Burned by Beauty
a small story of censorship on the Net
On thursday the 2. of July 1998, around midnight, as I was preparing for bedtime, I was feeling very good about myself. The past two weeks had been stressful. Not only had I a lot of new members and work to see to, I was also designing a completely new members' site using new and unfamiliar software. As if that had not been enough, I kept getting weird technical problems on the Net that were very puzzling to me.
Well, I had finally solved what seemed to be the last of those, as well as finished all the other work, including the monthly newsletter, and I could finally relax, settling down to teaching myself more about Photoshop 5, which I had recently bought (an excellent program).
Great. So around midnight I checked my e-mail for the final time, just to round things off.
And one of the messages told me: "How come when I try to access the page you gave me, I get a message 'Forbidden - access denied'??" I wrote an answer that the address worked fine for me, and before sending it, I checked just to make sure. In my browser, instead of the beautifully designed DOMAI page, came the same message! "Forbidden"!
I was locked out from my own web page!! And the same was my members and everybody else. And I had no idea who had done it or why.
Now if I ever saw an emergency, this was it. So I did not waste time writing a mail, I got on the phone and called cross-atlantic to my American Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Los Angeles. (Lord knows what my phone bill alone will be for this thing.)
Well, people there had more or less left for the day, so I left urgent messages all over the place with people, machines and via e-mail.
The same thing happened next day. I learned that it was independence day week-end, and people were generally not there until monday. Three days away!!! I left more messages everywhere.
As you might imagine, even though I used my newly found spare time to learn some more about Photoshop, this was not the most pleasant weekend I have ever spent. Finally monday evening (morning in LA), I got hold of someone with any kind of authority. She promised to call me back, but a few hours later all I got was an e-mail. Telling me that the site had been removed from their server because of "adult content". And if I had any questions, I shouldn't hesitate to write them...
Questions!? I'll say I had questions.
Here's a little background: I changed my ISP a couple of months ago, because what with the rapidly rising popularity of DOMAI, the price of traffic had escalated steeply with the service I had. The new one I found was perfect, a very large and reliable provider, and much cheaper for a site with as much traffic as mine. Of course I read their policy page carefully. It said that they did not want web sites with, and I quote, "sexually explicit adult content". So I carefully checked my whole site, and of course I could not find as much as a single bare sexual organ or even an abstract drawing of sexual activity.
But knowing how America has a problem with nudity, I checked with somebody anyway. And after I had actually gotten them to look at their own rules, they said that it was OK.
And so now the chick I had on the phone explained to me, that really what was the measuring stick of material was whether a big American office could comfortably hang a given picture on its walls.
What a difference! I would like to see the American bigwig who would put up for instance a David Hamilton nude on his wall. And I would also like to see the person who would still define a Hamilton nude as "sexually explicit"!
So, I had followed a policy that turned out to be wildly inaccurate. I had been given permission, and that permission was not respected. I was given no warning when my page was removed. And, hell, I was not even given any information about my page being removed! It was four days before I even was informed of the reason! (And only because I had hounded them for days.) (This is the only thing they ever admitted to being wrong about this whole thing.)
To add insult to injury, here is the explanation I was given:
"We do not make these decisions on the basis of moral issues, but rather on the type of content and usage our servers are designed to handle. In our experience, sites with this type of content introduce a unique subset of technical and business issues that is quite different from the customer base we strive to serve."
So if the only problem is the service they are able to make, how come they (even if I had been given info), they don't give any warning, giving people a couple of weeks to find a new hosting service??! It is quite clear that the norm is that a server is cut off the minute it is clear that it "violates policy". The reason given above seems not to me to constitute any kind of emergency, now does it?
It seems to me that fear can be exaggerated. When your fear of what people think about you escalates to a point where even the thought of anybody finding out that your company's home page is with a company that is also hosting a web site with nude girls on it, then the situation is ridiculous.
Let's not kid ourselves, this experience is peanuts compaired to being tortured and killed for your opinions, as people have been and still are some places. But maybe this should not blind us to the fact that there is still plenty room for improvement, OK?
Sincerely yours, Eolake
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