Pornography on the Internet, Freedom of Press or Dangerous Influence?

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 1997

download word file, 8 pages 4.3

The topic of pornography is controversial many times because of the various definitions which each have different contexts. Is it nudity, sexual intercourse, art, or all of these? Is it magazines, videos, or pictures? For the purposes of this paper, pornography will be defined as any material that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement. With all of the arguments presented in this paper, it seems only a vague definition of this type can be applicable to all views on the subject. Pornography on the Internet has brought about difficulties pertaining to censorship. All of the arguments in this paper can be divided into one of two categories: those whose aim is to allow for an uncensored Internet, and those who wish to completely eliminate pornography from the Internet all together.

All arguments for an uncensored Internet all cite the basic rights of free speech and press.

While arguments in this paper are international, almost everyone of them cites the First Amendment of the United States. In many of the papers it is implied that the United States sets precedent for the rest of the world as far as laws governing the global world of the Internet. Paul F. Burton, an Information Science professor and researcher, gives many statistics showing that presence of pornography on the Internet is not necessarily a bad thing. He gives one example that shows that '47% of the 11,000' most popular searches on the Internet are targeted to pornography. This fact shows that pornography has given the Internet approximately half of its clientele (2). Without this, the Internet would hardly be the global market that it is today. Most on the Internet are not merely the for pornography either. It is just a part-time activity while not attending to serious matters.

At another point in his paper, Burton cites reasons why the Internet is treated differently than other forms of media. The privacy of accessibility is a factor that allows many people to explore pornography without the embarrassment of having to go to a store and buy it. The fact that anybody, including children of unwatchful parents, may access the material. However, Burton believes that these pornographic web sites must be treated the same way as pornographic magazines or videos.

One fear of many people is that children will happen across pornography, but as Burton writes in his paper, the odds of someone not looking pornography and finding it are 'worse than 70,000:1' (Holderness in Burton 2). Even if a child were to accidentally find an adult site, he or she would most likely see a 'cover page' (See Figure 1). These cover pages, found on approximately 70% of adult sites, all have a lot of law jargon that summed up says, 'if you are not of age, leave.' This cover page will not stop children in search of pornography because all that is required is a click on an 'enter' button and one can access the site. Adult verification systems, such as Adult Check and Adult Pass, have been very effective in governing access to these site, but with only 11% of adult sites having a verification of this nature, this system does not seem realistic. Another method of controlling access is use of a credit card number to verify age. This method opens many doors for criminals wishing to obtain these numbers for unlawful use.

According to Yaman Akdeniz, a Ph.D. researcher at the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Leeds, pornography is not as wide spread as some governments would have us believe. With a total of 14,000 Usernet discussion groups (a place where messages are posted about specific topics), only 200 of them are sexually related. Furthermore, approximately half are related to serious sexual topics, such as abuse or rape recovery groups. Akdeniz also makes the point that '[t]he Internet is a complex, anarchich, and multi-national environment where old concepts of regulation...may not be easily applicable...' (15).

This makes a very interesting case about there general nature of the Internet. It is the first electornic media source that is entirely global, and although some countries will and have tried to regulate it, there is no way to mesh what every country does to control the Internet. Germany made an attempt at regulating the Internet within their country, however, the aim was not only to ban pornography but also to ban anti-Semitic newsgroups and web sites. Prodigy, a global network server, helped the German government by blocking these Web sites. When Prodigy was pressured by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Prodigy stopped blocking these Web site, and there was nothing Germany could do.

This just shows the 'power' that the United States holds over the Internet. Two reasons account for this 'power.' First, 60% of all the information comes from the U.S., and secondly, the U.S. has set up most global laws and regulations. Almost every article pertaining to the Internet freedom or censorship cites the U.S. and bases arguments on the First Amendment. With this precedent setting responsibility, one must look at what is going on in the Supreme Court with regards to the Internet.

Peter H. Lewis, a reporter for the New York Times, has been covering the Computer Decency Act since passing of the law. The Computer Decency Act, part of the Telecommunications Act, was passed on February 8, 1996. The main purpose of this section was to halt the 'flow of pornography and other objectionable material on the Internet...' (1). This section, however, was declared unconstitutional by a panel of the Supreme Court in June 1996. This overturn caused an uproar among the anti-pornography groups in the United States. The case will be heard once again in June 1997 to ensure that there were First Amendment rights being violated. Judge Stewart R Dalzell, a member of the Supreme Court panel, stated that, 'Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects.' (Lewis, Judges 1). According to Lewis' next article, no one will be prosecuted under the Internet section of this law until it is constitutionally determined. So as of right now, there is no fear of prosecution for pornographers (Lewis, Federal 1)

Maria Semineno, a writer for PCWeek, reported on free speech advocates reations to the overturning of the CDA. Jerry Berman, executive director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, stated that, '[i]t is very clear that Congress is not going to let this alone....' Berman made this statement aluding to the make up of the Supreme Court and what will happen in June of 1997 when the decision is reevaluated. It is argued that the Supreme Court is much divided on the subject of free speech, and therefore, the decision in 1997 will depend upon the panel presiding. When the decision is made it will make one side of the debate triumphant, and the other fighting for their beliefs.

