- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

Recently, I found myself discussing with a female friend the advisability of censoring pornography on the Internet. The idea of censoring the Net comes up time and again. Her argument: Children should not be able to see grotesque porn.

Today, they sure can. Any form of porn you can possibly imagine is out there, and probably many that you can”t. Mere sadomasochism seems almost tame.

Further, you can be sure that adolescents look at whatever interests them, whether for reasons of libido or just curiosity.

One sees ads for software aimed at blocking “inappropriate content,” as for example NetNanny.com. This may work for children of 9.

In the case of boys of 15, it doesn”t even come close. They are tech-savvy, often more so than their parents. Workarounds are easy to find. There is always another computer without NetNanny.

Further, automated censorship invariably ends up blocking much that it shouldn”t. The results have been consistently absurd.

Which means the odds are that your daughter of 15 has seen things that a hardened denizen of New York”s underground wouldn”t have seen in days before the Web.

The question is what effect does the availability of this stuff have on our kids? Does it damage their psyches? Or does the young lady say, “Yuck! These people are sick,” and become bored, and listen to her IPod instead? I note that it has already had whatever effect it is going to have, because it has been out there for a decade.

Does the observable harm justify heavy-handed censorship, the only kind that might work? The question is important because of the phenomenal awkwardness and far-reaching consequences of trying to do anything about Internet porn. How do you make illegal on the Web porn that is legally sold in dirty-book stores? How do you block content on servers in foreign countries? Playboy is a mainstream magazine with real literary content. To block on the Web content legal in the magazine makes no sense.

The real problem is this: To block the huge amount of “explicit content” on thousands of servers all over the world would require a massive federal bureaucracy of censors and lawyers and prosecutors. Anonymous and inaccessible bureaucrats would decide whether a nude painting by Goya was porn. Unless the U.S. could force countries such as Japan and Thailand to outlaw what we regard as porn, all sorts of complex blocking of Internet service providers and domain names would be necessary.

With this machinery in place, you can bet that censorship would be extended to “hate sites.” This would come to mean any site the censors didn”t like.

We can all guess with perfect accuracy what that would mean. One person”s well-intentioned suggestions on a politically sensitive topic are another”s hate. Goodbye freedom of expression.

An underlying truth is that many groups, including most governments, do not really like freedom of speech.

Each will favor censorship for some admirable reason: preventing terrorism, political instability, moral decay, what have you. In sum: Do the purported benefits of reducing porn justify allowing government the power to incrementally dismember the First Amendment? You may think the government wouldn”t abuse its powers.

The authors of the Bill of Rights were less sanguine.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide