Length: 1001 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)
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Since the internet is so easy, accessible and essentially unregulated, it leaves room for many controversies, including electronic commerce, credit card fraud, invasion of privacy and more. One of the most controversial problems is internet pornography. Imagine receiving unwanted e-mail and suddenly get sent nude pictures of people and links which invite you to more of what they have already shown. Think about your son, daughter or even yourself being on a music site and you accidentally click a link and before you now it you are being subjected to hard core pornography.
It just became apparent that pornography on the net not only encompasses controversies about pornography itself, but also all the other controversies and problems the internet already has. Sex has always been something which has intrigued people, and that is probably in essence how pornography became to be. As society developed in the 21st Century red-light districts flourished which centralized anything which had to do with sex in one geographic location. As sex and pornography became a more and more pertinent issue, the supreme court ruled in 1976 that cities could use their zoning powers to keep out sex-oriented businesses, and that more or less was the end of red-light districts in America. Nowadays with the Internet coming along as a more widespread medium the issue of pornography resurfaces and along with it, it carries many other disputes.
One of the main controversies about pornography on the web is if it should be permitted in first place, since it is morally wrong to some people, and because it allows adolescents to access pornography, both willingly and unwillingly. Since there are no specific laws for the internet, a simple disclaimer is the only barrier between a user and X-rated material, in addition some pornographic sites have addresses which are similar to popular sites, such as www.whitehouse.gov (the real site) and www.whitehouse.com (the porn site), causing people to be lured to their sites through a simple misunderstanding or even a minute typing error.
Before one can come to a consensus about what is right, there has to be found a way to enforce any laws, which would be written for the Internet. This aspect is so critical, because otherwise any laws would be in vain.
If for example the US government were to prohibit all material about flowers on the web, the law would be useless since someone in the US could access such content from Holland for example, therefore unless Holland agrees with the US on its internet laws there would be no way to enforce any laws regarding the world wide web.
Once the ambiguities on how to enforce “Internet laws” have been cleared, the laws have to be written, thus in the case of pornography one has to come to a consensus about what is right and what to do. It is this aspect which causes the headaches, because when it comes to the Internet all rules change, especially when it comes to pornography on the Internet. It is discussed in the L.A. Times, how laws are written for governments which are restricted to territory, whereas territory is not defined in Cyberspace and thus “Law” becomes “irrelevant” as Lawrence Lessig, a law professor ant the University of Chicago states, and governments become undefined (3).
The controversy about pornography on the web incorporates both moral and freedom-of-speech controversies, which are both very ambivalent since they deal with feelings. For instance someone who is against pornography in “real life” is bound to be against pornography on the web, on the other hand someone who might be an advocate of freedom of speech might be for pornography in real life, but against it on the web since his children are able to see it. Consequently a double standard is created which causes even more problems.
One party such as a leader of a anti-pornography group called Enough is Enough, say that pornography has to be banned on the internet because there is too great of a risk that children can be exposed to pornography “And once they have seen it, it can never be erased from their minds.”(1). Others call it the “first free speech case of the 21st century” and think that by restricting pornography on the net “The future of the Internet is at stake…” as Jerry Berman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, states (1).
Maybe the issue shouldn’t be so black and white, maybe a compromise should be reached which neither permits nor prohibits pornography on the web, rather how access to pornography can be monitored and restricted. In that case the advocate of freedom of speech would be satisfied because it is not absolutely prohibited, and the moral advocate would be appeased because he doesn’t have to worry about people watching pornography unwillingly.
A solution has to be found in which pornography can be restricted as long as the solution doesn’t “…walk over freedom of choice” and speech (3). The Communications Decency Act, which called for a constraint on “indecent” material on the web. The CDA asked that companies only expose “indecent” material to people who are able to establish that they are 18 or older, by a credit card number for example. The CDA would have been a good solution, since it would regulate pornography just like tobacco and alcohol are confined to adults in the real world. It was declared unconstitutional though because “indecent” wasn’t defined well enough, and because it conflicted with the 1st Amendment. The CDA is a prime example of the difficulties in passing legislature for pornography on the Internet.
How one can achieve the goal of monitoring and restricting access to X-rated material on the web is a difficulty in it’s own, but it surely will cause less headaches and ambiguities than arguing about what is right and what is wrong will. And most important of all it will keep the focus on the problem and how to solve it rather than Russian roulette with human feelings.