December 2, 1997 1:40 PM PST

Gay group opposes Net filtering

Filtering software and ratings systems threaten to erase the lesbian and gay community online, states a report released today by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in conjunction with the Children's Internet Summit in Washington.

When many gays and lesbians, especially those who have found a refuge on the Internet, cheered the defeat of Communications Decency Act, they didn't know their battle was far from over: they still had to contend with filtering and ratings technologies, the report states.

"Unfortunately, the advent of Internet filtering software and ratings systems mean cyberspace is poised on the edge of doing to gay men and lesbians what the CDA was prevented from doing--rendering us invisible," the report states.

GLAAD, which has taken an active role in cyberspace, denounces filtering programs that automatically screen out non-sexually explicit lesbian and gay content. Many filtering programs do not inform the user of what sites are being blocked. GLAAD states that at the very least, software should fully disclose what criteria it uses to filter.

Preferably, GLAAD says, filtering software should not screen on the basis on sites that simply have gay and lesbian content.

Cyberspace allows many gays and lesbians to explore issues of sexuality anonymously, without the threat of rejection or violence. Because of that, many gay and lesbian online advocates estimate there are a disproportionately large number of gay- and lesbian-oriented sites online, ranging from political and social groups to companies providing sexually explicit material.

GLAAD worries that gay youth and children of gay parents, who have found information often not available elsewhere, will be shut out by software that filters out all gay sites.

While parents should have a right to screen out whatever sites they want, they should be given full control over filtering software, the report states.

"We just think it's really important to make sure that the responsibility is put in the hands of parents and not decided before the parents get to make the choice," Joan Garry, executive director of GLAAD, said today.

Perhaps ironically, conservative group Morality in Media agrees with many of the points raised in the GLAAD report.

While GLAAD opposes software that filters based on gay content, it also acknowledges parents' right to do so.

The groups remain on opposite sides for the most part, however, especially in terms of the fundamentals of their causes.

"If they're opposing all software that blocks gay sites then I'm against their point of view," said Bob Peters, president of Morality in Media. "I think all parents should have the right to block gay sites."

He added that parents should be able to block whatever they want. "I don't oppose the rights of parents to block out religious sites," he added.

However, he also said that gay sites fall into a different category than, for instance, sites promoting racial equality. "Somebody might start offering to block black sites. Most parents would not view promoting homosexuality in the same way they view promoting racial minority sites. Most parents still see the difference. The question is, should they have the option to block sites that are promoting the gay cause?"

Peters also did not say he opposed software that automatically blocks gay sites.

"If parental choice is what's at stake here, I think many parents would not want their children to access gay sites, and in my opinion, they should have that option," he said. "If some software doesn't give them that option, parents who want the option can choose other software."

The groups also diverge on another very important point: GLAAD, like most civil liberties groups, opposes government regulation of content on the Net.

Morality in Media says screening software only resolves part of the problem and that it needs to be implemented in conjunction with new laws regulating the Net.

In fact, Morality in Media has condemned the Children's Internet Summit as "a public relations gimmick to highlight the availability of parental screening technology. The real purpose [of the conference] is to head off further legal regulation." 13061

 

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