(2) Tue 4 Jul 95 14:40
By: Robin Murray-o'hair
Re: Re: Cyberporn and the Religionists
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@Date: 04 Jul 95 18:40:54 UTC
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* Date: 03 Jul 95 17:47:46
* From: Robin Murray-o'hair @ 1:382/1006
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* Forwarded by: Christopher Baker @ 1:374/14
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"CYBERPORN": LATEST TARGET FOR RELIGIONISTS?
The Religious-Conservative Crusade Against High-Tech Porn
is Really An Old Agenda With Silicon Makeup.
by Conrad F. Goeringer
"Cyberporn," computer generated or transmitted images
of "pornographic" acts, has become the latest bete noir of
religious conservatives, some liberals governmentalists, cops,
and politicians who know a good thing when they see it.
Although the audience for such materials is still
relatively small considering the membership in various on- line
services, advocates who insist on government action paint the
image of millions of vulnerable children exploring a cyberspace
infested with smut, sexually violent and explicit materials.
And as with attempts to censor or regulate printed or
video materials which are "pornographic," the latest strategy
this time directed against "cyberporn" involves appeals to fears
of child abduction or the spread of child pornography. Indeed,
the Christian Coalition's recent "Contract With the American
Family" called for "Enactment of legislation to protect children
from being exposed to pornography on the Internet" and insisted
that "Possession of child pornography should be a crime."
This week's edition of TIME MAGAZINE includes a cover
and lead article devoted to "Cyberporn." Along with abortion,
prayer in schools, and crime, "pornography" is again a hot issue,
thanks to the Internet and the growing use of personal computers.
TIME quotes from a report due for public release this
week from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, titled
"Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway." Sexually
explicit materials are "out there" in cyberspace, and there are
numerous news groups (such as alt. sex.stories or
alt.sex.bondage) devoted to various aspects of sexuality. And
there are BBSs or Bulletin Board Systems which sign-up customers
and make available graphic files which are transmitted and
downloaded with a computer and modem.
None of this, however, involves issues that don't
already apply to the printed medium of "adult" books, magazines,
or newsletters. The same pictures which can be found in sexually
explicit magazines at an adult bookstore, can be found on BBSs.
Civil libertarians note that trying to censor on-line materials
is really comparable to banning books, videos, and magazines at a
local porn shop. What's the difference?
There is also little or no good evidence to suggest
that the overwhelming number of people taking advantage of
computers and BBSs to access adult material are being coerced to
do so against their will. Pornographers are not "pushing" their
wares as with books and the slick magazines, you have to WANT to
purchase them, which is one reason why adult entertainment, even
"cyberporn," is so profitable.
By raising the specter of child pornography, "kiddie
porn," and even scenarios where children and youngsters are
"abducted" by Info Highway kidnappers, the religious
conservatives (and even some of their liberal allies) have
managed to stampede some of the public and much of Congress into
a rampage. Conservative groups such as the Family Research
Council insist that the on-line world is populated by child
molesters who, according to TIME, "represent a clear and present
danger." But according to the National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children, although there have been about a dozen
"fairly high-profile cases," kids who are not on-line (the
overwhelming percentage) are at risk in everyday situations.
Critics note that the pervasive fear of organized high-tech
pedophiles luring and abducting kids over the Internet smacks of
the late '80s hysteria about non-existent Satanic cults and
organized rings of ritual child abusers. The greatest molestation
threats still originate in the home, and of the 800,000 children
reported as missing each year in the U.S., most are lost and soon
located, or victims of abduction by non- custodial parents or
Exon To The Rescue
Unfortunately, level heads and clear thinking did not
prevail in the case of the Communications Decency Act, a creation
of Senator James Exon. Though it was termed "a frontal assault on
the First Amendment," passage of the legislation was a prime
objective for religious conservatives. It was attached to a
larger telecommunications act and passed the Senate 84-16. The
bill essentially places all computer networks and on-line
services under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications
Commission. The Internet, and the rest of the Information Super
Highway, is not treated as traditional print media, thus
eradicating numerous First Amendment barriers. That specter of
government oversight is too much even for House Speaker Newt
Gingrich, who last week said that the Exon legislation was "a
clear violation of free speech, and it's a violation of the right
of adults to communicate with each other."
The Senate bill moves to the House for debate this
month. Meanwhile, two representatives are drafting an anti- Exon
amendment "that would bar federal regulation on the Internet and
help parents find ways to block material they found
objectionable," according to TIME.
State Power, Religious Dogma
For civil libertarians, the current hysteria over
"cyberporn" is just another example of a problem blown out of
proportion for political purposes, where the solution is more
governmental and religious power. They note that computer-savvy
youngsters will roam the Internet looking for pornographic images
in much the same fashion that they have purchased or circulated
While giving the government more power over
communications, the Exon legislation also ignores deeper social
dimensions about human sexuality on or off line. As a society we
have a schizoid view of sex, one that frequently sends mixed
messages to youngsters. We advertise "swimsuit" issues of
magazines or have popular programs such as "Baywatch," but become
hysterical about nudity and sex in its more obvious forms. The
religious placebos of chastity and resistance to temptation are
either ineffective, or they can result later in life in
psychological and marital disfunction. In a culture where
youngsters are not only exposed to sex on a daily basis but are
having sexual relations at an earlier age than ten or twenty
years ago, religious programs such as "True Love Waits" that
preach restraint until marriage are unrealistic. They are
designed more for the adults promoting them than for the
youngsters at whom they are aimed.
Modern culture seems destined to suffer periodic waves
of "issue hysteria" which captivate the public imagination, and
soon dissipate. Some compare the fear of "cyberporn" to earlier
concerns about pit bulls, gangs, satanic cults, product
tampering, fluoridated water, and microwaved food. Others insist
that "cyberporn" is an issue being exploited by religious
conservatives and political elites in yet another effort to chip
away at the First Amendment.
In either case, smut on the Internet makes good copy
for politicized preachers and vote-hungry legislators.
An educational service provided by American Atheists, P O
Box 140195, Austin, TX 78714-0195, Telephone (512) 458-1244,
FAX: (512) 467-9525, BBS: (512) 302-0223, Fidonet 1:382/1006.
For information on American Atheists, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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