The Clinton administration and the Internet industry have joined forces to champion voluntary ratings for Web sites. But would that create a “family-friendly” Web — or one that blocks out quirky, controversial, vibrant voices?
This in-depth look at the controversy over PICS labels appeared in the October 1997 issue of The American Journalism Review.
By J.D. Lasica
When President Clinton challenged the high-tech industry this summer to create a “family-friendly Internet” by cleaning up cyber-smut and other offensive content, newspaper editorials applauded the president’s decision to forgo government regulation and let private industry police the Net.
Few realized that the White House’s “parental empowerment intitiative” would plunge online news publications headlong into the thorniest thicket of free-speech issues in the history of cyberspace — and lead to the news media’s rejection of the president’s proposal when it comes to their own Web sites.
The fate of an Internet self-rating system, however, remains far from settled. And the online news media’s actions in recent weeks have been riddled with more intrigue than a John Le Carre thriller — with the final chapters still not written.
Consider the questions the online news world took up after the president’s call for an Internet ratings system: