The following four sites oriented toward alternative sexuality have been blocked as FullNude SexActs. Two cases are completely inappropriate and two are cases of overbroad blocking.
(It bears repeating that these improper blocks, indeed all the improper blocks listed in this report, are the tip of the iceberg, found in just a few dozen hours' time by a handful of volunteers. There are over 50,000 entries in the Cyber Patrol database and most of them have not been investigated.)
"Fairy Tales and Dyke Dramas."
This site invites the reader to follow the daily adventures of five gay men and a lesbian in a sort of online soap opera. The characters go through the same trials and tribulations found on, well, any other online soap opera: boy trouble, girl trouble, job trouble. Included are a sampling of short stories: touching, funny, thoughtful.
There appears to be no nudity or explicit sexual material on the site, yet it is blocked as FullNude SexActs.
"The world's largest gay & lesbian internet catalog."
Are you looking for Address books (Women's), Baseball caps, Beach blankets, Black triangle (Lesbian Liberation), Blankets, Books, Bubble bath, Cake topper (Commitment Cakes), Candles, Caps, Car mats, Cat-collars, -leashes, -supplies, -tags or -toys, CD-ROMs (Adult), Clocks, Coasters, Commitmen, Certificates, Compact Discs (Audio), Computer accessories, or Cookie jars? That's just A through C.
There are two areas on the mall that have adult content; both lead to a warning page before presenting anything adult-oriented, and both are in their own directories which could easily be blocked themselves. One is the adult CD-ROM link listed above (/shopcdr/) and the other is the Rainbow Sex Shop (/shoprss/). There does not appear to be full-frontal nudity on the site; in other words, the FullNude category has no basis.
Even if there were, the question would remain: why is the entire website blocked instead of those two specific directories?
gourmet coffees, teas, food, and gifts.
Stonewall was the site of a 1969 riot in New York City that was the spark for protest against anti-homosexual laws and police brutality.
Stonewall, Inc. is a coffee vendor in West Hollywood.
of West Hollywood...
West Hollywood: the GeoCities neighborhood.
Now we come to one of the most contentious blocks Cyber Patrol has ever enacted. In recent weeks, it has come to light that the software blocks this entire GeoCities neighborhood. There are over 23,000 user sites covered by this block, totalling well over 50,000 webpages. Like all other blocks listed in this report, it has been in effect for an unknown period of time, without the knowledge of the site's webmasters.
On November 7th, David Smith posted to the fight-censorship mailing list a short report on improper blocks, including:
An advocate of filtering, David Burt of Filtering Facts, pointed out that, despite GeoCities' strict policy against explicit material, there was still some to be found on West Hollywood. Throughout the next weeks, discussion continued; most of the explicit material David Burt claimed to have found was no longer present on the site, and that which was, was removed within days and sometimes hours.
There are dozens of other GeoCities neighborhoods, each of which certainly has webpages who display explicit material. Sites like GeoCities which provide free web hosting will always have a small percentage of users who abuse the service. But only two neighborhoods have been blocked as FullNude SexActs: West Hollywood, and ironically a neighborhood physically located in West Hollywood, the Sunset Strip. (The Sunset Strip is devoted to music, and is discussed in the Introduction.)
On December 9th, David Burt reported that Cyber Patrol had reviewed the West Hollywood block, and
Mr. Burt then listed five "porn sites," none of which contained sexually explicit material.
Once the site had been reviewed and the block upheld, the administrators at the site itself were contacted and informed of the block (a step which Microsystems Software had never taken). On December 14th, Bob Parker, the Community Leader Liaison for the West Hollywood neighborhood, sent a long post regarding the block to several mailing lists including fight-censorship. An excerpt:
But a few minutes would have taken far too long. With over 50,000 entries in the database, spending even two minutes reviewing each block would take 1700 person-hours, easily over $20,000 in payroll and other expenses. It would not make economic sense for the company to examine its blocks too carefully.
But one single improper block, out of the 50,000, can blank out the websites of tens of thousands of people.
That was Sunday, December 14th. A new version of the Cyber Patrol database was released in the middle of this week, but West Hollywood is (as of Sunday, December 21st) still blocked as FullNude SexActs.
It will be nice if this one block is, eventually, corrected. But the problem itself will not be corrected. The real problem is not the individual errors, but the system which allows such errors to secretly and silently block good sites, without review -- and which allows a block to be reexamined dismissively, as David Burt reports this one was, until the potential media pressure of a group like GLAAD was brought to bear.
GLAAD has a member on Cyber Patrol's oversight committee, which meets bimonthly to discuss issues relating to blocking policies (but not any specific blocks). GLAAD has recently urged Microsystems Software to end its discrimination and has hinted that its participation on the oversight committee may be pulled; an upcoming GLAADAlert will denounce previous actions and hold the company to its pledge to "fix the problem."
A transcript (250K) of the discussion on fight-censorship regarding the West Hollywood block, from November 7th to December 12th, is available.
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