Okay I’m a little late to the party here, but a couple weeks ago News Corp. president Peter Chernin lashed out at the Internet at a conference sponsored by the Progress & Freedom Foundation. Chernin said,
The vast potential of broadband has so far benefited nobody as clearly as it’s benefited downloaders of pornography and pirates of digital content.
. . .
The prevalence of pornographic Web sites and e-mails is a lot more than an insult to common decency. It’s an increasing reason to keep kids and families off of the Internet. And these are only part of the virtual logjam of valueless clutter.
Huh? Has Chernin ever actually watched Fox Television, which News Corp. owns? What, we need to get rid of all the porn and piracy so we can have “Who Wants To Marry a Millionaire: The Broadband Internet Edition”? Or “When Poorly Designed Web Sites Attack”?
To see Chernin criticizing the poor taste of Internet content is a bit like Ted Kaczynski complaining how violent American schools have become.
Media chief decries Net’s moral fiber. Declan McCullagh, CNET News.Com, August 21, 2002.
Wow. The Supreme Court today announced that in a 6-3 vote it overturned a ban on virtual child pornography.
The 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act banned not only digitally altered images of real children (a ban which the Supreme Court upheld), but also forbid the creation of “virtual” child pornography in which no actual child was used.
Pornographers and First Amendment advocates argued that the ban on virtual pornography would make scenes from movies such as “Lolita” or “Traffic” illegal (in fact, the law implied that depicting sexual situations with anyone who looked underage was illegal).
One thing that will be interesting to see is how this affects child pornography prosecutions. We will not have to wait long for a person caught with child pornography to argue that he was told it was virtual child pornography rather than the real thing.
There will also be inevitable lawsuits as virtual child porn becomes commercially more widely available. Can a school fire or reassign a teacher who buys computer generated child porn videos off the Internet? After all, according to the Supreme Court, that material is completely legal for Americans to own.
The Supreme Court made its ruling on the same basis that an Appeals Court had used in overturning the ban — it agreed that the government had failed to show a connection between virtual child pornography and the exploitation of actual children. That seems to me to be a completely unreasonable basis for such a decision — regardless of whether or not the First Amendment can be contorted to allow virtual child porn, it is absurd to claim that such materials will not be used to exploit children. That there is no evidence for such a link as of yet is largely due to the fact that this is a very new area — only in the past decade or so have the tools become widely available for creating this sort of material.
I suspect the Supreme Court will revisit this case sooner rather than later and likely reverse itself after enough evidence accumulates that child molesters and others are in fact using virtual child pornography.
Supreme Court Rejects Child-Porn Law. Fox News, April 16, 2002.
A Newsweek cover article claims that the Internet has become a boon for child pornographers and is legitimizing pedophilia in the mind of sexual deviants. As the author of the piece writes,
Many law-enforcement officers worry that the spread of child pornography, as well as the easy access to like-minded people via the Internet, has a “legitimizing effect” making the pedophile believe that his own impulses are OK, because they are shared by so many others. That feeds appetites for this material, meaning more kids will be victimized.
Clearly the Internet has made it easier for such individuals to communicate and network in relative privacy. It’s a lot less risky for pedophiles to get in touch with each other over the Internet than it would be in a traditional face-to-face setting in a community.
However, before condemning the Internet as solely responsible for the legitimization of pedophilia, it is worth noting that the American intelligentsia has long been moving toward a legitimization of pedophilia — at least as it pertains to boys — since the late 1980s completely irrespective of anything that’s been happening on the Internet.
The Weekly Standard’s Mary Eberstadt wrote an article back in 1996, “Pedophilia Chic,” making this argument and revisited it recently with a follow-up article, “Pedophilia Chic” Reconsidered: The taboo against sex with children continues to erode.
Who needs the Internet, after all, when pedophiles could read a paper in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin that reviewed sexual behaviors formerly considered psychological maladies, such as homosexuality, and then concluded that, “This history of conflating morality and law with science in the area of human sexuality by psychologists and others indicates a strong need for caution in scientific inquiries of sexual behaviors that remain taboo, with child sexual abuse being a prime example.”
Eberstadt’s main focus is on some elements of the gay rights movement allied with or excessively tolerant of groups such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association, but she could as easily have surveyed academic feminist, postmodernist and other literature for assertions that the idea of an age of consent is a bourgeois relic.
When I first heard the announcement of the Palm IIIc and then the Visor with the color screen, I told my wife that this would make the Palm platform a viable, lucrative conduit for pornography. Turns out some 20 year old college student had similar thoughts.
About 12 years ago I was sitting around an editorial meeting at a newspaper I was working at the time when the issue of some bill to ban child porn came up. I pointed out that most child porn laws stood on relatively solid ground since the very production of child pornography is in itself a criminal act, but that within a couple decades the case would be more problematic as advances in computers allowed for the creation of realistic child pornography that didn’t require committing such a crime. What would the Supreme Court do then?
I think most of my fellow writers thought I was either completely offbase about how fast computer graphics technology would develop and/or concerned about why I always looked for the dark side in these sorts of things. Now Slashdot points out that the Supreme Court is going to decide whether or not virtual child porn is protected by the First Amendment.
It will probably be very tempting for some of the justices to argue that even when it is completely virtual, child pornography is obscenity and lacking completely any scientific or artistic merit. Unfortunately, such a ruling would create a huge mess. As an Los Angeles Times story points out, would adult models who look like they are minors also be covered? Soon sorting out the side effects of such a ruling becomes unbelievably difficult and tortuous.
On the other hand, the idea of people buying and selling child pornography, even completely virtual, is a highly repugnant one and if the Supreme Court does rule that it is protected speech, watch for a firestorm to develop (especially if it’s a close 5-4 vote with the Court’s liberals on one side and its conservatives on the other). Polls already show a majority of Americans think the courts are already too permissive in their toleration of speech, and a pro-child pornography ruling could tip those scales.
In fact, if the Supreme Court does rule that virtual child porn is protected speech, an amendment to overturn such a decision would probably have as much chance of becoming part of the Constitution as any proposed in the last 30 years (in fact I’d be very surprised if such a movement failed — the support for it would be tremendous).
Opened up the new issue of Wired last night to find a mini-interview with best selling novelist Caleb Carr. His new dystopian novel, Killing Time, is set in 2024 and blames an unregulated Internet for the collapse of civilization. Whatever, but this quote really made me wonder if he even uses Internet,
Wired: Isn’t TV as easy to fake as the Net?
Carr: At least TV tries to check stuff out. Look, the Internet is basically a tool for buying things and for pornography. When it becomes more than that, it will become extremely dangerous.
Maybe that’s all Carr uses the Internet for, but I think the rest of us have found other uses for it as well. (And television is notorious for not “check[ing] stuff out.”)