The Internet, Pornography, And Children Essay, Research Paper
Why should anyone be concerned about pornography on the Internet? After all, this is a
free country and everyone should have access to anything they want, right? This position would
be true if only adults used the Internet; it can not be true when children also use the Internet.
Most people would agree that children should not have access to Internet sites that are
considered pornographic. Does that mean that children should not be allowed Internet access or
that the Internet should not have pornographic sites? Of course it doesn?t mean that! What it
does mean is that the issues arising from the mixture of children and Internet should be dealt
with and not ignored.
This paper will attempt to intelligently discuss some of those issues. Areas covered will
include what the Internet is, risks to children who are viewing the Internet, what pornography is,
and laws concerning child pornography (in general and over the Internet). Additionally, the
number, content, and accessibility of pornographic sites will be discussed. Lastly, this paper will
discuss what measures can be taken to protect children from pornographic Internet sites.
What exactly is the Internet? It is a global network of computers used to transmit all
types of data between computers. Text, numbers, programs, illustrations, photographs, audio,
animation, and video can all be transmitted over the Internet. Contrary to what some people may
think, the Internet is not a single computer nor is it a single service. The Internet is not owned by
or governed by anyone. It exists solely through the support of the companies and institutions that
Though the Internet seems relatively new, its roots actually start in the 1960s. In 1969,
the Department of Defense started the ?ARPANET? project. ARPANET was a decentralized
computer network that was used to link military researchers at four universities. The Internet
later evolved out of ARPANET. Funding from the National Science Foundation in the 1980s
eventually led to the Internet being opened to commercial traffic.
Services provided over the Internet include the World Wide Web, electronic mail (the
most popular service), Newsgroups, and Chat. For one computer to communicate with another
computer on the Internet, both computers must be connected to the Internet. Connection to the
Internet can come from commercial online services or through Internet service providers.
Generally, home users connect to the Internet via the commercial online services over regular
phone lines. Some of these services include Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online.
Businesses, universities, government agencies, and the like, often have direct connection to an
Internet provider over high-speed digital lines. Some of these providers include Netcom and
The number of adults online in the United States by the end of 1998 has been estimated
as low as 44 million and as high as 80 million. 2 At the end of 1997, the number of children
online was almost 10 million. It is estimated that by the year 2002, 45 million children will be
online.3 While it is not clear how many these children have access to the Internet at home, it is
clear what percentage of them have access at school. Currently, about 81.8% of all American
schools have the Internet. It is estimated by the end of the 1998-1999 school year, about 95.9%
of all American schools will be hooked up to the Internet.4
There are risks to a child that a parent should consider before allowing the child to
access the Internet. Some of the risks include the following:
1.Exposure to material that is sexual, hateful, or violent in nature and the possible
encouragement of illegal or dangerous activities.
2.The safety of a child and/or a child?s family could be compromised by the child
providing information or arranging to meet a person they have met over the Internet.
3.A child could be exposed , through e-mail or chat/bulletin board messages, to
disturbing, demeaning, or aggressive material.
4.Legal issues resulting from a child using a parent?s credit card or violating another
Children?s access to pornography on the Internet (risk #1) is a concern of a lot of
parents. Pornography is defined as ?1.Pictures, writing, or other material that is sexually
explicit and sometimes equates sex with power and violence. 2.The presentation or production
of this material.? 6 Of course, that definition is from a standard dictionary. What is considered
pornographic usually depends on the individuals judging the material.
Child pornography is prohibited in all 50 states. The general statute states that child
pornography is comprised of the following : ? 1) The creation or reproduction of materials
depicting minors engaged in actual or simulated sexual activity (?Sexual Exploitation of
Minors?) or 2) the publication or distribution of obscene, indecent, or harmful materials to
minors.?7 These laws require the knowledge that the person in the materials and /or receiving
the material is a minor. Depending on the state, a minor is either a person under the age of 17 or
under the age of 18.
Even though the general statutes regarding child pornography would seem to already
adequately cover the Internet, the laws in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia,
Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and
Virginia go further. These laws include sections concerning the distribution of child
pornography and/or the sale of pornography to minors via computers or computer storage
devices. For example, Oklahoma prohibits minors from receiving computer transmissions of
obscene or harmful material. The law also makes it illegal for obscene or harmful materials to
be sold, distributed or displayed to minors through CD-ROMs , magnetic disks, and magnetic
Attempts have been made by the Federal government to pass laws that would deal with
the issue of children and/or Internet porn. In 1996 , the Communications Decency Act was
passed. Under this law, the distribution of indecent material on the Internet was made illegal.
