The Internet, Pornography, and Children

Why should anyone be concerned about pornography on the Internet? After all, this is a

free country and everyone should have access to anything they want, right? This position would

be true if only adults used the Internet; it can not be true when children also use the Internet.

Most people would agree that children should not have access to Internet sites that are

considered pornographic. Does that mean that children should not be allowed Internet access or

that the Internet should not have pornographic sites? Of course it doesn?t mean that! What it

does mean is that the issues arising from the mixture of children and Internet should be dealt

with and not ignored.

This paper will attempt to intelligently discuss some of those issues. Areas covered will

include what the Internet is, risks to children who are viewing the Internet, what pornography is,

and laws concerning child pornography (in general and over the Internet). Additionally, the

number, content, and accessibility of pornographic sites will be discussed. Lastly, this paper will

discuss what measures can be taken to protect children from pornographic Internet sites.

What exactly is the Internet? It is a global network of computers used to transmit all

types of data between computers. Text, numbers, programs, illustrations, photographs, audio,

animation, and video can all be transmitted over the Internet. Contrary to what some people may

think, the Internet is not a single computer nor is it a single service. The Internet is not owned by

or governed by anyone. It exists solely through the support of the companies and institutions that

access it.

Though the Internet seems relatively new, its roots actually start in the 1960s. In 1969,

the Department of Defense started the ?ARPANET? project. ARPANET was a decentralized

computer network that was used to link military researchers at four universities. The Internet

later evolved out of ARPANET. Funding from the National Science Foundation in the 1980s

eventually led to the Internet being opened to commercial traffic.

Services provided over the Internet include the World Wide Web, electronic mail (the

most popular service), Newsgroups, and Chat. For one computer to communicate with another

computer on the Internet, both computers must be connected to the Internet. Connection to the

Internet can come from commercial online services or through Internet service providers.

Generally, home users connect to the Internet via the commercial online services over regular

phone lines. Some of these services include Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online.

Businesses, universities, government agencies, and the like, often have direct connection to an

Internet provider over high-speed digital lines. Some of these providers include Netcom and


The number of adults online in the United States by the end of 1998 has been estimated

as low as 44 million and as high as 80 million. 2 At the end of 1997, the number of children

online was almost 10 million. It is estimated that by the year 2002, 45 million children will be

online.3 While it is not clear how many these children have access to the Internet at home, it is

clear what percentage of them have access at school. Currently, about 81.8% of all American

schools have the Internet. It is estimated by the end of the 1998-1999 school year, about 95.9%

of all American schools will be hooked up to the Internet.4

There are risks to a child that a parent should consider before allowing the child to

access the Internet. Some of the risks include the following:

1. Exposure to material that is sexual, hateful, or violent in nature and the possible

encouragement of illegal or dangerous activities.

2. The safety of a child and/or a child?s family could be compromised by the child

providing information or arranging to meet a person they have met over the Internet.

3. A child could be exposed , through e-mail or chat/bulletin board messages, to

disturbing, demeaning, or aggressive material.

4. Legal issues resulting from a child using a parent?s credit card or violating another

person?s rights.5

Children?s access to pornography on the Internet (risk #1) is a concern of a lot of

parents. Pornography is defined as ?1.Pictures, writing, or other material that is sexually

explicit and sometimes equates sex with power and violence. 2.The presentation or production

of this material.? 6 Of course, that definition is from a standard dictionary. What is considered

pornographic usually depends on the individuals judging the material.

Child pornography is prohibited in all 50 states. The general statute states that child

pornography is comprised of the following : ? 1) The creation or reproduction of materials

depicting minors engaged in actual or simulated sexual activity (?Sexual Exploitation of

Minors?) or 2) the publication or distribution of obscene, indecent, or harmful