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INTERNET CENSORSHIP SOFTWARE PROGRAMS

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Topics covered in this essay:

bullet Double standard used?
bullet Is Your Favorite Site Banned?
bullet Our Opinions

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Double standard used?

Peacefire, a youth group opposed to Internet censorship, performed a "bait and switch" experiment in order to determine whether censorship programs treated small and large web sites equally. 1 They found that several censorship companies treated conservative Christian sites, such as the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Official Dr. Laura web page and Concerned Women for America quite differently than small, personal web sites. They allow free access to the Christian web sites, even though those sites contain anti-gay material that met the blocking company's definition of hate speech. 2 Peacefire performed the following test:

bullet They verified that none of the conservative Christian web sites were currently blocked by censorship programs.
bullet They copied anti-gay material from the conservative Christian sites to new, personal web sites.
bullet The new web sites were then submitted for review to Bess, Cyber Patrol, Net Nanny,  SmartFilter, SurfWatch, and WebSENSE via anonymous Email accounts.
bullet In all cases, the blocking companies declared the new web sites to be hate speech; the sites were blocked.
bullet Peacefire then contacted the blocking companies and asked that the conservative Christian web sites also be blocked for disseminating hate material. The blocking companies refused the request.

This informal experiment appears to show that censorship companies do not block web sites on the basis of their hate content, as is their claim.

Other interesting developments:

bullet Envirolink, a provider of web space to environmental and animal-rights groups, took legal action against Cyber Patrol for blocking access to their environmental and animal rights sites.
bullet Computer hackers successfully broke into the data bases of X-Stop and a few other block lists. They found that about 75% of sites that were blocked as porn sites were actually public interest charities or university education pages.

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Sponsored link:

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Is your favorite site banned?

In 1997, the Netly News Network created quite a bit of interest on the Internet by developing a search facility for net-filtering programs. They had a program that allowed anyone to search five of the leading Net-filtering programs: CyberSitter, NetNanny, SurfWatch, The Internet Filter, and Cyber Patrol. You entered a domain name and it listed the files that were blocked. Unfortunately, this very useful program was discontinued. The Internet badly needs such a utility program today, so that Webmasters of controversial sites (or any site that is disliked by conservative religious folks) can check to see whether they are banned.

If this threat to freedom of speech scares you as much as it does us, you might want to contact:

bullet Cyber Patrol: [email protected]
bullet Cleannet: [email protected] 
bullet CyberSitter: [email protected]  
bullet NetNanny: [email protected]  
bullet Bess Filtering Services: [email protected]

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Our thoughts on blocking of Internet sites:

We feel that blocking software is a good thing, if it is used within the family to protect young children from the seamier side of the Web. However, we have major concerns:

bullet When it is used in public libraries in a way that restricts access by adults or older teens to the Internet.
bullet When it is used by parents to block access by older teenage members of the family.
bullet When it is used throughout a school system, blocking access for students of all ages.
bullet When the censor board arbitrarily bans sites because of the board's religious prejudices. Some companies that make blocking software have arbitrarily blocked all Neopagan sites, or sites that disseminate safe sex practices, or sites that offer support to gays and lesbians, etc.
bullet When sites are placed on a banned list without the Webmaster of the site being informed
bullet When there is no convenient way for a Webmaster to determine whether her/his site has been blocked
bullet When the blocking company does not publish their precise and accurate criteria for censorship
bullet When the blocking company does not treat all web sites equally, but allows access to certain types of hate literature on some sites.

We feel that, as a minimum, a Webmaster should be able to go to a URL belonging to a company that makes blocking software, enter a domain name, and find out if any of the files at the Webmaster's site are blocked by that company.

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Related link:

bullet Laws restricting Internet content

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References:

  1. A description of Peacefire's experiment is at: http://www.peacefire.org/BaitAndSwitch/ 
  2. A description of the hate speech definitions used by various blocking companies is at: http://www.peacefire.org/BaitAndSwitch/definitions.html 

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Copyright  1998 to 2002 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2002-SEP-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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