Senators Want Websites To Be Labeled; Will Senators Label Their Own Websites As Clueless?

from the been-there,-rejected-that dept

Well, here we go again. It seems we can't go a month without some politicians coming out with some legislation to "protect the children" -- even though the reality is that the laws proposed are likely to have the opposite impact. The latest is an old idea, brought back to life, that websites should be forced to label themselves if they have content that is "harmful to minors." Then, the theory goes, filters could look for those labels and block any such site. There are numerous problems with such a plan -- starting with the fact that it's simply not constitutional (regulating free speech and all), and an almost identical law was thrown out years back for exactly that reason. But, on a more practical level, the problem is much easier to understand: how do you define what is and is not "harmful to minors?" Remember a couple of weeks ago where YouTube declared some videos about self-examination for cancer were "explicit" materials? In fact, it's actually quite difficult to tell, and it depends on a variety of factors, from the location, how old the child is, what the community standards are and (most importantly) how the child has been raised by his or her parents. And, of course, that brings back the key issue: why isn't this something that is up to the parents? Also, of course, this law will only cover websites in the US, meaning that it won't actually "protect" children from sites made or hosted outside the US. And, even if they could somehow get others to adopt it, it might be worth reminding politicians that the internet remains quite global -- and, in other parts of the world, they may view things quite differently when it comes to determining what is "harmful" to minors. Part of the problem, though, is that politicians think they can just snap their fingers, announce a bill and that it will magically work. Instead, these things are a lot more complicated, but you don't win political points for "protecting the children" by admitting that there's no easy solution and that parents need to be a lot more involved in educating their children.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 4:45pm

    Maybe we need to protect the politicians from pesky things like cameras and thoughts. Those can be dangerous, you know.

     

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  2.  
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    Charles Griswold, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 5:45pm

    Re: Thoughts

    Maybe we need to protect the politicians from pesky things like cameras and thoughts. Those can be dangerous, you know.

    No kidding. Thoughts lead to Ideas. Ideas lead to Actions. Actions can threaten the Status Quo.

    We should outlaw thought right now, just to be safe.

    *thinks about that*

    Naw, just outlaw politicians. Much safer that way.

     

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  3.  
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    Charles Griswold, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 5:54pm

    Labeling Websites

    The more responsible of the websites with content that is unsafe for minors (YMMV on that phrase) do label their sites, usually with front pages that require visitors to agree that they are legally and mentally able to view the content in question, or with password protection. See the 4chan ( http://4channel.org/ ) or Playboy ( http://www.playboy.com/ ) websites for examples.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 6:25pm

    political points for

    Political points. That's what it's all about - nothing more. As long as it works, that's what we'll get. BS for political points.

    It's long past time for the main stream media tell the politicians, "Have you no shame, sir?"

    That remark was the beginning of the end of the shameful Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 and the career of Sen. Joseph McCarthy himself.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 6:30pm

    Political points.

    @4 it's me again. While I'm at it . . . .

    I have to add that discussing these things as though they have - even a bit - of merit, just encourages them and prolongs the BS.

    Respected members of the tech community - someone like Gates or Jobs - has to stand up and tell the world what cheap political BS it is.

     

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  6.  
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    RandomThoughts, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 6:36pm

    Movies self regulated themselves with their ratings, maybe it isn't a bad idea for websites to do the same. That way, they won't have politicians doing it for them.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 8:24pm

    Umm .... Ever heard of nudists?

    First off you have the nudist familys themselves who obviously don't think of simle nudity as being "harmfull to minors" and then you have their blog showing pictures of their family holiday - do you expect them to label their site as "harmfull to minors" as well?

    Personally I would never be a nudist and I lean towards being a christian more than any other religion but I think that Chrisianity seems to have to have done a great diservice to the western world (don't know how nudity etc is percieved in other countries though) in many ways including the obsession over showing any level of nudity - though it seams the US is probably the worst in this respect.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 8:42pm

    Maybe parents should just get filters. Seriously, since the standards are going to be different (or completely opposite) from home to home, the only way to keep what your family deems as inappropriate off your computer is to police it yourself. Put filters on the computer, keep it in a high traffic area so there's no sneaking around, put passwords to get on the internet.. I don't know, do something. But these cover-all laws ain't gonna cut it.

     

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  9.  
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    thomas, Apr 13th, 2007 @ 5:22am

    S. 1086: "A bill to provide stronger protections to parents regarding their children's access to sexually explicit material over the Internet."

    Latest Major Action: 4/11/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

     

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  10.  
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    Skippy, Apr 13th, 2007 @ 7:24am

    Cynical

    "Part of the problem, though, is that politicians think they can just snap their fingers, announce a bill and that it will magically work."

    I think that is ridiculous. If anything, I think politicians understand how hard it is to make things happen. Anything from social security reform, to health insurance issues or the debate about illegal immigration. Just because you believe that politicians are infinitely handicapped when it comes to the internet, doesn't mean that they are not allowed to introduce legislation to start a debate about the topic.

    I completely agree that content control should be entirely in the hands of the parents and that it would be impossible to have every website "labeled". However, what about the parents that don't regulate the content children see on the internet? Should the politicians create laws punishing parents instead?

    This is simply a cycle of blame of who is responsible for the well-being of my family: myself or the government. Perhaps those who understand the internet so well should suggest some solutions which politicians could back. If anything, we need a little more compromise right now, instead of more division.

     

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  11.  
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    Willpower, Apr 13th, 2007 @ 9:39am

    The tech industry could make this work

    Porn is one of the most searched for things on the web.

    If Goggle said that they would recognize a meta data key for porn, then people searching for porn could find it more easily. To improve their Google ranking, the places providing porn would gladly use the meta data key.

    Then the people who wanted to filter out the porn could use it to avoid it.

    That’s a win-win for everyone. However the politicians would still complain because it was making porn easier to find, but who cares what they think until they do something stupid.

     

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  12.  
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    John, Apr 13th, 2007 @ 12:38pm

    Who says what is harmful

    Like the issue with the the "XXX" top-level domain, who says what sites will be forced to include the "harmful" label? Are we back to the same issue as trying to label "porn" sites? Will an art gallery with a nude David (by Michaelango) be labeled as "nude content, harmful to minors"? Well, then, shut down the Louvre's website- I certainly don't want my kids to see something like that!

     

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  13.  
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    Charles Griswold, Apr 14th, 2007 @ 2:25pm

    Re: Self-Regulating

    Movies self regulated themselves with their ratings

    Not exactly ( http://www.mpaa.org/FilmRatings.asp ). See http://www.troma.com/fan/essays/papers/michelleosorio.html for a rather different take on the MPAA's ratings board.

     

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