Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 1999 /17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
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
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
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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©1999, Creators Syndicate