Is censorship still censorship on the Internet?
(Short answer: Yes.)
This article floated across my feed reader yesterday: Ruling: Washington Libraries Can Deny Adults Unfiltered Internet. From what I can gather, the Washington Supreme Court decided that it was okay for libraries to refuse to turn off an Internet filter at an adult patron’s request. I was going to give it the benefit of the doubt, try to see all sides of the issue, but no, this is ridiculous.
“A public library can decide that it will not include pornography and other adult materials in its collection in accord with its mission and policies and, as explained, no unconstitutionality necessarily results,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote. “It can make the same choices about Internet access.”
Well…yeah, kind of. A library can certainly make decisions about what they will and won’t collect. But deciding that you won’t collect, say, books on gay rights because you think that material is inappropriate is also censorship. Even if it’s done at the collection development stage, excluding material from the collection for ideological reasons is censorship. Add to that the fact that the Internet is not like books: there is no way to separate the “good” from the “bad” on the Internet without locking access down to a bare handful of sites, and that is pretty much definitely not okay. (Is it, actually? Would a library be able to say “we’ll allow access to Hotmail and Yahoo and this list of library-approved reference sites but nothing else”? Even if that would pass constitutional muster, your patrons would explode.)
This is the quote that really drives me crazy, though:
Washington State Librarian Jan Walsh also praised the decision. “It strikes a blow for kids and it strikes a blow for taxpayers,” she stated, by giving public libraries “flexibility to reflect their community values as they adopt Internet policies and use of filters on certain content.”
What does this have to do with kids?!? If the computers are filtered and an adult requests that the filter be removed so they can look at perfectly legitimate stuff that’s been blocked by the filter — which phenomenon is, I hate to tell you something you’ll never be able to avoid — what does this have to do with kids? At all?
I started reading a book yesterday called Harmful to Minors, which was recommended on a totally unrelated blog somewhere. The author argues that American culture has gone completely insane on this whole protect-the-kids-from-sex craze, and I have to agree. When adults using the Internet at their public library (increasingly the only place adults *have* to use the Internet, particularly in a terrible economy when an Internet subscription at home is just not affordable) are being denied information in the name of “protecting the children,” we’ve completely lost perspective.