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Censorship programs are used by parents, libraries, schools, etc. to block access to web sites that the originator of the software consider to be dangerous -- the type of material that young children should be shielded from viewing. Some blocked sites are sexist; some are racist; others are pornographic, etc. Each company has their own criteria for blocking. Most make their criteria public; some keep them secret.

Peacefire is a youth group opposed to Internet censorship. They performed a "bait and switch" experiment in order to determine whether censorship programs treated all web sites equally. 1 

Peacefire found that several censorship companies allowed certain religious 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. "Dr. Laura" is a radio talk show host who is Jewish; the others are Fundamentalist Christian web sites. The censorship companies allow free access to the religious web sites, even though those sites contain anti-gay material that met the blocking company's own definition of hate speech. 2 Peacefire performed the following test:

bulletThey verified that none of the conservative religious web sites were currently blocked by censorship programs.
bulletThey copied anti-gay material from the conservative religious sites to four new, personal web sites which they created on Tripod, Geocities, Angelfire and TheGlobe. They used titles such as "Homosexual Agenda Information Center" and "Straight talk on 'Gay Rights.' "
bulletThe new web sites were then submitted for review to six leading censorship companies: Cyber Patrol, Net Nanny,  SmartFilter, SurfWatch, and WebSENSE via anonymous Email accounts.
bulletIn all cases, the blocking companies declared the new web sites to be hate speech; the sites were then blocked.
bulletPeacefire then contacted the blocking companies and asked that they apply their criteria equally to those conservative religious web sites from which the offensive material had been copied. The blocking companies refused the request.
bulletAs of 2000-MAY-28, all four rogue sites are still accessible on Tripod, Geocities, Angelfire and TheGlobe. But you cannot access this material if you use many of the common censorship programs, unless you view the material at its source: various conservative religious web sites. 

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Author's note: 

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. Some religious sites appear to be immune to blocking. I feel that the censorship companies should either block all hate literature, or define in its literature why it allows large, conservative, religious sites to disseminate material that it considers hate literature if published by small, private web sites.

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  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

Copyright © 2000
Originally written: 2000-MAY-28
Latest update: 2000-MAY-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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