Internet Safety News: The Internet's Underbelly (Pornography)
It's something most anyone who's been online knows or should know - use of the Internet really requires street smarts. As a tool for publishing and communications as well as consumption - the cheapest, most convenient one humanity has created yet it puts just about everything human beings are up to, from high-minded to horrific, at the fingertips of anyone, anywhere connected to it. It's an enabler of artists, academics, honest businesspeople, and law enforcement, as well as scammers, thieves, and pedophiles. Both Business Week and The New York Times took an in-depth look at the dark side of the Internet.
"To be sure, the better neighborhoods of the Internet, where one can find learned discussion of Kierkegaard or analysis of Gram Parsons' influence on rock music are flourishing. But critics ... argue that those leafy digital neighborhoods are increasingly surrounded by wildly expanding zones of slums, bad taste[,] and risk."1 Others say that the Internet has become so diverse that it has become impossible to characterize. One source said he "Preferred a complex ecosystem to a monoculture as bland and regular as a suburban lawn."2 Some people are trying "to dilute the bad by raising the concentration of the good"3 through initiatives like The Gutenberg Project4 and the Million Books Project,5 both putting good literature online, and the Digital Promise Project,6 an initiative to create an educational trust fund designed to do for education what the National Institutes of Health (NIH) does for health, National Science Foundation (NSF) does for science, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) does for national defense.7
As for Business Week, five of its reporters "spent four months visiting the seedy side of the Internet. We sat beside gamblers as they placed bets on illegal gaming sites, interviewed people who bought drugs online, and talked with those who have lost loved ones because of cybercrimes."8 They found that "The Underground Web is bigger, broader, scarier, and more damaging than most people realize"9 and proceed to explain why, zooming in on gambling, drugs, child porn, and money scams. One of the biggest enablers of perpetrators in all these categories is the jurisdiction problem, or "balkanization." As the writers call it, "Too many cops are stuck in a game of jurisdictional roulette."10 Their conclusion is not hopeful. "Cleaning up the Net will take vigilance and a slew of legal and public actions. For now, though, the Web has too many dark and dangerous corners and too little law and order."11
As for protecting small Internet users from all this, we're back to street smarts of the online sort. The two articles are doing children a service by alerting their caregivers to the need for Internet-educated, engaged parenting and teaching. Both The New York Times piece, with its thoughtful balance, and the Business Week one, with its thorough digging, reinforce the conclusions of a two-year U.S. National Research Council study, Youth, Pornography, and the Internet12 announced in May. The study's authors wrote that "No single approach - technical, legal, economic, or educational will be sufficient to protect children from online pornography,"13 sexual predators, snake-oil salespeople, or identity thieves. "An essential element of protecting children from inappropriate material on the Internet and one largely ignored in the present debate is the promotion of social and educational strategies that teach children to make wise choices about using the Internet and to take control of their online experiences: where they go, what they see, to whom they talk, and what they do."14
1John Schwartz. "From Unseemly to Lowbrow, the Web's Real Money is in the Gutter." The New York Times. August 26, 2002, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/26/technology/26CYBE.html.
4The Gutenberg Project, http://promo.net/pg/.
5The Million Books Project, http://zeeb.library.cmu.edu/Libraries/LIT/Projects/1MBooks.html.
6The Digital Promise Project, http://www.digitalpromise.org/.
8Ira Sager, Ben Elgin, Peter Elstrom, Faith Keenan, and Pallavi Gogoi. "The Underground Web." Business Week. September 2, 2002, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/02_35/b3797001.htm.
12Youth, Pornography, and the Internet. National Research Council. May 2002, http://www.netfamilynews.org/nl020503.html#Major%20report.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. © 2008 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. All rights reserved.
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