Category Archives: Pornography

You know what’s sexy? Virtue by persuasion

There are supply-side efforts to fight pornography like the Lighted Candle Society, which litigates pornographers and is attempting to prove medically that it causes addiction. Agree or disagree, I think most technologists and much of the world consider such supply-side efforts an affront to free speech, censorship of the Internet, etc.

I’m inspired to see demand-side efforts like Fight the New Drug (FTND), which teaches children at school assemblies why they may want to avoid pornography for natural, self-interested reasons. The idea is, to paraphrase Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, “Pornography isn’t sexy. You know what’s sexy? Sexual intimacy with your spouse, someone you love. That’s sexy.”

I think an approach like this can teach children that, yes, this stuff is alluring, but there are self-interested reasons you may want to avoid it and opt for a more authentic kind of intimacy. It’s an attitude of “Don’t just avoid it because I said so. Understand the reasons.”

Now that I live in Boulder, I’ve come to learn that the local ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky was behind The Truth campaign I previously wrote about: Can pornography be made unpopular? In that piece I quoted Mary Eberstadt of Stanford’s Hoover Institution who called pornography the “new tobacco”:

Yesterday, smoking was considered unremarkable in a moral sense, whereas pornography was widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by people who consumed it. Today, as a general rule, just the reverse is true. Now it is pornography that is widely (though not universally) said to be value-free, whereas smoking is widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by many smokers.

This makes me curious to study the causes of the drop in tobacco consumption in the last decades. How much was caused by supply-side efforts (e.g. lawsuits against Big Tobacco, smoking bans, etc.) and how much was caused by demand-side efforts (e.g. The Truth campaign)? My bet is on the latter.

I’m very skeptical of the ability of government or law (prohibition) to produce virtue in a society. I very much approve of efforts to teach and promote virtue by persuasion and reason.

Can pornography be made unpopular?

My friend Cam has started a cause called Fight the New Drug (FTND). That “New Drug” is pornography, and their approach parallels the fight against tobacco.

This is about changing the messaging. For example, if smoking is a way to rebel against authority, then parents and medical experts saying Don’t smoke! only reinforces the rebellion. But if smoking is succumbing to executives at Big Tobacco, then smoking isn’t a form of rebellion at all, it’s a form of conformity. What rebellious kid wants to conform to Big Tobacco executives? That’s the message of The Truth campaign.

Become a Fighter - Fight the New Drug

Fight the New Drug

Imagine a similar change of messaging around pornography: Pornography isn’t glamorous, it isn’t sexy. Love and romance without pornography is glamorous and sexy. By making the negative externalities of pornography more visible, it would become less appealing. While organizations like CP80 and Lighted Candle Society fight the supply-side of pornography, FTND fights the demand-side.

I’m very excited about this approach.

Mary Eberstadt at Stanford’s Hoover Institution calls pornography the “new tobacco” and said:

Yesterday, smoking was considered unremarkable in a moral sense, whereas pornography was widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by people who consumed it. Today, as a general rule, just the reverse is true. Now it is pornography that is widely (though not universally) said to be value-free, whereas smoking is widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by many smokers.

Can we change minds again?

Columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez said:

…I’ve been flashing back to something Traci Lords once said: “I have to thank Ed Meese for saving my life.” At 18, her career as a porn star ended in a federal raid. How many Tracis are on a computer near you today? And who else is porn harming? It’s a question that our society — which in its rhetoric and culture says it cares about women and children and lives and love — needs to grapple with. If Eberstadt’s comparison is right, the time [is] coming. The shrugs will cease. Yet I hope the turnaround comes, not because the government has made porn highly inconvenient, but because we have decided we want something better. (Smoking Is Out, Porn Is In.)

Seth Godin said you can’t fight an ideavirus (“pornography is okay”) by “challenging the medium in which it spreads.” Instead, you must counter “one ideavirus with another one.”

You don’t counter racism by making the act of uttering racist statements against the law. You do it by spreading an idea (racism is hateful, wrong and stupid) that keeps the racist from expressing his ideas because all his friends will shun him if he does. (“Thinking about this war”.)

Here is some of the FTND messaging, paraphrased:

1. Educate people about the negative effects of pornography and let them choose their pornography involvement for themselves. We do not contest the legality to produce pornographic material.

2. Just because it’s legal to smoke cigarettes, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Similarly, porn can have devastating effects on you and your loved ones.

3. Although pornography consumption can lead to powerful addictive behaviors, we don’t contest people’s right to view it.

4. People need to be educated about the negative effects of pornography on individuals, families and businesses.

5. We fight against the demand for pornography. Through education, we believe people will no longer want to use porn and those with addictive behavior will seek help from professionals.

