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Internet Censorship

The Internet is a new medium where many ideas and views are expressed. The question is should these things be censored, and if so how. The debate on Internet censorship is a very volatile controversy affecting anyone who has ever accessed the World Wide Web. The debate is between those who believe censorship interferes with our rights, and those who think it to be a medium that should be regulated just like TV. An article written by Ann Beeson and Chris Hansen called Fahrenheit 451. 2 explores the faults with Internet censorship, e. g. how it violates our first amendment rights.

Another article, Its Time to Tackle Cyberporn, written by John Carr, takes the opposing view claiming the definite need for Internet censorship. While both articles successfully demonstrate their point Beeson and Hansen present their argument in a more convincing manner, making it more effective. Beesons argument is very organized and precise. She starts off by detailing the subject at hand, telling the reader of her disagreement with the opposing side, saying that their methods of censorship were a failure to examine the longer-term implication for the Internet of rating and blocking schemes(590).

She introduces the reader to what has happened so far in the struggle, stating various facts about what certain companies have done to please the government in their wish for regulations on the Internet. These companies include Netscape and Microsoft who adopted a standard for an Internet rating system after the White House held a voluntary meeting for industry leaders (590,591). She goes on to tell how industry standards for Internet censorship are being developed and the way they work.

One such standard is the PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) system, which is the main standard being used, providing a method for rating that is uniform for all internet content (591). Another method of rating sites called self-rating, is repeated by Beeson throughout the paper. Self-rating is a process designed by the government that asks web page designers to self rate their sites. This is not required, but with the default setting of most Internet censors, unrated sites are blocked out.

She continues to offer recommendations and principles for what she believes should be the standard for Internet censorship by saying that Internet users should be able to choose what they want themselves or their children to see (593). Beeson then debunks the idea of self-rating, claiming what might be considered offensive to some might be considered very useful to others (593). She also goes on to argue that self-rating is burdensome, unwieldy, and costly (594).

For example, an art studio on the Internet might contain some nude pictorials, which to some might be considered explicit. Should that whole site be censored or should just the art that might be offensive be blocked, which would waste time and money, because they would have to pay someone to go through and block each one (594). She also lists the problems associated with trying to censor conversations on the Internet. For example, should a whole chat room be blocked just because one person cursed in it (595)?

Finally Beeson illustrates how self-ratings will encourage government regulation, and will only benefit big commercial companies. Like the possibility that highly commercialized companies that have the resources to rate there sites to where the whole world will be able to see their site, opposed to a smaller company that doesnt have access to all those resources and wont have the rage of viewers that large companies will have (596). Beeson goes on to show the problems with third-party rating systems.

How can one company try to rate the whole Internet? She also discredits user based blocking software, showing how they are not 100% effective. These rating systems have been proven to block sites that might be considered useful, like a site on safer sex (598). Finally, being a librarian, she gives reasons why public libraries should not use blocking software. She demonstrates this using a quote from the American Library Association: Libraries are places of inclusion rather than exclusion.

Current blocking/filtering software prevents not only access to what some may consider objectionable material, but also blocks information protected by the First Amendment. The result is that legal and useful material will inevitable be blocked. Beeson concludes with her reasoning why the Internet should not be censored. She uses reasons such as it breaks the first amendment. It also causes more harm by blocking useful sites than it helps. Carrs article is based more on the issue of Internet censorship in the UK, but overall it applies to all countries.

His argument is more opinionated, and it isnt as organized as Beesons. Carr focuses more on the morality issue of Internet censorship, and how it affects the family. He believes that censorship has begun and is inevitable. The only question is how should it be done (603). Because of this, he states many Internet service providers (ISPs) have already begun to censor certain types of sites. Carr explains the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which runs a hotline that people can call if they see anything illegal on the Internet.

Carr does state that this cannot block out sites that are legal but might be highly offensive to some (603). He gives his own view on how a rating system should be used, stating that systems should be based on self-assessment, supporting the idea of third-party rating systems allowing users to select which one best fits his or hers morals. He continues by attacking Beesons paper, alleging, these anxieties about illiberal abuse of the Internet through ratings and similar technologies are, I believe, at best misplaced and at worst paranoid.

Carr believes that censorship is inevitable as the Internet becomes an essential part of life, and the rules for it will change as it is integrated more into everyday activities. (605) He goes on to convey how leading companies support some type of censorship. Again focusing on the family, says the CEO of major internet firms are family men or women, and want the Internet to be a place they would feel safe to have their children look at. So in turn large companies will amend their standards to block out illegal sites such as child pornography. (605)

Carr concludes by saying the Internet is a growing technology that needs to be regulated. He feels that it is the right of cybercitizens to protect children from pedophiles and explicit information on the Internet. Both articles present a convincing point but Beeson and Hansens article is more precise in arguing its point. Beeson and Carrs disagreement is how should the Internet be censored or if it should be censored at all. Beeson believes that Internet censorship is an injustice to our first amendment rights, and is unfair because useful sites might be blocked.

Carrs argument is that the Internet should be regulated just like any other information medium, which he believes is in the best interest of children. The organization of Beesons is very succinct and easy to follow, yet provides many details making it easy for the average person to read, but also has the details to interest someone deeply involved in the subject. Beeson references many points and relies on the facts to begin her article and then debunks the opposing view with very believable scenarios of what could happen.

Carrs article seems more opinionated, and doesnt contain as many facts as Beesons. Though he is writing to the average reader he includes too many company names and jumps from point to point without much elaboration. Beesons article provides an objective view toward the subject while Carr is to emotionally involved. Also the layout of Beesons article with sub titles is very effective because is not only gives the reader an idea of what they are about to read, but it also makes it easier for them to look back and to try to find specific points.

Carrs article has to many names to remember and the reader gets lost trying to put them all together. After reading both articles the reader is left feeling more inclined to believe Beeson, because she elaborates more on her ideas and presents them in a way that is easy to understand. Carr gives some very convincing arguments but he leaves out many points and focuses too much on what is good for the family, ignoring the fact that some people without a family might want to access certain information. Carrs article also lacked elaboration, there are many good points that just arent explained enough to the reader.

Had these points been explained better Carrs article might have been the stronger argument. Internet censorship is a volatile topic that can be debated over and over again, but the more convincing argument is that of Beeson. Beesons article just makes more sense, and is easier to read, making the reader more prone to believe her. Carr has a decent argument, but it just isnt good enough, because it is to biased, and doesnt flow as well as Beesons. He major fault was his like of elaboration. Had he included more detail, his article might have been the better.

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