Propaganda and Mass Communication
July 1, 1996
In February 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the first revision of our country's communications laws in 62 years. This historic event has been greeted with primarily positive responses by most people and companies. Most of the Telecommunications act sets out to transform the television, telephone, and related industries by lowering regulatory barriers, and creating law that corresponds with the current technology of today and tomorrow. One part of the Telecommunications act, however, is designed to create regulatory barriers within computer networks, and this has not been greeted with admirable commentary. This one part is called the Communications Decency Act (CDA), and it has been challenged in court from the moment it was passed into law. Many of the opponents of the CDA have taken their messages to the Internet in order to gain support for their cause, and a small number of these organizations claim this fight as their only cause. Some of these
organizations are broad based civil liberties groups, some fight for freedom of speech based on the first amendment, and other groups favor the lowering of laws involving the use of encrypted data on computers. All of these groups, however, speak out for free speech on the Internet, and all of these groups have utilized the Internet to spread propaganda to further this common cause of online free speech and opposition to the CDA.
Context in which the propaganda occurs
Five years ago, most people had never heard of the Internet, but today the Internet is a term familiar to most people even if they are not exactly sure about what the Internet is. Along with the concept of the Internet, it is widely known that pornography and other adult related materials seem to be readily available on the Internet, and this seems to be a problem with most people. Indeed, it does not take long for even a novice Internet user to search out adult materials such as photographs, short movies, text based stories and live discussions, chat rooms, sexual aide advertisements, sound files, and even live nude video. The completely novel and sudden appearance of the widely accessible Internet combined with the previously existing issues associated with adult materials has caused a great debate around the world about what should be done. The major concern is that children will gain access to materials that should be reserved only for adults. Additionally, there is concern that the Internet is being used for illegal activities such as child pornography. In response to the concerns of many people, the government enacted the Communications Decency Act which attempts to curtail these problems by defining what speech is unacceptable online and setting guidelines for fines and prosecution of people or businesses found guilty of breaking this law. While the goal of keeping children from gaining access to pornography is a noble one that few would challenge, the problem is that the CDA has opened a can of worms for the computer world. Proponents of the CDA claim that the CDA is necessary because the Internet is so huge that the government is needed to help curb the interaction of adult materials and children. Opponents of the CDA claim that the wording of the CDA is so vague that, for example, an online discussion of abortion would be illegal under the new law, and our first amendment rights would therefore be pulled out from under us. Opponents also argue that Internet censorship should be done at home by parents, not by the government, and that things such as child pornography are illegal anyway, so there is no need to re- state this in a new law. At this point, the battle lines have been drawn and like everything else in society, everyone is headed into the courtroom to debate it out. While this happens, the propagandists have set...