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Internet Censorship 4 Essay, Research Paper

Internet Censorship

The capacity of the information superhighway has exploded in the recent years. It encompasses the east and the west, the land and the sea, and anything our human mind could dream of. This is a good thing, right? With the knowledge of the world just on one s fingertips, it must be good, right? Sure, if it is used the right way. A saying goes like this, Too much of a good thing is bad. It is true. The Internet does accommodate a lot of information. In a way, it has too much information. The Internet contains certain information that we DON T want minors to have access of. Some of these unwanted information might be pornography, gambling, and some sensitive issues like homosexuality. So what do we do about the stuff that we don t minors to see? Do we just make some law and erase it from our precious Internet? No. First of all, this would be impossible to do because there is just too much unwanted information. Second of all, this would defeat the purpose of the Internet. In the article The Online Cooperative Publishing Act, it called the Internet the manifestation of humankind s quest for limitless two-way interaction with thought ( Cooperative internet). Since there is a vague line of what is appropriate and what isn t, why should there be a straight-cut line of what things should be banned on the Internet. There should be a loose regulation on the content of the Internet that would encourage more interaction with this wonderful tool. Instead of the government dictating what minors should see, parents and teachers should be the ones stepping up and TEACHING minors what s right and what s wrong. To maximize the productivity of the Internet, there must be a balance of restriction and freedom. When that balance is reached, the Internet will fully flourish.

Why should we protect the Internet? Why should we protect all those pornographic websites? you might ask. The Internet is a wonderful thing. Even the heads of our nation, the President and Vice President, believe that the Internet is a powerful educational tool for our children ( Family internet). It should not be viewed as an evil thing. Its unique ability to link the world s knowledge together fulfills any researcher s dream. There is no more need to visit dozens of libraries to find everything one needs. Everything is at one s fingertips. Without a doubt, little kids wouldn t need the Internet to do research; they don t have any research paper due. One mustn t forget the Internet is not just for research academically. It could be used to research recreationally. One can research on topic of his interest. A teen male can research about cars. A mom can research on recipes. And a little kid can research on his favorite Disney character. Because of the Internet, a kid can do a lot more things kids before didn t have the privilege of. A kid can know anything and everything around the world, and even out of this world, without leaving the comfort of his home. Anything, anything at all. If the Internet is censored, a large amount of these wonderful knowledge will not be accessible anymore. Although censorship does not mean a complete ban, there is no measure at the present that can effectively restrict access and still not block out good website. According to a study done by Electronic Privacy Information Center, the filtering programs block 95-99 percent of the material available on the Internet that might be of interest to young people ( Faulty internet). I am not defending the protection of pornographic websites. Neither am I advocating an easier access to pornography. I just want to point out the fact that websites dedicated to pornography is only a very small percentage of the Internet. If we use the inefficient censorship products out there, we will miss out a lot of the goods that the Internet has to offer. The Supreme Court believes the same. When the Supreme Court struck down the Communication Decency Act in 1996, it found that the interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship ( Faulty internet). So, should we sacrifice all the goods that the Internet could offer for those measly pornography websites?

The Supreme Court shared the same vision for an uncensored Internet when it struck down the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that outlawed indecent communications online. In the ruling, it declared the Internet a free speech zone. The Internet deserves of at least as much First Amendment protection as that given to books, newspapers, and magazines. The government, the Court said, has no more right to restrict a person s access to words or images on the Internet than to snatch a book out of a reader s hands in the library, or to cover over a statue of a nude in a museum. The Supreme Court cited that the Internet is the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, thus entitled to the highest protection from governmental intrusion ( Censorship internet). The nine Justices concluded saying that The Internet is like a vast library including millions of readily available and indexed publications, the content of which is as diverse as human thought ( Censorship internet).

Indecency is protected by the constitution; obscenity is not. What is the difference? Back in 1885, a person got his phone service terminated because he used the word damn at the operator. Now days, obscenity on the Internet can make Playboy look tame. As one can see the definition of obscenity obviously differs. In 1973, the Supreme Court announced that the difference between the two would be determined by contemporary community standards ( Smut Ebscohost). That law is vague. There are no clear-cut lines of what is obscene and what is not. The vagueness makes it hard to enforce certain laws because no one can really pin point what are the contemporary community standards. Also because of that fact, one can always argue that something is within contemporary community standards. Basically, the law on obscenity had rendered itself useless because of its arbitrary nature.

