Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Internet Censorship

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.
 
Net censorship never seems to be a topic that dies, in particular censoring all that dirty naughty porn for the (eternally) sake of the children. I think the most extreme version was a proposal by the Tories in the UK to try and create a blanket porn filter for the whole UK (like they could) that people would have to opt-out of (rather than opt-in).

I was not impressed, nor were many others.

But, regardless of that extreme example, we all know everything from schools and work places to public community centres, libraries, internet cafes, universities - in fact just about everywhere. I've seen internet filtering being used everywhere from WIFI in hotels to even the US Amtrak (and I'm not even sure I know what AMTRAK is, but I've seen a story about it's internet filters).

Now you're probably looking at me and asking "why Sparky, why do you need to see the naked people humping everywhere you go?" well, because it makes the day interesting - no, actually I have another motive. Not that I don't think that a discussion of our terror of nakedness and sex wouldn't be a worthy topic, but no, that's not my point.  

No, I'm going to look at these web filters and what nasty, poisonous things they are.

These filters filter out sex. And STDs. And sexuality. 

And yes, that usually includes gays and lesbians and bisexuals and trans people and anyone else who is LGBTQ. Want to find information about testicular cancer or breast examinations? Hmmm could be difficult. These filters are often so grossly wide that even "it gets better" videos are being censored.

In fact, anyone following my constant bad news round ups on my journal will see that part of the reason I know about all those failing net filters in all those myriad places is because I've seen them fail and block GBLTQ sites and news sites et al. There has been a repeated theme of net providers, libraries, mobile phone providers, wireless providers and, yes, even Amtrack blocking completely non-pornographic websites if they presumed to include anything GBLTQ related - including sites like Pink News and other GBLTQ news sites and blogs.

I do not trust governments, companies, local authorities or the technological gurus behind the ISPs, even remotely, to implement these filters a way that won't censor huge swathes of the GBLTQ internet to say nothing of the various other sites on everything from health to sex education. I don't trust any filter to be done right because it never is, time and time and time again, it is never done well. 

And no, allowing people to "opt in" to porn will not cover this problem. People shouldn't have to opt in to pornographic content in order to access blogs by gay people, news about gay people or adverts selling books about us. We're not something obscene to censor, damn it and our lives do not belong in brown paper envelopes.

And, even aside from the principle, the kids who need this info, who need to find the gay community, who need to reach these sites, this information should not have to go to their parents and ask for access to hardcore porn to do it!

Of course this will also hit the most vulnerable. The closeted who can't control their own net connection - including kids trying to learn about who they are. As an extra bonus we teach them that who they are is just too obscene for them to see.

The poorest who don't have access to the internet at home. And of course, it's not like non-internet sources of GBLTQ information, education and news are in any way easily or commonly available.

So when it comes to net filters, I'm not on board. Even aside from concerns of censorship or fear of sex - until the straight world stops seeing us as inherently obscene, these filters damage us. They cut us off from one of the few sources information about ourselves we have - and they add to the isolation and loneliness of our young and most vulnerable - who already face horrendous isolation.