The obscenity section of the Communications Decency Act (hereafter CDA) bans publishing “obscene” material on the net. Unfortunately, according to this wonderfully moronic act, “obscene” is determined by “local standards” in the courts. That means someone hosting porn in California can be sued by someone living in Puritinicaville, FL (actual name – Ave Maria, FL) for hosting obscene material. For those that haven’t heard of this Internet thing, it turns out it is world wide. But any potentially obscene material hosted online and originating in the US now gets judged by the most conservative , puritanical communities rather than by the site of origin or at a nationally set guidance level. Any material online is obscene if any community declares it obscene.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court has declined to overturn this decision by lower courts. The site where I first saw this story, BoingBoing, has links to a social network style site named SuicideGirls (not safe for work). Under the CDA, a lot of what shows up on SuicideGirls would be considered obscene to some people. Now, thanks to the CDA and the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to overturn the lower courts’ decisions, a site like SuicideGirls could go off the air so to speak. Or at least outside the country.
I’m not suggesting that anyone, anywhere on the Internet should be able to post anything they want. But restricting all content to the most prudish members of our society might be worse than letting the most depraved determine what is acceptable. If we as a nation are going to put limits on Internet content, it needs to be restricted according to some defined national levels. As bad as our government is about determining things like this, I still think those at the federal level could do a better job setting a baseline standard than we will do letting any community decide.
Of course, better yet is getting rid of the CDA, but that’s not likely to happen in the heavily conservative court we now have.
[tags]CDA, Communications Decency Act[/tags]