The Internet is different than any other technology out there. Sure the Internet s accessibility is growing by the day, it is still not as accessible as TVs and radios. If there were obscene talking on the radio, anyone anywhere anytime can accidentally tune to it. Unlike the widely accessible radio, people don t inadvertently tune in to alt.sex.pedophile while driving to a Sunday picnic with Aunt Gwendolyn ( Smut Ebscohost). One court ruled that if an individual who voluntarily opens his door and allows a pig into his parlor is in a less of a position to squeal ( Smut Ebscohost). However, most people, most of the time, will want to keep the pigs out of their own private space. One wouldn t want someone else to barge into one s room and mess it up, right?

Despite all the reasons why the Internet should not be censored, a concern for its dangers is still expected. Similar reactions can be seen in the past with radios and printing press. They both had their share of time under the spotlight. However, the Internet should not and could not be treated the same way. The Internet is in no way similar to radios and printing presses. First of all, it will not be easy to control the Internet. A longtime privacy activist, Jerry Berman, points out the Internet s decentralized character, its transparent extension to overseas users and services, and the fact that it is difficult to impose rules and laws in cyberspace ( Chapman internet). Different countries have different laws. Since different countries have different laws, internet service providers from different countries have different policies. Because of that, it will be hard to come up with a universal standard for the Internet. And enforcing that standard will be a different story on its own. The laws concerning decency are only as good as those who are willing to abide by them ( Grossman internet).

There have been a lot of attempts to censor the Internet. There has been an attempt to make censorship on the Internet a law, as a part of the telecommunications bill, Communications Decency Act, shortened as CDA. CDA would have made it a crime to post anything on the internet that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs ( Grossman internet). Also caught up in the internet-censorship-fervor are the software companies. Almost overnight, many companies sprang up providing parents and libraries programs that promised to filter out all the inappropriate materials on the Internet. Branched out from the filter programs are filter search engines. Basically, it is a same old search engine that puts its results through the filter engines. Another attempt to censor the Internet is made by companies that attempted to rate every website on the homepage. They are independent companies that visit each website and give it a rating. All of the attempts to censor the Internet had been ineffective.

All of the past actions about Internet censorship have been, more or less, failures. The filter programs have failed to truly filter out the unwanted. It is like using mesh wires to filter out basketballs. Not only do you filter out the basketballs, you also filter out the tennis balls and golf balls. The filter programs filters by two ways: searching for keywords or blocking a list of websites previously reviewed by someone as inappropriate. When the filter program filter out websites by keyword, they also filter out a lot of appropriate and possibly useful information. For example, a website containing information about breast cancer would be blocked out because it contained the word breast. Same result would happen with a website containing a recipe for chicken breast. When the filter program uses the pre-made list to block out, it is very accurate because someone has already reviewed the website, and would not confuse a website about breast cancer with a breast fetish website. However, there are two downfalls to the method. First, there is just too many websites to review. There are literally billions of websites out there and millions of new ones being made everyday. If a staff of a thousand people reviewed day and night for a year, they still wouldn t have gotten close to reviewing all the websites. Second, unlike books and magazines, Internet websites come and go on a snap of a finger. It doesn t take long to create a homepage, neither does relocating it. The second a new list of banned website is released, it is already obsolete. Since the so-called family-friendly search engines are based on the same inefficient filter programs, they are also inefficient. Only a very small fraction of the Internet contains inappropriate material, however, the inefficient family-friendly search engines filters out around 95% of the Internet ( Faulty internet). Even when Dr. Suess was searched, most of the websites were blocked. 2630 of the 2638 websites found in a normal search engine was blocked ( Faulty internet). It is a fact that pornography websites tend to link themselves all over the search engine to attract the most customers. But do they really link themselves to 99.7% of a Dr. Suess search ( Faulty internet)? Even after they wiped out 99.7% of the search result, one of the eight that wasn t blocked was an inappropriate website ( Faulty internet). It was a parody of a Dr. Suess story using details from the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson ( Faulty internet). The companies that tried to set up a rating system have yet to succeed either. The companies have yet created an universal standard for the ratings. What the Internet surfers are complaining is that the rating system right now is very arbitrary, so it is not fair. They can choose to censor out anything on the Internet at their will. The attempt to make an Internet censorship law has also failed. The CDA has been struck down in the Supreme Court in the case of Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union. The judge for that case pointed out the libraries had originally provided unfiltered Internet then had taken action to limit the access of the Internet. The result was similar to a collection of encyclopedias from which defendants have laboriously redacted portions deemed unfit for library patrons ( Just Ebscohost). These unproductive attempts are not simply unproductive. They are dangerous. They are dangerous because people using these filtering methods will think they are safe from all the inappropriate materials. They are not. Those methods are not 100% proof. Since all the past actions have been unproductive, new, productive actions must be taken.

