Thursday, February 18, 2010

Communication and Cyberspace- Risk and the Internet

Communication and Cyberspace
Risk and the Internet
by Jessica Vanacore

The chapter, Risk and the Internet, by Eric A. Zimmer and Christopher D. Hunter gives an analysis and understanding of the risks and fear associated with the internet, and the controls that government should have on policing web content. Under A BRIEF HISTORY OF FEAR AND CENSORSHIP, there is this idea of the fear of media in the past, whether it was storytelling, books, newspapers, movies, the radio, comics, and TV (185). The authors have a valid point to say that the internet is just a new medium for the public to have misconceptions and fear, especially the idea of the mediums impact on the youth. The argument goes back to Plato, who did in fact have an agenda of censorship in book, The Republic, over 2,000 years ago.

Plato’s want for censorship is on behalf of children. In the 1990s TV stations were required to have ratings on their programs that would indicate whether or not a show was appropriate for certain age groups. Back in 1450 the printing press created fear among the Catholic Church and rulers who didn’t want their people to have knowledge, and thus a “book banning list” was created. This is very reminiscent of the recent Harry Potter craze, when extremists felt the books promoted witch craft and paganism, and tried to ban them from public schools and libraries.

I enjoy how the authors tie in these past cases of censorship to reflect the internet, and how it really is just a next phase in mass communication. It is no surprise that there is conflict on how to handle, police, or censor the internet. And to that end, it is no surprise that pornography is the source of driving technology. I found it fascinating that the authors cite an example from the Civil War, where soldiers were receiving massive amounts of pornographic photographs to the point that congress passed a bill prohibiting obscenity being sent through the mail (187). Next, pornography drove cable television with pay per view, and VHS cassettes. The internet is not the only one responsible for the spread of pornography- it was inevitable to happen. The authors are practical to say it is obvious that pornography drove the internet because people like sex, and there is money involved in the business. It is the biggest business in the world, making the most money 10 years ago, and today.

So where did this fear come from? It came from a classic case of a media blitz over the threat of pornography on the internet and its accessibility to children, thus creating an inevitable fear. The fact that this media blitz was a result of a biased, discredited research paper from an undergraduate student, and a Times article that picked it up, makes the entire fear laughable, almost on par with “Harry Potter promotes evil” today. So government intervention begins.

It’s funny how history repeats itself.

This chapter really had me thinking about the implications that old media has on the new media. Sometimes I think the media forgets that it has had its own battles, and the internet surely must and will have its own. Also, a lot of argument, from what I gathered, is that this superficial fear that was generated over porn on the internet was to be expected. In addition, the research that Zimmer and Hunter concluded that in 1999 the actual pornography content was a relatively small percentage to the other content that is made available. This makes me think that the government and those who feared the internet for porn were forgetting about other potential evils of the internet. What if all the time, money, and effort that were spent in censoring and controlling pornography were put to watch dogging and monitoring terrorism? What if the fear projected onto the internet was turned into something more effective, like educating children on the use of internet and what is out there. Why fear something if you can come up with a more proactive solution than censorship?

-Jessica Vanacore

1 comment:

  1. Media scapegoating is an old story, it's true, and we really have to watch out for claims about a specific media item causing a specific behavior. On the macro level, it is impossible to talk about the effects a technology or medium has on an entire society in scientific terms, as there is no way to set up a controlled experiment on that scale. But we still can observe and draw conclusions, apply reason and critical analysis.