[This was originally published on attrition.org.]
This letter is in response to your recent article titled ‘No Place for Kids?’ and the ‘smut’ infesting the internet.
Overall, this article seemed to be thrown together based more on rumors, and word of mouth rather than fact. Due to the lack of research on this piece, to any experienced net denizen, this article seemed more unfounded bias rather than an objective look at a potentially real problem.
In the first part of the article, you keep referring to ‘the net’ but refer back to AOL. America Online is a very small part of the net, and if you ask any veteran to the net, you will find it is an unwelcomed addition as well. Your description of Unix as ‘notoriously arcane computer language’ is more than ‘inaccurate’ to say the least. Unix (there are several different versions) is a very powerful operating system that can provide power Windows (even Windows95) has never seen. Just because there is no mouse to point and click with, does not mean it is cryptic, inferior, or ‘less’ in any way. Rather than insult the operating system, insult the users of the ‘pretty icons’ who take no time to learn what they are using.
Not only do they take no time to learn the system they own and use daily, they take no time to learn anything about the net. Senator Exon is not wrong by any means. Yes, pornographic material does exist on the net, and is available to anyone who seeks it out. Your article seems to imply that removing this ‘sleaze’ from the net would be the answer. The logic behind that statement is weak in more than one way. First, the internet is not an American network. Even if you could magically remove all porn from American sites, you still have to contend with foreign sites. Second, if you remove it from American sites, you would then have to monitor over 10,000 newsgroups, private email, every FTP site, as well as thousands of private machines with open telnet access. I don’t believe that is a feasible option, not even for all of our wonderful agencies that would love to be part of the intrusion into net life.
Your article goes on to portray that online sex, and problems with sexual harassment are much more frequent than in the real world. In today’s times, this seems to be quite the opposite. According to the article, it seems that the writer is implying that kids run across this overly sexual content on a minute by minute basis. The current set up of the net makes it essential that a person knowingly and actively seeks out porn or other undesirable material. If you wish to find obscene gifs, you must actively FTP around to find them. If you wish to read about sex, you must find the UseNet groups, and read them. If a parent is worried about the content of the net, then a single standing warning of ‘The internet contains material which may be unsuitable to young kids’. This would place responsibility on the parents, where it should lie, not with the other millions of users who have a fundamental and legitimate reason to be on the net.
Please explore the net before you too join Mr. Exon in banning drastic parts of the net. Don’t make it illegal to practice your first amendment rights. And finally, please don’t print propaganda like this
article without first obtaining facts, rather than unfounded rumors.