Worley: Common sense and net censorship [cr-951229]


Richard Moore

------- Forwarded by Craig Johnson:

From:          •••@••.••• (Dale R. Worley)
Subject:       Common sense and net censorship
Organization:  Ariadne Internet Services
Date:          Tue, 26 Dec 1995
To:            •••@••.•••

OK, I'm going to try to say what I have to say in one message, and
then (for the first time in my life) shut up.  The beginning will be a
discussion of a number of myths and idiocies I see rampant here. The
end will be a discussion of *practical* actions that might improve the

(My discussion is largely centered on the USA and its current
politics.  But given that the USA has one of the more liberal freedom
of speech situations in the world, these comments probably aren't too
far out of line with respect to the rest of the world.)

* The Internet has become relevant to the Real World; hence, the Real
World has become relevant to the Internet.

Up until about 1994, the Internet was a playground for a small
fraction of highly educated people, paid for by large institutions.
The Internet is now available to just about anyone with a little

* The Internet culture has a nearly libertarian belief in absolute
freedom of speech.

* The Real World does not.

For reasons that I only dimly understand, most people believe that
free access to pornography by minors is a Bad Thing and should be
prevented.  Most people also support other restrictions on speech, but
pornography seems to be the dominant issue at the moment.

* This has caused a cultural clash.

Because the fundamental desires of the two citizenries (Internet and
Real World) are conflicting, any broad-based contact between them will
result in cultural conflict.  Unless the two are separated again, the
cultural conflict will be resolved by the modification of one or both

* In cultural clashes, the side with the most troops usually wins.

Although high-quality weaponry can make a difference in shooting wars,
the number of troops is usually the critical factor in wars of all
kinds, and always is in cultural wars.

Cortez nearly died in his first assault on Tenochtitlan, the Aztec
capital.  After 75% of the Aztecs were killed by a smallpox epidemic,
he conquered Tenochtitlan.  If it weren't for smallpox, people in
North America today would probably be speaking Nahuatl (the Aztec

* The Internet is very small.

Probably no more than 5 or 10 million of the US population uses
anything more than the most rudimentary capabilities of the Internet.
That's smaller than the membership of the Southern Baptist Convention.

It's very pleasing to envision one's self throwing up barricades in
Red Square, defending Yeltsin and democracy against the coup plotters.
But ultimately, Communism was destroyed because the people didn't want

In this war, who is in the tanks and who is throwing up barricades?
The conservatives have maybe 10 times as many supporters as the
Internet does.  Think very carefully about which the people would
rather throw away, the Internet, or their conservative sexual mores.

* While the Internet culture thinks of the Internet as a good and
valuable thing, most people do not.

Most people do not use the Internet for work (they are not knowledge
workers), for entertainment (they do not read), or for business (they
go to malls).  In short, if the Internet went away, it would cost them
very little.

Remember -- the Internet has been on the cover of Time once, and that
article was about pornography on the Internet.  That tells you what
the priorities of the people are.

In addition, many people have no interest in the revolutionary
potential of global communications.  The first time they ran into
globalization, they got laid off because some Guatemalan would do
their job for less.  They *want* to live in a Norman Rockwell

* Censorship of the Internet is practical.

People spend a lot of time whining that censorship of the Internet is
not possible, but that is simply wishful thinking -- computers are
"intellectual levers", and enable us to do more efficiently whatever
we can do now.  If one spends a little time actually thinking about
the problem, it is not difficult to design systems that can enforce
broad-based content censorship.  Yes, such a system would increase the
cost of some Internet services.  Yes, it would wind up damaging some
Internet services as they now exist.  Yes, there would be some strange
and annoying gateways for international traffic.  But, from the point
of view of the public, *those are not design problems*.  Pornography

People also like to threaten the use of "steganography", hiding
forbidden messages in various ways.  Well, it won't work.  Sure, you
can distribute to a small audience that way, but you can't do mass
distribution that way, by definition.  Once the coding system becomes
well-known, hidden messages using that system can be systematically
discovered and suppressed.

* Drawing a line in the sand is not the way to win this battle.

Given that we have an inferior number of troops, drawing a line in the
sand will result in a pitched battle, in which our side will be

* Invoking "freedom of speech" or some such absolute will not work.

Since the public thinks that availability of pornography to minors
should be forbidden, in their minds "freedom of speech" does not cover
giving pornography to minors.  Hence, appealing to such an absolute
will not get you any support.

* Assuming that the opposition is evil, idiotic, deceived, or
irrational will not work.

Getting people to take action is *always* a matter of emotion.  To get
people to take action, you have to find out what their emotions are,
and discover effective ways of showing that one's position advances
the things they feel positively about.  If you start by rejecting the
validity of the opposition's position, you shut your mind to them and
will not learn what they think and feel, so you will be unable to
craft your arguments to persuade them.

* Effective action requires long term planning to select tactically
advantageous battlegrounds, mobilization of resources, and a clear
understanding of the strategic situation.

All of these seem to be largely lacking in the present discussion:
Most arguments seem to be based on loud assertion of the righteousness
of our cause, which isn't going to cut any mustard with the public.
There is a little discussion of organizations that concentrate their
efforts on the battles that can be influenced, but I see precious
little thanks being bestowed on organizations that salvaged *some* of
what could have been lost in the last battle.  There seems to be no
understanding of what actually motivates the public.

Who is going to turn this mess around?  Who is going to attempt to
persuade the public to lighten up?

Dale R. Worley                                  Ariadne Internet Services
Voice: +1 617-899-7949   Fax: +1 617-899-7946   E-mail:
•••@••.••• "Internet-based electronic commerce solutions to
real business problems."


 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland
   Cyber-Rights:   http://www.cpsr.org/cpsr/nii/cyber-rights/
   CyberLib:       http://www.internet-eireann.ie/cyberlib

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