Skip to main content

Passing the Buck on Porn

PAGE
February 9, 2018

Passing the Buck on Porn

[Originally published in Infoworld.]

 Passing the Buck on Porn
 by John Perry Barlow

Infoworld editor Bob Metcalfe recently wrote an editorial in which he claims that the Electronic Frontier Foundation "like the very many other civil liberties groups crowding opportunistically around the Internet, has thought little about decency beyond stopping Exon."

In fact, we have had considerable internal discussion and debate about how we might help prevent the Net from becoming a virtual Combat Zone. We are all uneasy with that so far unrealized possibility and have looked at ratings systems, filters, and even laws. So he is incorrect in claiming that we have given the matter little thought. But the practical realities are challenging.

For starters, there is the simple matter of enforcability. The Internet, in the words of another EFF co-founder John Gilmore, "deals with censorship as though it were a malfunction and routes around it." What is removed from one Net-connected hard disk may easily appear on another. And will.

There will always be places in the physical world where materials offensive to one or another of the world's cultures may find refuge from their police while remaining accessible to their constituents. If the government of, say, Alabama won't let me store dirty pictures on a site in that state, I can always rent space on a server in, say, Belize which would be open to world-wide access.

And it does seem there is something characteristically arrogant about the government of the United States believing it can legislate what the rest of the planet may or may not behold. It is a classic case of "Think Locally, Act Globally." Are we prepared for similar efforts on the part of the government of Saudi Arabia? Whose culture is to define planetary morality?

Furthermore, his allegation that one cannot cruise the Net without have "pornographic billboards in your face" makes me wonder what parts of the Net he's cruising. My own efforts...purely academic, of course...to find porn on the Web have largely been met with "server busy or not responding" messages every time I thought I was about to open a digital cesspool. Far from being in my face, these billboards are almost always invisible.

The reality is that children have far readier access to pornographic material at their neighborhood 7-11 than they do on the Internet. It is my perception that most kids still learn about pornography by discovering their parents' own secret caches  and distributing it among themselves, on paper, not in bits, in treehouses and not through computers. I suspect this will go on being true for some time.

I think the real issue here is responsibility. I believe that my sense of decency, and how to preserve it within a family which includes three young daughters, is a personal responsibility. Unlike many parents these days, I do not wish to pass this duty over to any institution, governmental or, as in the case of EFF, non-governmental. It's not their job. It is my own, unless I am too cowardly to assume it.

It's simple and hard. If you don't want your children fixating on filth, you'll get nowhere turning it into forbidden fruit which you can't, as a practical matter, truly forbid. Better that you step up to the tough task of raising them to find it as distasteful as you do yourself.

***

JavaScript license information