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Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 1999 /17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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AOL goes AWOL on parents -- AMERICA ONLINE is the warm, fuzzy king of interactive computer services. But parents new to cyberspace should take heed: Don't be lulled by AOL's family friendly facade and "You've got mail!" cuteness.

Despite a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography and an elaborate system of internal policing, the Dulles, Va.-based Internet company is notoriously ineffective, selective and hypocritical when it comes to cracking down on smut. AOL should not pretend otherwise.

There are many other Internet service providers that do not adequately control the influx of perverts and voyeurs. But AOL, the world's largest online service, with some 20 million users, warrants heightened public scrutiny. It is the granddaddy of Internet firms and poses as one of the staunchest guardians of children's safety.

AOL employs an army of online patrol cops. They eject disruptive members from chat rooms, execute gag orders and enforce an overbroad anti-vulgarity code that prohibits the use of certain words in any context, including such clinical terms as "urination" "genitalia," and "semen."

"We will not allow this valuable new medium to be exploited by child pornographers or child predators," proclaimed Steve Case, AOL's CEO, at a recent Internet summit.

Sounds very reassuring, but AOL's record speaks otherwise.

By the end of 1997, federal and local law enforcement agencies had identified more than 1,500 suspected pedophiles in 32 states primarily through AOL chat rooms. The New York Times reported last week on alleged adult predators who tried to lure children into sexual trysts through AOL chat rooms. The Bergen County (N.J.) Record has reported extensively on gay teens abused, raped and murdered by AOL chat-room stalkers.

A convicted child molester told the newspaper that one AOL chat room, NJM4M ("New Jersey Men for Men"), remains a favorite site for pedophiles.

This spring, a Texas pastor was indicted on federal charges of obtaining and transmitting child pornography through his AOL accounts at home and at his church. And last month, a West Palm Beach, Fla., woman petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to let her sue AOL because pornographic videos of her then 11-year-old son were sold through an AOL chat room.

The mother, who is seeking $8 million in civil damages, blames AOL for creating "a home shopping network for pedophiles and child pornographers." Her son's social studies teacher, who made and sold the tapes, is serving 22 years in federal prison for distributing and receiving child pornography through AOL.

AOL's highly touted safety net is not only full of gaping holes, it is also riddled with offensive political bias. While pedophiles roam AOL chat rooms, the PC patrol is busy bouncing perfectly law-abiding citizens out the door. Jim Supica, who runs a licensed, family-owned business selling collectable firearms, saw his AOL Web site removed without warning by company censors, who said it violated community standards.

"I don't argue with their right to take any site down. But it was their attitude. They treated me like I was a pornographer," Supica told me. Supica has heard from other legal, licensed firearms dealers who were purged from AOL. This anti-gun stance may please left-leaning subscribers, but how does this protect children from online pedophiles?

Meanwhile, AOL has just announced a three-year "premier alliance" with PlanetOut, a lesbian and gay online network, which will receive prominent placement in AOL chat areas.

How will the company's anti-vulgarity cops keep up? AOL's new premier ally features raunchy porn advertising, chat rooms and community areas titled "Young and Restless," "Boystory" and "M4M," and links to such sites as ""

An AOL spokeswoman told me the company was "proud" of the alliance. But AOL cannot plead ignorance about the rampant sexual nature of these gay chat rooms. In San Francisco two months ago, health officials tracked a syphilis outbreak to an "M4M" chat room. AOL called on PlanetOut for help in warning other chat users who might have been infected.

New laws won't cure AOL's hypocritical community standards. Government intervention is no substitute for parental accountability. The best defenses are increased consumer choices and the free exchange of ideas.

Fortunately, the Internet offers vast supplies of both - and it doesn't take AOL to get there.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


10/22/99: The persecution of Harry Potter
10/20/99: Don't doctor the law
10/14/99: The trouble with kids today
10/12/99: Pro-animal, pro-abortion, anti-speech?
10/07/99: Beltway press corps needs more skunks
09/30/99: ESPN overlooks athlete of faith, grace, and guts
09/27/99: Personal freedom going up in smoke
09/15/99: Farewell, "Miss" America
09/10/99: Will George W. work for a color-blind America?
09/03/99: Feminization of gun debate drowns out sober analysis
08/27/99: America is abundant land of equal-opportunity insult
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism
08/04/99: Sweepstakes vs. state lottery: double standards on gambling
07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line" (or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")
07/21/99: Reading, 'Riting, and Raunchiness?
07/14/99: Journalists' group-think is not unity
06/30/99: July Fourth programming for the Springer generation
06/25/99: Speechless in Seattle
06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes

©1999, Creators Syndicate