Society - Internet

A Bogus Report

      Oddly enough, the CDA had its genesis in a July 1995 cover story by Time magazine on pornography on the Internet.

      The issue of obscenity on the Internet, as it is in any conventional medium, is a touchy one. Few want to see a society awash in smut, but laws defining what is and is not obscene do not lend themselves to objectivity — or, to paraphrase a judicial comment regarding indecency, few can describe it, but many claim to know it when they see it. Other forms of expression, such as political dissent, can be labeled “obscene” and thus abridged.

      Time exacerbated the matter by claiming that the vast majority of images posted on the Usenet portion of the Internet — a substantial part of the Net — were pornographic. With millions of computer-literate children and more joining their ranks daily, parents were mortified.

      The story was based solely upon “Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway,” a then-unpublished study from Carnegie-Mellon University characterized as the work of a “prestigious team of university researchers.” Time crowed that it had gained “exclusive rights” to the study’s publication.

      The study was authored by Martin Rimm, who claimed that 83 percent of all images posted to the Usenet were pornographic. The impression Time intended to leave was clear: the Internet was rife with virtual indecency of the lowest order.

      Yet the truth was radically different — in almost every respect.

      “Prestigious university researcher” Rimm was actually a CMU undergraduate, his study reprinted without critical examination.


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