Fight Internet Censorship


Jonathan Wallace, publisher of The Ethical Spectacle, didn’t know why his site was being blocked by the “filtering” program CYBERsitter, which was designed to keep minors from accessing objectionable materials online. He wrote to the manufacturer, Solid Oak Software, to find out why — and claims that the company responded by sending him threatening e-mails.

We were surprised at Wallace’s complaint, since when we had written to Solid Oak to ask why The MoJo Wire was being blocked, we received a polite reply from the company’s president and were immediately unblocked. But our own inquiry about The Ethical Spectacle was not as successful.

We received a seemingly automated reply rejecting “unsolicited e-mail that is intended to be harrassing.” Further attempts to contact the company resulted in the same automated e-mail or no reply at all, suggesting that, while Solid Oak may not be harrassing Wallace in particular, they are certainly on the defensive when it comes to questions about their blocking policies.

A marketing representative for Solid Oak says that the blocking of The Ethical Spectacle was “…very simple: they contain or have links to sites that contain hacking information.” Wallace believes that he was censored not for his coverage of issues of law, ethics, and politics, but for mirroring a critique of CYBERsitter. The article in question originated on Peacefire, an anti-censorship student group which exposed how CYBERsitter blocked “indecent” information like NOW‘s home page, the entire WELL online community, even Yahoo searches for “gay rights” or “women’s issues.” (Solid Oak explained their previous blocking of The MoJo Wire by citing “educational customer complaints (9) for gay/lesbian issues.”) Solid Oak says it banned Peacefire for advocating no parental control on the Internet.

Solid Oak’s criteria for blocking includes not only sites that directly contain objectionable material — such as pornography, information on drugs, computer hacking, or other illegal activities — but by “any site maintaining links to other sites containing any of the above content.” I guess we’ll soon find out if linking to a blocked site is enough to get blocked (again).

Peacefire’s “online car wash”

Peacefire is one of fifteen plaintiffs in the ACLU‘s lawsuit against the New York Communications Decency Act. To help defray the costs of this lawsuit, Peacefire is recruiting Web-savvy youth (and their allies) to write Web pages.

If you can volunteer to write HTML, Java, CGI, graphics, etc., or if you’re a potential customer who would like to get a home page on the Web for only $10/hour and contribute to the ACLU legal fund against the New York CDA at the same time, Peacefire needs you. E-mail bennett@peacefire.org if you’d like to get involved.

And e-mail Solid Oak at support@solidoak.com or bmilburn@solidoak.com if you’d like to try to express an opinion about CYBERsitter.