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By Bob Harris
IF YOU BELIEVE Time, Newsweek, and the Weekly World News, online pornography is becoming a national crisis: children everywhere are logging onto the Internet, stumbling into pictures of nude women and immediately degenerating into drooling little perverts.
I use the Internet constantly to research these articles and my lectures. Last week, when I needed to double-check some stuff about Kurdistan, I had everything in about 10 minutes. And I didn't see any naked ladies.
But is it possible the kids are at risk? Finding out meant hours of grueling research, seeking out and examining dirty pictures. Never one to shirk my devotion to truth, your intrepid reporter spent an evening last week fearlessly immersing himself in cyberfilth. It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.
Here's what I found:
The World Wide Web is full of kid-friendly point-and-click graphics, so that's where I began. Using about a dozen search engines, I found roughly 200 sex-oriented sites in about five minutes. Wow.
But don't get sweaty yet. Kids can't even find their own shoes, much less remember 10 phrases like http://www.altavista.digital.com and then come up with keywords to describe things they've never seen.
Even if they could, most of what they'd find is about as dangerously erotic as an episode of Baywatch. A lot of "adult" websites are simply lingerie catalogs and such. Many others are just weird and harmless, like The Online Image Museum of Lycra, where some guy with a lot of time (and God knows what else) on his hands keeps an archive of speed skaters, disco singers, and TV superheroes for your viewing self-pleasure.
Nearly all of the hardcore stuff is at pay-per-view sites requiring a password and a credit card. Besides, the pictures take so long to download I can't imagine anyone, especially short-attention-span kids, preferring this to a simple magazine. Peeking at my Dad's hidden Playboy stash was a lot easier and dirtier.
The Usenet is a text-based area for such useful discussion groups as alt.elvis.sighting and alt.dinosaur.barney.die.die.die. You can't just blunder into something horny here, and even if you did, photos have to be laboriously converted back and forth into binary code. And half the postings are for get-rich-quick schemes, which makes sense, since it's all so time-consuming that regulars couldn't possibly have a job.
Typical here is alt.pictures.celebrities.nude, with naked shots of Demi Moore, Raquel Welch, and Madonna--like you need a computer for that--and stuff like alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.disney, which is as goofy as it sounds. There are also skin shots aplenty of famous actresses making serious career mistakes.
Diff'rent Strokes, indeed.
Alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.fetish made me laugh out loud: pictures of men wearing diapers and wrestling in mud; a girl with about a hundred piercings swimming underwater; and a bald woman doing something with a beer can you'll just have to imagine. (Yes. Exactly. You pervert.)
The best part was trying to figure what in hell happened to these people in junior high.
Obviously, this is nothing you want the kids to play with, but 6-year-olds can rarely type, much less penetrate Unix filename structures and uuencoding.
Notably, I saw no sign of the legendary kiddie porn, although religious zealots were everywhere, usually in nut-case-friendly All Caps: SINNERS! ESCAPE THIS TAWDRY NIGHTMARE! answered by a bunch of underwater diaper-wearing beer lovers writing things like "bite me bite me bite me."
Now I see why people actually consider CNN's Crossfire a form of intelligent debate.
I also sampled a few sex-oriented IRC channels and FTP sites and whatnot, with similar results. Of course, the Internet is big enough that there are certainly some bad things going on that I didn't see. Welcome to Earth.
Still, just to be sure the kids are all right, I ran one final test. I sat my 6-year-old nephew down at my PowerBook. A bright kid from a family of engineers, he uses computers at school. If I pretended not to watch, would he soon get his very first jpeg?
Nah. In three minutes, he was back at the TV playing Nintendo, gleefully kicking little electronic people in the neck until they collapsed.
Now there's a real danger.
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From the Dec. 26, 1996 - Jan. 1, 1997 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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