On The Appropriateness of Internet Content

In today’s Alligator (the UF newspaper), there was a column that talked about how the writer felt there needs to be regulations regarding the appropriateness of online videos. This is my response to that column – I emailed it to the Alligator to hopefully be posted at a letter to the editor, but as you can see, it’s kind of long…

In Thursday’s Alligator, Rebecca Ganzak wrote in her column that she feels there needs to be regulations governing the “appropriateness” of content available on the internet. I feel that the actions proposed in Thursday’s column are the wrong ones to take.

The writer seems to assume that there is a wide-reaching government regulatory committee that oversees all of television programming and makes sure that inappropriate content does not find its way to the eyes and ears of children. However, this is not the case. According to the FCC’s website (the government regulatory commission that oversees television and radio), they only regulate indecent and profane content on broadcast stations. Obscene content is illegal at any time, and does not fall under First Amendment protection. They do not, however, regulate cable or satellite broadcasts, or violence on any channel. So, to simplify, the “government regulations” on TV apply only to sexual content and foul language on broadcast stations (i.e., the major networks and local channels).  In fact, most of the “regulations” on television are self-imposed by the broadcasters in order to keep their shows accessible to a wide audience.

Most of the outrage expressed in the column seems to stem from the “disturbing” videos the writer has viewed on the internet, on sites such as YouTube, MySpace, and the like. One video specifically mentioned is that of a group of six teenage girls beating up another 16-year old girl. The attackers videotaped the brutal beating, saying they planned to post it on YouTube and MySpace. In the column, the writer expressed outrage that such a video was viewable online, for anyone to see. She also mentions that she was unsure of whether the video was on YouTube or MySpace. In fact, the video is not on either of those sites. If it ever did make it to those sites, it was removed due to its breach of the Terms and Conditions of use for those sites. Instead, this disturbing video is posted prominently on most Central Florida news websites. I found it on both the WESH (Orlando NBC affiliate) and the Orlando Sentinel websites. Based on the WESH video, it appears that the video was featured on their nightly broadcast, a show which is governed by the regulations the column’s writer wants imposed on the internet. So in reality, this admittedly disturbing video was broadcast over television, but YouTube would not host it.

Much like television broadcasters, sites like YouTube self-regulate the content posted there. And this self-regulation is right way to control content. Most sites have fairly comprehensive Terms of Service agreements which prohibit the posting of graphic violence and other things of a negative nature. The only reason these kinds of videos sometimes appear on these sites is that it is impossible for YouTube or other sites to know and judge the content of a video before it is uploaded. Well why not just have every video screened by a human before going online? The sheer volume of videos posted every minute would make that completely impractical. As it stands now, any video which YouTube receives a complaint about is reviewed by the staff and if the video is indeed inappropriate, that video is removed from the site.

Another issue with regulation of the internet is that YouTube and MySpace are not the only places to host videos on the internet. Anyone with an internet connection and a little computer know-how can set up their own web server and host videos from their own computer. Also, there are millions of personal web sites that have videos hosted on them. I myself have several videos that I have made available my website. How is the government supposed to regulate this content? Unless they restrict where and how you can post videos online, there really is no feasible way to do this. And if you start restricting the internet in this manner, it becomes a very slippery slope indeed.

Unfortunately, there will continue to be a wide range of disturbing, inappropriate, and just plain weird material available online for anyone to find and watch (or read, or listen to). Or is this unfortunate? The awesome thing about the internet is that it allows for an unprecedented level of personal expression to a worldwide audience. In fact, in addition to the column calling for regulations on the internet, Thursday’s Alligator featured a look at student entrepreneurs who used the internet to start their own businesses. So while the freedom of the internet can be a downside, it is much more of a shining positive which allows for anyone, anywhere to have a voice as big as the next person. So how do we deal with this inappropriate material? The best way will always be parental supervision. Just like television, parents should keep tabs on what their child is doing, watching, and yes, posting on the internet. The beating of the 16-year old girl stemmed from inflammatory remarks she posted on MySpace. This is not to say that the response was in any way warranted, but I think that if any of the parents of these kids were keeping track of what they did (and how they acted) online, there would likely have been warning flags long before this brutal attack. And as far as software to block certain content online? There are already dozens, if not hundreds of companies selling parental guardian software designed to help protect your kids online. It is the parent’s responsibility to determine what is and is not appropriate for their children, and then enforce that. The problem is most parents don’t seem to care or put in the effort needed to really know what their kids are doing online. And no amount of government regulations will fix that.

One thought on “On The Appropriateness of Internet Content”

  1. I completely agree with the points that you make. I can’t help but wonder when people will stop blaming the government, the media, and other people for things that they themselves are responsible for. Welcome to the real world, now buck up and deal with it.

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