User Tools

Site Tools


partnerships:articles:porn

Differences

This shows you the differences between two versions of the page.

Link to this comparison view

partnerships:articles:porn [2017/06/12 10:20] (current)
Line 1: Line 1:
 +Porn & The Net - what's special about Usenet
 +============================================
 +
 +David Newman, of Queen'​s University, Belfast, examines how most
 +pornography is transmitted on the Internet and options for control.
 +
 +November 1996\
 +
 +Current concerns
 +----------------
 +
 +Yet another scare story about computers and pornography has hit British
 +tabloids like the Observer, after the Metropolitan Police Vice Squad has
 +written to companies providing Internet services suggesting that they
 +censor some of their services. Let's try and separate different issues.\
 +\
 + Two years ago there were a lot of articles about the availability of
 +pornographic images on disc, or downloaded from bulletin boards by
 +children. At that time, an M.Sc. student here studied all the arguments
 +raised, and showed that they were rehearsing arguments previously raised
 +about every other medium: books and magazines, theatre, radio and TV.
 +People dissatisfied with the previously established compromises were
 +using the new medium to reopen settled arguments, sometimes allied with
 +psychological attitudes to computers (fear of machines vs. inevitable
 +progress).\
 +\
 + ​Separate from this are the issues raised that are specific to the
 +particular technology used. "Porn on the net" is about as meaningful as
 +"Porn on paper"​. The Internet is merely the wires joining networks of
 +computers together, like a telephone system for data. Over the Internet,
 +we can communicate with other human beings in a number of quite
 +different ways, such as real-time chat (a kind of typed CB radio),
 +browsing the Web and Usenet. People like the Metropolitan Police Vice
 +Squad and Observer journalists get these confused. So what's special
 +about Usenet?\
 +\
 + In the 17th Century, Samuel Hartlib corresponded with most of the
 +scientists in Europe. He employed copyists to write out copies of the
 +letters he received and send them on to his contacts interested in the
 +same things. They were interested in all human knowledge, in particular
 +the experiments and ideas that led to the founding of the first
 +scientific societies such as the Royal Society of London. His papers are
 +archived at Sheffield University. But once the Royal Society started
 +publishing journals, scientists no longer needed to engage copyists to
 +keep in touch. They relied on central publication,​ with editors and
 +printers.
 +
 +How Usenet works
 +----------------
 +
 +Now in the 20th Century, we are using computer networks to do what
 +Hartlib'​s copyists did in the 17th century. Sending one person'​s short
 +messages to exactly those people interested in the subject. We write our
 +messages in a newsreader, then newsservers copy them and send them on to
 +the next server, then the next, until they get around the world. For 20
 +years, people with special interests, like Artificial Intelligence or
 +keeping cats, have used this system, called Usenet, to converse about
 +their pet (sorry) subject, and get answers from the world'​s experts in
 +their on-line club.\
 +\
 + This is not publishing in the normal industry sense of the word. There
 +is no central journal editor or printer. The computers forward
 +everything. They do not understand the contents of the message, any more
 +than the illiterate copyists in early monasteries who copied manuscripts
 +as drawings without understanding the latin words within them. Unlike
 +the monks, after a few days they delete the messages (to free up file
 +space). Our server only keeps messages for two days. So Usenet messages
 +are also ephemeral.\
 +\
 + Those who treat the automatic forwarding of individual letters or
 +messages as publishing clearly understand neither the technical nor
 +social nature of Usenet. To talk about "​pornography existing on the net"
 +in this context, is like talking about "​pornography existing within the
 +post office"​. It is hard to see how anyone running a newsserver can,
 +with existing software, exercise control and responsibility for the
 +contents of hundreds of thousands or millions of messages passing
 +through the server on the way to the next stop, any more than a mobile
 +telephone company.\
 +\
 + The Philadelphia Court judges who declared the Communications Decency
 +Act unconstitutional described communications over the Internet as a
 +big, continuous, worldwide conversation. This certainly applies to
 +Usenet newsgroups and the way people use them. We post messages asking
