

The major online services (i.e. America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, and The

Microsoft Network) are following this path, and allow parents to regulate each user’s

level of access. These programs often come with a list of sites that cannot be accessed

when the program is used; this list cannot be erased, only added to. They also disallow

the use of certain words in e-mail and newsgroup messages. These words are

programmed by the parent and can include the child’s name, address, and/or telephone

number. Finally, these programs can deny use of certain newsgroups. They give an

accurate example of how parents can safeguard their children without government

interference.

The question of the future of the Internet will be one to debate as we pass into the

next millennia, and will continue until an adequate means is reached. At the present, this

solution is nowhere in sight. Until further research is done and people are further

educated, censorship of the Internet cannot be achieved without limiting constitutional

guarantees.

Bibliography

Curtis, S. “Policing Cyberspace.” [Programs to block out pornography.]

Maclean’s, 19 Feb. 1996, pp. 56-7.

Dodd, J. “Who owns the Information?” PC Novice, May 1996, pp. 73-4.

Frankel, M. “Intellectual Popcorn for the Net.” The New York Times Magazine, 21 April 1996, pp. 26.

Gleick, J. “This is Sex?” The New York Times Magazine, 11 June 1995, pp. 26.

“Grappling with the Internet.” World Press Review, June 1996, pp. 14-5.

Gray, V.L. “Policing the Net.” Black Enterprise, Dec. 1996, pp. 26.

Jones, M. “Censorship in Cyberspace.” Home Office Computing, Nov. 1994, pp. 18.

Reid, C. “Supreme Court to Review.” Net anti-smut statute. Publishers Weekly, 16 Dec. 1996, pp. 11.

Robischon, N. “Software Filters: How Well Do They Work?” Time, 24 June 1996, pp. 57.

Yang, C. “Justice is Blind, but Net-Savvy.” Business Week, 1 July 1996, pp. 72+.

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