by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
June 21, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt., June 21, 2001 -- What is the biggest threat to children on the Internet? Of the more than 39,000 Netscape users who voted on that question on Wednesday, 45 percent said the biggest threat by far was sexual predators. Porn was considered a bigger threat by 26 percent, hate sites by16 percent, violence by 7 percent, and "other" by 6 percent.
Sadly, interfering with children's freedom of speech and restricting their freedom to think weren't even on the ballot.
Netscape's survey was in response to an Associated Press story about a survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center.
The survey found that 19 percent of a sample of 1,501 Internet users - children ages 10-17, who went on-line at least once a month in the preceding six months - "reported receiving at least one unwanted sexual solicitation within the previous year, with a quarter of them saying they were distressed by the incidents."
I'm not advocating for children to have access to porn, and I agree that a small number of sexual predators do lurk out there. But I also believe this survey is just one more scare-tool for control freaks who want to limit people's ability to think independently. Another one of those tools is the Children's Internet Protection Act, which directs all schools and libraries to install filtering programs on their computers or lose badly needed funding.
Everyone wants to control the Internet. Governments, corporations, churches and parents fear it.
The Internet is a beautiful way to follow your intellectual curiosity. It's an amorphous matrix of ideas, good and bad. One thought flows naturally into another, and you never know where you'll end up.
Porn is a red herring for those who want to stop the flow.
Think about it. Our society today is drowning in porn. Children at age 10 know all about Brittany Spear's navel, Jennifer Lopez's nipples, 'NSync's pelvic thrusts and the macho pimp posturing into which hip-hop has degraded.
Plus, children see those depressing pictures of Hugh Hefner and his harem of big-busted blondes in newspapers and magazines almost every day. And have you ever looked at the cover of a Rolling Stone Magazine? Are we saving our children or tempting them?
Mind control has also invaded the workplace. Use of Employee Internet Management (EIM), filtering software for office computers networks, is growing.
According to a fact sheet from the International Data Corporation(IDC), a research firm based in Framingham, Mass., 30 to 40 percent of Internet use in the workplace is not related to business. News, sports, and financial sites are at the top of the list.
This would sound alarming if it hadn't been true even before the Internet came into our lives.
When I worked on newspapers, a certain percentage of my time, maybe even 30 percent, was spent in reading newspapers, chatting about last night's television shows and gossiping about local people and events.
I spent the other 70 percent investigating, reporting, and knocking out headline stories.
You can't work at 100 percent all of the time. Water cooler conversations can stimulate ideas and have creative results. Some businesses even structure their office layouts to encourage random meetings and conversations.
But back to porn. According to IDC, seventy percent of porn traffic occurs during regular business hours. (IDC got this information from SexTracker, a service that monitors pornography site usage.)
IDC didn't give a gender breakdown, but I guess it was widely assumed that menare the big offenders. This either insults men or implies that the Internet needs better porn for women.
How can we respect anyone who looks at porn during business hours? It's a ridiculous thing to do. And what do they do right afterward? Yuk.
Xerox, IDC said, fired more than 40 employees in 1999 for idling away up to eight hours a day on X-rated sites. The downloading of porn videos was so pervasive, it actually choked Xerox's computer network and prevented employees from sending and receiving legitimate e-mail.
To me, these statistics don't point to a need for EIM; they point to a need for Xerox to develop better hiring practices.
Again according to IDC, "firefighters in Columbus, Ohio, triggered an internal investigation, media sensation, and public uproar when a routine scan of on-the-job Internet surfing revealed that fire division headquarters' staff were visiting as many as 8,000 pornographic sites aday."
The question, however, is not whether the city of Columbus should start filtering firemen's computers, but if the men in question raced to fires and bravely put them out.
If they did their jobs well, why is it our business what they do in their down time?
In 1995, again according to IDC, "Chevron Corp. was ordered to pay female employees $2.2 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit stemming from inappropriate email circulated by male employees. The offenders' email messages included, among other gems, 25 Reasons Why Beeris Better Than Women."
Let's not tell Chevron or the court that the list of "25 Reasons Why Beer is Better Than Women" can be found on t-shirts at every amusement park in the United States. (And what about the ones that list "25 Reasons Why a Cucumber is Better Than a Man?")
But seriously, the biggest reason for not installing EIM oncomputers is simple. It's creepy. It has Big Brother overtones. It is censorship, and we have laws against that. It can have a chilling effect on creative thinking. It violates peoples' privacy. It implies that some people have the right tocontrol other peoples' minds. It's a form of intellectual slavery. Freedom - of speech and thought - are the ideals that this country was founded upon.
There are better - and simpler - ways to deal with the probl= ems that arise from the Internet.
Parents should watch what their children are doing on the Web, and also talk openly with them about sexual matters.
Businesses should hire good workers and then trust them. If theydon't, they create an environment where employees are treated like childrenand they will respond by being childish.
The only thing I think we should filter out of American culture isHugh Hefner. We should let the rest of the chips fall where they may.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes aboutculture, politics, economics and travel.