We must realize that the past measures are ineffective and they are not the way to go. The only way to permit the Internet to continue flourishing and still keep the inappropriate materials from manipulating the minds of our youth is to educate our youth. Parents and educators must accept that the Internet is not a wholly safe environment and take the effort to teach the kids how to evaluate the material they find online and how to protect themselves skills they need to face this new era we are inventing daily ( Grossman internet). We don t need parents to supervise what their children surf 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can t, anyway. It is simply not possible. What we need is for parents to teach their children about internet. Parents would emphasize the dangers of disclosing personally identifiable information ( Censorship internet) and also warn and prepare their children for what they might encounter on the Internet. This way parents won t need to supervise 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Besides, think for a second, if a parent gives a child a gun, and the child gets injured, is it the fault of the fun manufacturer or the parent? So instead of hiding the gun that the child is bond to find one day, let s teach the child about the gun.

Educators, especially, can take a step forward and develop a program similar to Driver s Ed. Just like Driver s Ed, it will be treated as a regular requirement class for graduation. This extra class should not interfere much with the academic classes because it is just ONE class. Plus, the things children acquire in that class might very well be more useful in their lives than a class like calculus, which is hardly used in real life. In the Internet Ed class, minors will be taught similar things as what the parents should be teaching: how to judge the material they find online and manage it accordingly. Thus, not only will the inappropriate materials on the Internet not influence the minors; they will also maximize their time spent on the Internet because of the skills acquired in the Internet Ed. Sooner or later, the children will grow up and graduate to the real world, where people don t use blocking software. Such Internet Ed will continue to help them after they moved away from the class, unlike the results of using blocking software. This is an important issue. We must not blindly trust a 30-dollar program. We must take this matter within our own hands to make things right.

Sure, the Internet contains pornography, violence, and all sorts of other bad stuff, we all know that, but we also know that the Internet is not the only media that contains those materials. Why should the Internet be the scapegoat? No, banning pornography would not hurt the Internet. However, blocking software, family-friendly search engines are not the solution; they are part of the problem. They do more harm than benefit by restricting access to the fruits of the Internet. Relying on restrictive software will not teach any critical thinking skills. The real solution is to educate our children. Educating the children, giving them the critical thinking skills will not only help them through the technological era they grew up in, but help them to be successful in the future. Without freedom on the Internet, the wonderful tool will be diminished to nothing more than a souped-up, G-rated television network ( Censorship internet). Is pornography really a threat to children? Children have looked at nude bodies for millions of years. In fact, it could be argued that it might be harmful for children NOT to look at adult sexual practices, because whatever they will imagine instead is probably worse and most certainly will serve them less well when they grow up ( Grossman internet). Instead of restricting the Internet, the government should encourage the growth of the Internet. One must keep in mind, Censorship, like poison gas, can be highly effective when the wind is blowing the right way. But the wind has a way of shifting, and sooner or later, it blows back upon the user ( Censorship internet).

Work Cited

Censorship in a Box. Online Posting. ACLU: American Civil Liberties Union. 8 July 1999


Chapman, Gary. Chapman: Privacy Matters. 24 December 1998. Online Posting.

IntellectualCapital.com. 15 July 1999


Dority, Barbara. Filtering: Just Another Form of Censorship. Humanist.

March/April 1999: 2p. Ebscohost . 14 July 1999.

Family Friendly Internet. Online Posting. Welcome To The White House. 8 July 1999


Faulty Filters: How Content Filters Block Access to Kid-Friendly Information on the Internet.

December 1997. Online Posting. Electronic Privacy Information Center. 8 July 1999


Grossman, Wendy. Grossman: The Decency Battle, Round II. 24 December 1998. Online

Posting. IntellectualCapital.com. 15 July 1999


Huber, Peter. Electronic Smut. Forbes. 31 July 1995: 1p. Ebscohost

. 7 July 1999.

The Online Cooperative Publishing Act. Online Posting. Safesurf Making the Net Safe. 8

July 1999 .


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