Volume 93, Issue 84

Thursday, March 9, 2000


Trying to police pornography on the internet

Trying to police pornography on the internet

Graphic by Colin Butler

By Molly Duignan and Becky Somerville
Gazette Staff

Once a taboo subject confined to the closed doors of one's bedroom or a private peep show, pornography has woven itself into the mainstream.

The World Wide Web has acted as a catalyst for the popularization of porn, which has made sexual material available to virtually anyone. Questions of censorship, responsibility and the societal impacts of accessibility are logical concerns which have risen on account of this popularity.

The influx of porn on the internet, as well as the popularity of pornographic sites, is due in part to the anonymous nature of the internet, explained Lynne McKechnie, associate professor in Western's faculty of Information and Media Studies. "Although there have always been adult video and book stores, the internet allows for free, anonymous browsing in the comfort of your own home. Porn is certainly more abundant in recent times, but it's really only discovered by accident."

The internet is a medium of communication and networking, a constant flow of information that shouldn't necessarily be filtered, McKechnie said. Looking at porn should be a personal choice and people have a right to access what they want on public servers, she added.

"We stumble upon pornography when innocently searching the internet. Sometimes you can't help what you find, but if you're not comfortable looking at pornography, then don't," McKechnie said. There's nothing forcing web surfers to enter a particular site, she added.

"If we subscribe to filtering software, although you will rid your search results of sites containing words like 'breast,' at the same time you may lose access to valuable web sites that happen to contain target words," she said.

Censorship is just another instance of the public conforming to someone else's standards, she said, adding these standards should be established independently.

"Parents should be the ones to restrict what kids are searching for on the internet. To save your children from inappropriate exposure, adult guidance is needed, but not necessarily official internet censorship."

Ken Campbell, president of K.K. Campbell Internet Consulting, said sexual material has always been propagated by new media, however, the internet is especially powerful because it disseminates information worldwide.

On account of its pervasiveness, Campbell said the internet is difficult to police. "We have to police ourselves. It's a control issue and the main thing you have to recognize is that you can't control it."

Assistant professor of Women's Studies at King's College, Joan Mason-Grant, explained curiosity is what leads people to look to the internet for porn. "Censorship won't stop people from looking at pornography. We can't deal with these issues by sticking our heads into the sand collectively.

"Although sexuality is everywhere and all around us, sex continues to be a repressed topic that we don't talk openly about. Poor sex education has led people to look to learn about sex via the internet. If we would just address questionable issues like sex openly, then perhaps pornography wouldn't be such a curious subject," she said.

Mason-Grant added the proliferation of internet pornography may be good for many sexual minority groups, as it provided an opportunity to access alternative porn which may be otherwise unavailable. "Prohibition or censorship of anything leads to an increased interest in the banned material as well as exclusion of certain beliefs, standards or morals that may not necessarily be the majority," she said.

"Porn has become a main educator of young people, but is a very visualist form. This means that all interactions with pornography are two-dimensional and the accessibility of these interactions takes away from people's need to engage with real people with real desires and needs. Thus, a generalization occurs in young people that all sexual interactions will be like those seen in porn," Mason-Grant said, adding this leads to the critical aspects of sexuality being bypassed by learning.

Terry Hale, president of Family Safe Media, a software company which sells media filtering devices to parents who are concerned about the influence of media technology on children, said it should be mandatory for parents to censor the internet. "It would become neglect if [a parent] didn't censor," Hale said. "Parents should be concerned and conscious of the media a child consumes."

Hale said although both adults and children are barraged with sexual material on the web, some parents still see inherent value in the internet as a resource. "They want to curb [internet content] and make it representative of their family values."

It is very easy for children to access pornography on the internet, Hale said, however parents recognize that filters may not necessarily completely alleviate the forces of pornography on their children. "If a kid wants to do something, they will, but parents don't have to make it easy for them."

Chris Scatliff, chair of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, said there was no doubt a significant proportion of the messages on the web were adult-oriented. The future is promising, however, because of new technologies such as virtual private networks which allow users to accept or exclude material based on content, he added.

Nevertheless, Scatliff said, due to its pervasive nature, the internet should be filtered and personally monitored. "It's absolutely advisable and critical that for home and business use, people need to be aware of how the internet is being used."

"Internet porn needs to be analyzed within a larger context. Sexuality is a major part of all human life but can also be a vehicle for violence, subordination, sexism and racism. Our worry should be that porn is contributing to this. Censorship is only avoiding the issues and concerns involved in sex," Mason-Grant said, adding proper sexual education will help reduce youth curiosity and therefore reduce the popularity of internet porn.

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