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When Pandering Goes Bad

Let me first reiterate that all comments on the blog reflect my personal opinion and not the view of my employer. That is very important to note when I feel compelled to make comments about something as stupid as the new McCain effort to pander to the electorate.

Social networking sites and message boards face the same regulatory burden as internet service providers (ISPs) in a new bill proposed by ex-US presidential candidate John McCain. McCain wants sites to report all child pornography to authorities.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of trying to eliminate kiddie porn. Those who are found to support it need to be punished extensively and a special place in hell should be reserved for them. Having said that, let me also point out why this is one of the dumbest public policy ideas ever floated by someone with an IQ higher than his shoe size.

Under this law, this web site, which routinely gets overrun by comment spam, would count as a message board. In the eighteen months I have maintained this blog, I have deleted nearly 10,000 spam comments – the overwhelming majority of which are labeled as some sort of porn.

How many of them are child porn? Honestly, I have no idea. I have yet to click through to one. It’s not that I have anything against porn, but I’m going to find my own if I want to partake, I’m not going to click some skeevy link in a post about Survivor’s season debut.

Under the McCain law, however, I am required to click through to every single one of them, determine whether it is kiddie porn (or, I assume, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2257 requirements for secondary producers), and if I cannot verify the age of anyone present in the pictures, I am to report it, or face criminal charges myself.

The only other option is to report every single link. That would create 10,000 leads the investigative authorities must inspect – creating a massive backlog of investigation if those 10,000 porn spam links are multiplied across the tens of millions of blogs that allow comments. Does the FBI really have the manpower to inspect the 500 billion links that have to be reported by blogs alone?

This proposal clearly indicates two things. First, John McCain clearly knows nothing about technology, blogs, the web, and the practical implications of this asinine proposal. Second, this is nothing more than an attempt to pander for votes by inserting the heavy hand of the federal government.

Here’s a better idea, John. Implement the .xxx domain. Mandate instead that all porn be relegated to that domain, and any porn, of any kind, that is housed at another domain be punishable by fines and jail time. It will a) allow filters to block porn very quickly and easily by simply restricting access to any .xxx address and b) make regulating all porn (kiddie or otherwise) easier by providing stiffer criminal penalties for violations.

(Disclaimer: While I work for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, this post should, in no way, be construed as an official position of the Association. Thoughts in this space are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the views of my employer.)

Written by Michael Turk