 +questions, giving information or whatever then someone comments publicly
 +on the message, someone else takes it up, and an argument develops.
 +
 +Uses for Usenet
 +---------------
 +
 +Over a few weeks, several different discussions start, grow and decline,
 +like conversations during an evening at the pub. Socially, most
 +newsgroups seem like more or less sedate versions of the conversations
 +we hold at academic conference coffee breaks, pubs, football matches or
 +London clubs (from the Reform Club to specialist S&M venues). If we need
 +real world analogies to Usenet discussions,​ I would think of pubs,
 +Cambridge Union debates, and experimental theatre where the audience
 +gets involved, not publishing. You could think of each group as
 +different Edinburgh Festival venue, where a performance takes place for
 +an hour or so, then gets emptied for the next one. Maybe we should be
 +looking to apply theatrical censorship standards?\
 +\
 + What people discuss depends on the nature of the group, as Usenet has
 +developed a far more specialised and sophisticated classification scheme
 +than the cruder ones we use for magazines: General, Sports, Womens,
 +Computing, top shelf, sex shop. Talk and pictures about feet in
 +alt.sex.fetish.feet does not interest me. But it is available for those
 +people who are turned on by feet, instead of having to find a specialist
 +club in a big city (which is hard if you are disabled and housebound).
 +Thanks to this, readers of Usenet can choose what kind of material to
 +read, and avoid that which offends them.\
 +\
 + But since anyone can post to any group, from time to time we find
 +people posting things that others object to (e.g. hundreds of chain
 +letter money-making schemes). This is normally controlled like an
 +offensive remark in a pub. Other people complain, shaming the offender
 +into changing his behaviour. As the numbers of posters and messages
 +increased we may need to develop better ways of handling such social
 +problems.\
 +\
 + One way is by the application of laws to set limits on social
 +behaviour. So there is a law against assault which helps prevent pub
 +arguments degenerating into physical violence (something that cannot
 +happen when the person you are arguing with is behind a computer
 +half-way around the world). We usually apply such laws to the individual
 +offender, not the pub landlord.\
 +\
 + ​People posting messages on Usenet are clearly responsible for what they
 +write. They have been sued for libel and copyright infringement,​ and can
 +be made responsible for posting images that would be illegal to pass
 +around to people in the pub, or for setting up confidence tricks. Police
 +can set up squads to track down who posted messages which break
 +particular laws, and charge them. Traditional investigation techniques
 +like infiltrating groups work on-line as well as they do face-to-face,​
 +and Usenet messages leave trails or paths showing where they were posted
 +(just like letters).
 +
 +Control of Usenet
 +-----------------
 +
 +The current brouhaha is not about individual responsibility for messages
 +posted on Usenet, but about a request to get the ISPs to change the way
 +they administer Usenet to prevent particular messages being posted
 +and/or read. There are two questions: what can they do? and what ought
 +they to do?
 +
 +### Tracking users
 +
 +They could help the police track down the local posters of messages
 +illegal under the relevant nation'​s law. This is something many would do
 +already when searching for hackers. They ethical questions come when
 +dealing with anonymised messages like the tips sent to journalists:​
 +under European law, journalists'​ sources are protected. But apart from
 +this proviso, this should be a promising line of approach, since child
 +pornographers using Usenet are more easily traceable than those using
 +the post, and more easily deceived by undercover detectives posing as
 +paedophiles.
 +
 +### Stop passing newsgroups
 +
 +The ISPs could stop passing on particular newsgroups. Unfortunately,​
 +anyone in the world can post any message to any newsgroup. This leads to
 +two problems. In any newsgroup, no matter how serious, there will be the
 +occasional posting of say, a picture of bestiality. So if a newsgroup is
 +stopped as soon as an illegal message appears, very quickly most of
 +Usenet will have been closed down, cutting off our country from the
 +professional discussions that maintain the competitiveness of our newest
 +information industries (rather like Japan at the time they allowed no
 +westerners to enter).\
 +\
 + Or we could merely cut out the newsgroups whose purpose is illegal
