Ma and Pa are gone. Little sister is sleeping. It is the perfect time for Johnny to sneak into Pa's office, turn on the Gateway 2000, and go online. Johnny types in an address of an XXX-rated site, filled with candid pictures and begins to pervert his youthful mind. Sounds scary? But hallelujah! There are people, among them congressmen, eager to protect little Johnny from the moral degradation! To eliminate the threat, they do something that, I believe, the military calls "defense by charging." They simply want to prohibit those XXX-sites altogether. Simple and easy.
However, there is a problem. They are actually too practical. They forgot the original intent of the Constitution. Granted, the notorious XXX site is not exactly my favorite one on the Internet. I do not respect these people who created it and make their living selling online pornography. However, the site still enjoys the protection of the Constitution. Our practical congressmen do not seem to remember that. The Communication Decency Act they passed last year is still a burning topic.
It's not only unconstitutional, it's simply illogical and foolish. It attempts to censor the display of nudity on the Net. Well, then, we can wave farewell not only to the above-mentioned XXX-site, but also online reproductions of paintings by Rafael or Picasso. And sites containing sexual education information about how to protect yourself from AIDS or understand problems children go through during adolescence would all be forced to disappear. Most certainly, censorship would cause more harm than good to the society. What is decency, after all? The Internet is a global medium - how can someone simultaneously define decency in a way acceptable both to a Hindu, American, Chinese and Spaniard?
In an attempt to prove the "constitutionality" of the act, its supporters like to compare the Internet to television. There is no pornography on TV, why should there be any on the Internet? Very simple: these two mediums are very different. Both have a screen and can be accessed at home, but here the similarities end. We cannot control what is being shown on TV. However, we can decide what material we receive on the Internet. It is simple arithmetic: how many channels does a TV have? Usually not more than thirty. How many "channels" does the Internet have? Several hundred thousands. How great is the possibility of me or Johnny "stumbling over" a sexually explicit site? Count for yourself.
Of course, in my example Johnny finds the site. But he could hardly have found it by accident. Does it make the Internet worth censoring? No. But suppose, instead, little Johnny does not go to Pa's office. Rather, he goes into his parents' bedroom and finds an issue of Playboy or Penthouse hidden in a dresser. Would it be reason enough to prohibit erotic magazines or would it rather be a reason for the parents to keep such materials away from the child?
Most of the sexually explicit sites already ask users for a confirmation of their legal age and require a credit card for subscription payments. Filtering systems, supervising children while they are using the Internet, and especially passwords can keep their Johnnies away from smut in cyberspace without sacrificing their constitutional rights. At least 20 different filtering systems, (such as Surf-Watch, NetNanny or Cybersitter) are now available on the market. Admittedly, they are not perfect, but what is perfect under the sky? The Internet is a very new medium.
The greatest privilege we have in a democracy is that we can make our own decisions. Of course, there are certain issues we need the government for, but we have to keep in mind that the government is our servant. By passing the Communication Decency Act, the Congress tried to give the government the power we never intended it to have. We did not give it the right to take our place in our families and bring up our children. It is the responsibility of parents, not of the government, to protect children from the sexually offensive material on the Net.
The Internet is the freest medium we have ever had. It has the power to bring many different viewpoints. Censoring the Net is limiting. We have to protect our Johnnies from perversion of the XXX-site. But it is also our responsibility to preserve the most precious thing we have in
a democracy, freedom of
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.