Clash of the Titans LVIII: Library Internet Censorship

November 4, 2007, 2:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Chloe, Debate, Tom  | 6 Comments

In this corner, against censoring the Internet in libraries, is Tom!

And in this corner, in favor, is Chloe!

I am in no way in favor of children viewing adult material. I’m not even in favor of the vast majority of adult material. But I am against an adult using the Internet and having it censored.

Censorship’s main problem is the inelegance that defines its operation. To function properly, a censor’s parameters must be defined by a person, and enforced by a machine. This is a less than ideal situation. The first problem is mostly that of scope. There are many ideas on the Internet with which a given librarian may not agree. What’s to stop that crusading librarian from blocking that subject from all patrons, for their “own good”? Restricting access to one arena opens the door wide to restriction for any other, and I fervently believe that the power to restrict people’s access to ideas could and would be misused.

The other problem with censorship is enforcement. A computer is a machine, and as such would make mistakes in enforcing almost any type of censor that could be installed.

A violence filter could block images of religious icons, news articles exposing the savagery of which humans are capable, and even reviews and previews of sweet Lady Hollywood’s newest blockbuster.

A sexuality filter could block access to this article (it does contain the word pornography), websites devoted to the health and safety of young people, and even reviews and previews of sweet Lady Hollywood’s newest blockbuster!

And a profanity filter might decide that your 56-year-old eyes cannot be trusted reading the velvety prose of my erstwhile opponent’s last clash, written back when she still extolled the virtues of free speech.

Friends, a better solution exists. In every public library I’ve ever entered, the computers were fitted with polarizing screen filters. This inexpensive device renders it impossible to see what the screen contained unless you were sitting in a chair directly in front of it. This way, when I’m triumphantly reading my newest clash against sex trafficking, or my latest public service announcement lauding the HPV vaccine, no child will be harmed by the foul language and ideas. To be doubly sure of their safety, a NetNanny-style censor could be activated should a child need to use a computer, as I have no problem restricting the freedom of those little monsters.

Because, remember — they are our future.

I had a librarian in high school named Mr. W. He was old, at least 75, and perhaps the most ill-tempered librarian I’ve ever come across — and I’ve seen some vicious librarians. He commonly yelled at students for talking, and was known for his tendency to throw students out while they were studying or doing research. We were all quite thrilled when he was fired, and we were absolutely triumphant when we found out why. Pornography had been discovered on his work computer. We were right! He was the devil!

But he was a teacher, exempt from the Internet restrictions imposed on students. It was just assumed that, as an adult, he would have the self-control and moral standing to refrain from such behavior.

Clearly, this assumption was wrong.

Library computers exist to assist in research and provide those without access to a computer the opportunity to use the Internet. They are not there to enable people to look at pornography or read about methods of violence. If a person wants to expose himself to such filth, he should get his own computer and do so in his own home. But when a free service is provided by public funds, we have the right to impose restrictions.

Yes, it’s true that at times, censoring can be annoying. There have been occasions when I was doing research, and for some odd reason, Houghton’s filter refused to grant me access to pages due to “adult content,” which was absurd. It’s irksome when you’re doing research on, say, breast cancer or victims of human trafficking, and you’re barred access because of explicit content. It’s inconvenient, but easily remedied. In a library setting, it’s not that hard to either find another website or ask the proctor to lift the restriction for the moment.

Internet censorship in libraries isn’t an impediment on your rights. It’s not a ridiculous attempt by the nanny state to turn you into a moral human being. It’s common sense, because there are people who would use those computers for the sole purpose of viewing explicit or malicious content — and that doesn’t belong on a publicly-run service.

Which side are you on?
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Comments

6 Comments to “Clash of the Titans LVIII: Library Internet Censorship”

  1. David on November 2nd, 2007 8:01 pm

    I take it all of Toms comments were bleeped out.

  2. MC-B on November 3rd, 2007 1:45 am

    Artsy AND lazy… not a winning combination, I’m afraid.

  3. Steve on November 4th, 2007 3:28 pm

    Okay, NOW his side is up too.

  4. Chloe on November 4th, 2007 6:24 pm

    Nice, Tom, pulling the profanity card. I heartily approve.

  5. Tom on November 5th, 2007 10:47 am

    Shouldn’t that read, “I heartily $%^&#@# approve?”

  6. Hoss on November 6th, 2007 11:29 am

    I think that the best way is for a person in the library to be there. If you go to a website and it says it’s blocked, even though it is for research, I believe that the person there should be able to override the block so you can continue doing your research.

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