Those who view that pornography should be wiped off the Internet entirely site many different reasons. One highly recognized group, the Family Research Council, has determined that pornography on the Internet is harmful to all individuals and concludes that the only way to stop this is to ban pornography, in all it's forms, on the Internet. The FRC categorizes pornography as follows:

...images of soft-core nudity, hard-core sex acts, anal sex, bestiality &dominion, sado- masochism (including actual torture and mutilation, usually of women, for sexual pleasure), scatological acts (defecating and urinating, usually on women, for sexual pleasure), fetishes, and child pornography. Additionally there is textual pornography including detailed stories of rape, mutilation, torture of women, sexual abuse of children, graphic incest, etc ('Computer' 1)

In addition to categorizing pornography, the FRC goes on to address questions pertaining to Internet pornography. One question asked is, 'IS THE ON-LINE COMMUNITY AGAINST PROPOSALS FOR 'DECENCY' ON THE INTERNET?' The answer provided was no and that of the 20 million people on the Internet (an out-dated figure), only 2 percent opposed censorship. However, no citation for this figure was provided ('Computer' 2).

The FRC article then goes on to discuss the the main arguments against banning pornography. The article poses the question of possible loss of works of art because of banning. It goes on to cite the 'official' definition by the Supreme Court of obscenity, that any object having artistic, educational, or moral value shall not be censored. The article next discusses 'technological fixes,' such as SurfWatch and NetNanny, that could possibly control pornography from in the home. It gives three points against this method: children can use other computers, children know more about computers that most parents, and people who distribute pornography have no legal reasons not to target children with pornography ('Computer' 2). Cathleen A. Cleaver, head of legal studies for the FRC, backed the Communications Deceny Act. When was overturned, she stated her concerns that not only was the broader sections of the law overturned, '...but also the part that made it illegal to transmit pornography directly to specific children.' (Lewis 2). With this section omitted, pornographers may lure children without fearing any repercussions from the law. Although this is the FRC's main concern, they are still fighting for a total ban of pornography on the Internet.

Dr Victor B. Cline, a psychotherapist specializing in sexual addiction, argues that massive exposure, such as with the Internet, will cause irrepairalbe damage to society. Cline states that pornography, for all intents and purposes, should be treated as a drug. Cline has treated 350 people with this sexual illness and reports that, '[o]nce involved in pornographic materials, they kept coming back for more.' Cline suggests that with availability of pornography reaching these great proportions, that we can expect to see an increase in sexual deviance and sexual illness (Cline 4).

Cline next goes on to explain the steps an addict goes through to becoming a sexual deviant. First the person becomes addicted. Secondly, there is an 'escalation' of the addiction in which the person becomes engulfed in pornography, even to the point of prefering masturbation to pornography over actual sexual contact. Third, there is a process of 'desensitization' which allows acceptance of horrific sexual acts as the norm. Fourth is the 'acting out sexually' phase in which a person no longer achieves the satisfaction from the pornography, and in turn, acts upon fantasies, usually based on pornography. Cline's main concern is that with the ease of availability of this type of material, more examples of sexual addiction will occur, not only with adults, but also children will be able to 'start out' at an early age (Cline 4-5). This fear is substantiated with the number of pornographic sites with ease of accessibility.

With all sides of this issue having their separate reasons to either keep or ban pornography, each makes their case with facts. Pornography is an issue that is difficult to take a side on. People for pornography, or against censorship, state that there is no real reason for this ban. They cite that with of the parental controls and attempts to keep pornography from children are good enough reasons to allow for pornography. However, anti-pornography groups argue that not enough is being done to keep pornography from children, and furthermore, that pornography affects adults just as much as it does children. The issue of pornography is just as controversial as the abortion debate and very similar in many respects. Both sides have strong feelings on what definitions are used, what is morally correct, and the causality of pornography. There is no clear-cut answer, however, it is now up to the U.S. government to make a decision and set precedent for the rest of the world.

Works Cited

Akdeniz, Yaman. 'The Regulation of Pornography and Child Pornography on the Internet.' Online. World Wide Web. 4 March 1997.

Burton, Paul F. 'Content on the Internet: Free or Fettered?' (20 Feb. 1996). Online. World Wide Web. 21 Feb. 1997.

'Computer Pornography Questions and Answers.' (8 Nov. 1996). Online. World Wide Web. 8 Mar. 1997.

Lewis, Peter H. 'Judge Turn Back Law Intended to Regulate Internet Decency.' (13 June 1996). Online. America Online. The New York Times Archive. 12 March 1997.

---. 'Federal Judge Block Enforcement of CDA..' (16 Feb 1996). Online. America Online. The New York Times Archive. 12 March 1997.

Semineno, Maria. 'Free speech advocates: CDA fight might not end with Supreme Court.' Online. World Wide Web. 23 Feb. 1997.