6. People addicted to porn often feel they have no options. We’re letting people know that they have a choice.

7. We want to infuse more sexiness into the world. Two committed people together — that is sexy. A lonely, addicted person sitting in front of a computer is not sexy.

Please make a $10 donation to FTND to become a “fighter”. Ten dollars from 1,000 people is better than $10,000 from 1 person. The money will be used to develop messaging campaigns to fight the demand for pornography. This will be a grass-roots movement to make pornography unpopular.

I’ve put in my $10 and I’m hoping many, many more friends will as well.

Do We Need a New Internet?

The New York Times recently asked, Do We Need a New Internet?

…there is a growing belief among engineers and security experts that Internet security and privacy have become so maddeningly elusive that the only way to fix the problem is to start over.

A new Internet might have more security, less anonymity.

As a new and more secure network becomes widely adopted, the current Internet might end up as the bad neighborhood of cyberspace. You would enter at your own risk and keep an eye over your shoulder while you were there.

Stanford’s Clean Slate Project intends to “reinvent the Internet” to “overcome fundamental architectural limitations,” including security.

I’ve previously asked, Is the Internet broken? One place it might be broken is in the ability for parents to protect their children, and interested people to protect themselves, from pornography.

If the university most associated with the invention of our current Internet is willing to reexamine its underpinnings and reinvent it, more incremental changes like CP80 or Larry Lessig’s H2M seem worthy of consideration.

Of course, anonymity can be a virtue. Anonymity allows seekers to learn about a new religion in a low-pressure way or protestors in Iran to orchestrate protests.

The tech-savvy, often libertarian-leaning people you find at Slashdot.org tend to dismiss proposals like CP80, considering them antithetical to the nature of the Internet. I like that one Slashdot user offered a thoughtful counterproposal: “The people who want a ‘cleaned kid friendly Internet’ can establish an alternate port where such a thing would be delivered….” (read more)

I think Bill Cosby’s adage applies: “I brought you in this world, and I can take you out.” We built the Internet. If it’s not suiting us well, we can change it. I think the Internet has already been a great tool for good, and will continue to be, but I don’t mind considering proposals that might improve it.

Is the Internet broken?

As amazing as the Internet is for commerce, communication, and education, it might have been better. Imagine opening your email and not finding any spam. Imagine your children or your little brother not happening into any pornography.

Pete Ashdown spoke at the Utah Open Source Conference earlier this year. He touted the virtues of the Internet for open communication and open government. He said the Internet is the “only working anarchy” and we “shouldn’t change it.”

At the same conference, Phil Windley quoted Vint Cerf, one of the inventors of the Internet, as saying he would have liked it different. “Vint wishes that the original design of the Internet had required that each endpoint…be able to authenticate [itself]….”

Vint is saying every computer on the Internet should identify itself. Anonymity allows bad actors to go unregulated. If authentication and identity were built-in, perhaps we might reduce Internet maladies like spam, phishing, and predatory porn.

Pete, Phil, and Vint are smart people. But they seem to disagree about whether the Internet needs change.

The H2M and CP80 proposals imply that something is broken about the current Internet. If so, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine changing it. People built the Internet and people can change the Internet. It’s supposed to serve us, not the other way around.

I tend to agree that we can do a better job of protecting children from pornography. I’m not sure what the solution is. Perhaps it’s H2M or CP80, or maybe something else. But if we believe the Internet is broken and can be better, we have every right to fix it. To quote Bill Cosby’s father:

You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, I’ll make another one look just like you. (Wikiquote.org)

Harmful to Minors

Even the libertarian and most ardent proponent of free speech should care that we continue to allow pornography to run rampant on the Internet. Here’s why.

A proposal by Larry Lessig called H2M (“Harmful to Minors”) would help parents protect children from pornography. Professor Lessig argues that if government doesn’t help parents block unwanted pornography, the loss of freedom of speech will be even greater because parents will turn to private companies for help:

Parents won’t wait for the government to figure out how best to filter harmful-to-minor speech. They will get what they can to block harmful-to-minor speech even if what they get is private and blocks more speech than necessary. For them it’s better than nothing.

After you watch this video, I think you’ll understand the H2M proposal:

H2M is similar to the CP80 initiative. Each is a proposal for 1. a new law which 2. codifies a technology which 3. allows parents to choose whether to block or allow pornography. Ralph Yarro of CP80 has repeatedly said that Internet filters don’t work. I infer that Larry Lessig thinks filters work well enough that parents will use them but not well enough to protect free speech.

I’ve previously written that the role of proper government is to stay small and allow nonprofit companies to compete for social change. In that light, perhaps I shouldn’t favor any legislation that would regulate the Internet. However, I see Professor Lessig’s point: a well defined law may serve all constituent groups better than no law.