Time's infamous "cyberporn" scare story author looks back 20 years later


#1

[Read the post]


#2

I wonder whos choice it was to depict the kid looking on in shocked horror at depictions of sex, rather than smiling with wide-eyed wonder. It says something of their values, I am sure.


#3

The article SHOULD have ruined him and anyone in the editorial chain that allowed it to be published. A breathless, sensationalistic garbage article that never should have been published based on garbage research that never should have been published that resulted in political grandstanding and terrible lawmaking.


#4

Did you miss the part about it being TIME Magazine? It’s not a publication that’s known for deep insight and intellectualism.


#5

I remember a specific interview around that time with an “expert” who explained that you could tell what kind of child porn a file contained (cuz there wasn’t anything else on the 'net, right?) by reading the file type: GIF was for little girls, and JPG was for little boys.

Keep in mind that in '95 there weren’t that many graphical browsers available, and dial-up speeds weren’t fast enough for sites to assume they could just cram a page with images. The availability of “teh pr0n” was limited in the same way that any other graphical content was. You’d have to use a newsgroup reader to search for sites that would have lists of multi-part text messages that would have to be slowly downloaded. Next, you’d have to merge the text messages and run them through a decoder to create a binary file (early news readers didn’t handle this automatically). THEN you could try to open the binary file in a graphics application (assuming the file wasn’t trashed). Hardly a scenario where young children were accidentally stumbling over shocking images.


#6

All I remember is the pic of the naked man hugging a CRT, the likes of which I can’t recall seeing again anywhere else. Maybe we’ll hear from the photographer who dreamed that one up.

While we’re at it, let’s get Clifford Stoll up to talk about Silicon Snake Oil. Sample from a Newsweek column:

After two decades online, I’m perplexed. It’s not that I
haven’t had a gas of a good time on the Internet. I’ve met great people
and even caught a hacker or two. But today, I’m uneasy about this most
trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting
workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of
electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business
will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the
freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in
no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can
take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will
change the way government works…

ETA: Oh wait, we already did.


#7

It’s also possible that kiddo has stumbled on something really curious. Nothing wrong with peculiar fetish material; but it isn’t everybody’s taste.


#8

Goatse


#9

I remember thumbing through this article when it came out. There was at least one illustration that included a list of addresses. I thought, good job, TIME, you’ve just provided a guide to the very thing you claim to be warning people about.

This was, I believe, around the same time that 60 Minutes did a report on how anyone could create a web site and call it anything they wanted. Horrors! If they ran that same segment today it would be called “This One Weird Trick Will Scare Old People”.

I believe I remember the interview. This was not long after I’d downloaded GIF and JPG images for the first time. They happened to be pictures of Saturn.

Funny enough I didn’t happen to hear the interview itself, but it must have been on NPR’s “Morning Edition” because what I did hear was Bob Edwards offering a correction a few days later. And I wondered at the time why NPR hadn’t bothered to do research before they ran the initial interview.


#10

Naturally! Nothing is.

I was already old by the time I saw Goatse, but when I was a kid, we tended to find outre stuff like that extremely humorous. Either way, I wouldn’t put pictures which I found truly objectionable into a different sort of conceptual/social category simply because they were somehow sexual. Just like anything else, people can acknowledge that they think it’s wrong, and say so. Exposure to any sort of topic is not a guarantee of tastefulness, nor a call for censorship/obscurity.

I am mostly just extremely skeptical of the tendency of people to treat sex as if it were a topic completely separate from the rest of life and the world, for their own various neurotic reasons.


#11

Let’s not forget his prediction that online revenue would never take off because people would be reluctant to put in their credit card information.

Interesting. You can get a copy of Silicon Snake Oil at Amazon.com.


#12

…and the media didn’t learn a god damn thing.


#13

Nothing wrong with peculiar fetish material; but it isn’t everybody’s taste.


#14

Oh the days of working the university helpdesk. We had an unfiltered usenet feed. I would spend a few minutes every morning scanning through alt.binaries.pictures.tasteless, oh look anatomy textbook pictures of real corpses sliced into sections. Download, uudecode, “Hey Tom, check this out!” “Oh jeez cut that out”
Then there were other things that were not really proper for work.


#15

You may have a little slippage in your history there. The Time story was published in was July of 1995.

Mosaic, the earliest wildly popular graphical browser, was available for free on popular platforms including Windows, Unix X-Window, Mac, and Commodore Amiga by the end of 1993.

Gary Wolfe wrote an article published in Wired in October of 1994, The (Second Phase of the) Revolution Has Begun, which argued that “Prodigy, AOL, and CompuServe are all suddenly obsolete - and Mosaic is well on its way to becoming the world’s standard interface.”

He went on to say:

Mosaic is the celebrated graphical “browser” that allows users to travel through the world of electronic information using a point-and-click interface. Mosaic’s charming appearance encourages users to load their own documents onto the Net, including color photos, sound bites, video clips, and hypertext “links” to other documents. By following the links - click, and the linked document appears - you can travel through the online world along paths of whim and intuition.

Mosaic is not the most direct way to find online information. Nor is it the most powerful. It is merely the most pleasurable way, and in the 18 months since it was released, Mosaic has incited a rush of excitement and commercial energy unprecedented in the history of the Net.

Graphical browsers were widely available in '95. It was still possible to download graphics from newsgroups as mulipart UUencoded binaries at that time (may still be, for all I know), but it certainly wasn’t the dominant mode for people worried about the kiddos getting into teh pr0n.


#16

Hey man, whatever you’re into, I don’t judge.


#17

Yes, Mosaic was available (and Netscape and IE later in '95), but personal computers weren’t shipping with browsers installed. You had to know how to connect using command-line tools to download them, or find a disk copy. Sure, those of us who were interested in tech or were using it in college may have been exposed to it, but the average magazine reader was still needing to be spoon-fed complex terms like

Simply having a browser installed also didn’t mean that a computer could handle the linked content. Memory restrictions often meant viewing pages with only the caption text appearing in dashed rectangles. As I mentioned before, slow connection speeds (for the general public) meant that it was a several-minute wait for many web pages to load even a few sub-VGA resolution images. Still, not a likely scenario for kids to see unintended porn.


#18

Remarkably, much better than my abandoned idea for a comment about “Uranus” :wink:


#19

And you’re just gonna leave us hanging there, which reminds me of that old joke: why is the starship Enterprise like toilet paper?

They both orbit Uranus wiping out Klingons.


#20

“a grab bag of “deviant” material that includes images of bondage, sadomasochism, urination, defecation, and sex acts with animals.”

Sounds like Sunday at mom’s house