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Volume 15/Issue 17

CompuServe to Move G/L Content

CompuServe, which has 5.4-million users around the world and is second in size in the U.S. only to America Online, announced July 28 that it will be creating an adults-only area on its CSi service and moving its gay and lesbian content there as of August 5. The move is intended as a compromise between allowing free access to so-called "adult" material while limiting its accessibility to minors. To sign on to the adult area, the user will need to provide his/her name, age, and other information, receive confirmation of "adult" status from CompuServe, and use a password. All these "safeguards" are being put in place even though the service already offers parents blocking options to control their children's surfing and refuses to post anything at all rating higher than a "5" on the Microsystems Software scale of 9. (AOL currently uses the same software to rate its content but not to censor it.)

In the wake of a resounding free speech victory in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the so-called "Communications Decency Act," service providers are moving to censor themselves before anyone else can. CompuServe has already had the experience of government-imposed censorship in Germany, where a prosecutor required the service provider to block more than 200 sites, many of them with gay or lesbian content. Prodigy announced last week that it is responding to President Clinton's call for industry self-regulation, by blocking its users from accessing newsgroups intended exclusively for child pornography.

Australia is also taking an industry-self-regulation approach. The federal government announced July 15 that Internet operators and ISP's are being asked to develop and voluntarily adopt a code of practice and a complaints process to handle violations. Online materials will be granted the same protections as books, videos, films, and computer games in the physical world-which still means that materials denied classification will be illegal to publish and those rated "X" and "R" are not to be accessible to children. Federal and state governments are to cooperate to develop uniform laws, although they're having considerable difficulty at the moment in reaching agreement on amending film and video ratings.

GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has been carrying out a continuing dialog with producers of filtering software about the questionable ethics of treating everything "gay" as a suitable target for censorship or restriction. In a dialog between GLAAD's interactive media director Loren Javier and Ken Soohoo of PlanetWeb (producer of the browser included with Sega Saturn) reported earlier this month by CINET, Soohoo was quick to say that he would never filter out a given racial or ethnic group because, "We're not in the business of selling prejudice here"-but slower to understand Javier's point that gays and lesbians are just as much of a community, and not just a "topic," an ideology or a sexual activity.

Javier was particularly concerned that PlanetWeb even offered such a category for filtering as, "Information regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender subjects presented in an impartial, informative manner." He said the option sent "a message that there's something implicitly wrong with homosexuality." He felt protest action against any such approaches was warranted, warning that otherwise, "we could become even more invisible than we are on other media."

Meanwhile, there's growing awareness of the limitations of the kind of screening software on which the U.S. Democrats based their hopes for an uncensored Internet. Blocking "sex" is likely to block a site for Essex County; blocking "personal" is likely to block information on personality disorders; and the line between children's toys and sex toys is not always easy to program, while many sites parents may find objectionable for their children still slip through. CyberPatrol told the Associated Press in late June that they were adding fully 500 new sites per week to their then-20,000 "CyberNOT" censored list. [from NewsPlanet]

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