The Salt Lake Tribune picked up an Associated Press report that “Salon.com, Nerve.com and other plaintiffs backed by the American Civil Liberties Union are suing over the 1998 Child Online Protection Act.” This is one of many laws that rely on “community standards” to determine when a particular behavior, especially those associated with unpopular though protected free speech, crosses the line and becomes criminal. Such a nebulous definition has always been a recipe for highly selective enforcement, and the AP reports that the Child Online Protection Act has yet to be enforced. However, it gave politicians at the time it was passed the opportunity to line up behind the intention to “protect the children” and enact a pointless law that in fact doesn’t protect anyone from anything.
The chill in the air the Child Online Protection Act creates, however, reminds me of recent brouhahas over an expletive let slip on air, a dramatized rape or sex scene broadcast on network TV (always in poor taste), and the flash of a boob during the Super Bowl halftime show. Those instances resulted in damaged or lost careers and hefty fines for the broadcasters, which also protects no one but does create an atmosphere of low-grade hysteria in public electronic forums. One wonders what sort of world the FCC lives in, where foul language, sex, crime, war, and/or various other atrocities aren’t already replete in the information environment. If we wish to protect children from that reality (itself a suspect motivation), it’s foolhardy to try to choke it off at the source rather than filter it out in the home.
The Child Online Protection Act deserves to be struck down or repealed. I for one hope that some common sense is applied to the issue and that fair-minded thinking prevails.