 +(such as the few set up for the distribution of erotic images of
 +children). Unfortunately,​ the people posting to that group can easily
 +start posting to another (which is why there are hard-core pornographic
 +images turning up in alt.disney).\
 +\
 + The one thing that can be done at the group level is to supply
 +specialised newsreaders or other software to parents that prevent some
 +of the newsgroups from being read by their children.
 +
 +### Classify and/or filter individual messages.
 +
 +This is not possible with current technology: except at the level of
 +searching for keywords, and not showing an article to children if it
 +contains a word. on the banned list. I hope that such software will
 +improve on current levels of intelligence that cut out all references to
 +Scunthorpe (idiot programmers on America On-line didn't even think to
 +check for where words start and end) or beer (American suppliers of
 +lists of banned WWW sites apply their standards on alcohol to CAMRA
 +sites in the UK).\
 +\
 + ​However,​ there is a general need for some way of rating the quality of
 +the floods of messages coming over Usenet each day, so that readers do
 +not waste so much time finding the one useful message in masses of
 +American college student postings. Solutions to this problem could also
 +help with rating pornography on Usenet.\
 +\
 + Now since Usenet is distributed and ephemeral, central rating agencies
 +are impractical. There are no central publishers to send in material for
 +rating, and there are too many messages posted daily for any
 +professional group of reviewers to read more than a miniscule
 +proportion. So instead we can try what papers do at the Edinburgh
 +Festival. They have lots of amateur reviewers going around. I could read
 +several reviews of the same play, and make up my mind which to trust.
 +Similarly, all experimental Usenet rating systems rely on readers
 +voluntarily rating any message they read. By collecting the opinions of
 +many readers, the systems calculate an average score for the message.\
 +\
 + Most of these systems rate messages from very bad to very good. When
 +dealing with pornography,​ there are two types of rating that might be
 +useful. The first is a minimum recommended age (like in films). If each
 +Usenet message had a Minimum-age:​ header, then children'​s newsreaders
 +could use it to prevent them seeing messages intended for adults. The
 +second type of useful rating would be one indicating the actual
 +specialised area of the message (e.g. sexual preference, body part,
 +equipment or whatever). Then the reader'​s newsreader could skip messages
 +containing keywords of things not to his or her taste, thus avoiding
 +having to clean vomit off the keyboard. There already is a keyword
 +header in Usenet that could be used for this purpose.\
 +\
 + How would the messages get the ratings? Well there are several ways of
 +doing this, but here is a suggestion. The initial poster fills in
 +keywords and a suggested minimum age. At present readers of Usenet
 +messages can from their newsreader software post a reply that appears in
 +the group. So how about allowing a different kind of comment or reply: a
 +review message. The reader fills in his or her recommended minimum age,
 +any extra keywords needed to better describe the message, and a rating
 +of how important, or relevant or novel or well-argued the message is.
 +This could generate a special kind of Usenet control message, a review
 +message, which passes from server to server around Usenet. The servers
 +could then combine the keywords into a long list, and average all the
 +ratings, putting the results into the headers of the reviewed message.\
 +\
 + Such an approach could both save busy people time in reading Usenet,
 +and help parents protect their children for material that needs more
 +maturity to be appreciated. It would however take some time to develop
 +and test such a modification of Usenet. Given the small numbers of
 +people reading Usenet in the UK at present (only 1.5% of the people look
 +at the Worldwide Web, which is much more popular than Usenet), isn't it
 +better to fund research into Usenet rating and wait a bit, rather than
 +to be paniced into closing down part of Usenet now without actually
 +actually affecting the amount of pornography on it?\
 +\
 + [Dr. David R. Newman](mailto:​d.r.newman@qub.ac.uk)\
 + ​Queen'​s University\
 + ​School of Management\
 + ​Belfast BT7 1NN\
 + ​Northern Ireland.\
 + ​mailto:​d.r.newman@qub.ac.uk\
 + ​http://​www.qub.ac.uk/​f&​info/​staff/​dave/​indexl
 +
  
partnerships/articles/porn.txt ยท Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)