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A Word of Warning

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For Pagans of all types, proponents of religious tolerance, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, and anyone else concerned by censorship of public information by private business interests.

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On May 8, 1998, I received this message from the person who runs one of the pagan webrings among whose members I am honored to count myself:

---netadz owner wrote:

My Page Is Gone! : A Note of Warning

Please visit the above URL and/or link to it. In no way am I trying to provoke hysteria or slander against Tripod. I am just informing members of my web-ring as I feel it's relevant and worth noting.

If I offended you by e-mailing this to you.. I appologise.

-- netadz --

I clicked on the link, as I hope you will, and read that an entire website, including hundreds of original graphics and many pages of original irreplaceable maerial, had been deleted from the free servers at Tripod. The reason? That site had displayed the copyrighted CyberSitter logo graphic with the message that the site had been banned and blocked by that software, as have most religious sites that are not mainstream middle-america christian in nature. CyberSitter took offense; they may have already had their eye on the author, who had downloaded a test version of the CyberSitter software and honestly answered the question of purpose with their intent to test whether their site and others were blocked. The response received from CyberSitter at that time was a snide request to let them know if they had missed any pagan sites, so they could be added to the blocked list. Shortly after that, CyberSitter brought pressure to bear on Tripod to remove the author's website, supposedly for copyright violation in displaying a copy of the CyberSitter logo with the message that the site had been blocked by the software.

Since this software is in use in public places, it is important to educate the public as to what is being kept from them without their consent or even consultation. As the World Wide Web becomes an increasingly primary medium of communication, education, and information, it becomes of paramount importance that we as the public retain the right to access its contents freely, without infringement on that access by a private party whose interests are undisclosed, and seem to include the surpression of religious, political, and even medical publications. We must find a way to protect our children from any offensive material without restricting the basic rights and freedoms of adults. In the interest of adding my voice to that effort, I am posting this page containing my response to the author of the message.

Thank you for sending this word of warning (my fingers, with perhaps more sense than I, tried to type that as warDing ).

This is distressing news, and I hope people will take appropriate action to preserve their own page safety in the face of what is clearly an ever-increasing threat from this self-appointed arbiter of appropriate viewing material.

It is my opinion that in the long run, the only truly effective action against companies who mix their business with their personal prejudices this way is to drive them into changing their ways, or losing their customer base, through continued efforts to educate the consumers. Perhaps we should get some religious freedom organizations behind this; after all, who knows what sect may make the disapproved list next week, or next year? If we let a small group of unknown individuals decide what material is suitable for viewing by children, and by extension most other users of those machines where the software is installed, where is the discrimination going to end? Are they going to discriminate against Roman Catholics next? Or protestant evangelists?

Once people get the power of total control without supervision, or even the ability of the public to view, criticize, or even understand which sites are banned, and the criteria used for their censorship, there is nothing to stop them from foisting their views on every person using an internet connection under control of that software, through subtle and blatant interception and surpression of any material which does not accord with the personal prejudices of the unknown individuals who write the code and draw up the lists of unauthorized sites. Since those lists are considered proprietary business documents, at this time there is not even a way to examine the list of blocked and censored sites, save through the lengthy and laborious efforts of those persons so dedicated to freedom from censorship that they will actually test, site by site, to see what is blocked by the software.

Since this type of software is often installed on public internet access terminals, like those at the public libraries, and in the schools, we are now in the position of having a commercial business venture, with no supervision, practising a form of censorship on freedom of the press and of information that would be illegal even if duly enacted by our elected representatives, with the knowledge and input of the public at large. It is in the best interest of nobody to allow this to continue, with the exception of a few individuals of unknown intent who have appointed themselves the arbiters of the public morals without consulting us, the public, as to just what those morals may be.

I will be posting a copy of this letter, with your message, and a link to your page, on my website. Thank you again for sharing this disturbing experience; it is my hope that people will take a lesson from this and speak up while their voices can still be heard.

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Last updated on December 15, 1998

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