Another law, the Child Online Protection Act, pertains solely to commercial Web sites and
focuses on material that could be damaging to minors. Under this law, a person could not view
online material deemed harmful to minors without first proofing his or her age. This proof
would come from the collection of a credit card number or access code. People who violate the
law could face a maximum of six months in jail and be fined 50,000 dollars. The
Communications Decency Act of 1996 was struck down in 1997 on constitutional grounds. The
Child Online Protection Act can not be currently enforced because a preliminary injunction
was issued against it on February 1, 1999.9
Two of the most popular places for pornography to appear on the Internet are the World
Wide Web and Usenet. The World Wide Web (WWW) is a worldwide system of computers
and files. Over the World Wide Web, users have access to large quantities of data. This data
comes from sources including magazine archives, public and university library resources,
current world and business news, and computer programs.10 ?Usenet is a worldwide network
of UNIX systems that has a decentralized administration and is used as a bulletin board system
by special-interest discussion groups? is considered part of the Internet ? is composed of
thousands of newsgroups, each devoted to a particular topic. Users can post messages and read
messages from others in these newsgroups in a manner similar to users on dial-in BBSs.?11
For the purpose of this paper, the number of pornographic sites discussed will only deal
with the commercial online porn industry, not any private sites that may contain pornographic
material. Currently, there are approximately 60,000 porn Web sites in the U.S.12 In 1994, of all
of the images posted on the Usenet, 83.5% was pornographic. There were over 14,000
newsgroups (bulletin boards) on Usenet. Of those, 500 boards had either a primary focus of
marketing adult pornographic material, or had adult sections that were substantial in size. While
500 adult sites out of a total of 14,000 may not seem significant, it should be known that 71%
of the pornography on Usenet came from these sites.
While not getting into overly graphic detail, the following will briefly list the four
categories that Internet pornography falls into, along with a brief description of each category:
1.Paraphilla ? enema, urination or urine, feces of defecation, bestiality, fisting, person
with breasts and penis, diapers or diapering, sadomasochism, foreign objects,
2.Pedo / hebephile- nude pictures of young children in pre-pubescence, young looking
children involved in hard-core sex acts
3.Hard-core , (non-paraphillic)- homosexual and/or heterosexual sex and /or sexual
contact between two or more people
4. Soft-core- nude or semi-nude pictures that depict none of the acts covered above
For a child to gain access to some of the pornography listed above, it only requires the
child to have a basic knowledge of how conduct a proper search. In other words, if a child
knows how to search the Web or knows how to read Usenet newsgroups, he or she can
probably find some type of pornography. This means that access, for most children wishing it,
should be relatively easy.14
What has not been discussed is how easy it is for pornography to find a child not actively
seeking it. Knowledge of adult sites can come through spamming. Spamming occurs when
hundreds of thousands of e-mail addresses or newsgroups receive the same message all at once.
Since this practice is done with no regards to the content of the message or to who receives the
message, children receive the same messages as adults.15The messages are not always clearly
marked in the subject line as being suitable for adults only. In fact, sometimes, the subject of
the message may seem innocent. For example, author Lawrence Magid?s 11-year-old son
received an e-mail with the subject ?I Need Your Vote?. This e-mail message sounded innocent
enough, but in reality, it led to a list of free adults only sites. Some of theses sites were
respectable, while others were adult sites.
Up to this point, the Internet and pornography , separately and together, have been
discussed. Some feel that, while laws are not needed to keep children safe from Internet
pornography, parents should have some other ways to protect their children from Internet
pornography. Lastly, this paper will discuss two such ways that parents can protect their
children from Internet pornography: Internet rating system/service, and monitoring and filtering
First, the use of Internet rating systems/services will be discussed. To better understand
about Internet ratings , some questions must first be answered. What exactly is a rating service?
A rating service can be person, group, organization, or company that provides content labels for
information on the Internet .What?s the difference between a rating service and a rating system?
A rating system is the actual process used for evaluating the information. A rating system
usually has of one or more categories that is used to evaluate the data. So, a rating service
would use a rating system to evaluate content.
Now that the difference between an Internet rating service and rating system is known, one
last question must be answered: what is a content label? A content label is a data structure that
contains the information about a document?s content. This label may be with the document it
describes or be available by itself.
One of the tools used to implement rating systems is PICS. PICS stands for Platform for
Internet Content Selection. While not a rating system, PICS is actually a framework for rating
systems. It is general purpose and can be tailored to control many types of content. Not only
could the sexual content of a document be rated, but practically any other kind of content could
also be rated. For example, PICS could be used to rate the amount of hate speech that is
contained in a document. 16
PICS is currently being used by some Internet rating services. One of these services is called
SafeSurf. It is a parents? organization that has created a self-rating system .SafeSurf has many
different rating categories. The SafeSurf Identification Standard is recognized by the SafeSurf
Wave( SS~~). SafeSurf has the following ratings categories that could apply to pornography:
age range (SS~~000), profanity (SS~~001), heterosexual themes (SS~~002), homosexual
themes (SS~~003), nudity (SS~~004),and sex, violence, profanity (SS~~006).
Each of these categories have values of 1 to 9. For example, the category age range has the
following values and labels: value 1 ? all ages, value 2 – older children , value 3 – younger teens,
value 4- older teens, value 5 – adult supervision recommended, value 6- adults, value 7- limited
to adults, value 8 – adults only, and value 9? explicitly for adults. For the other categories, the
higher the value, the worse the rated content is.
A content label in SafeSurf can identify all of the adult themes that a site may have. The
following is an example of a SafeSurf content label that would appear before or within the