Forget surfing the World Wide Web in search of the lewd and the lascivious. Access any online service today and, presto, you can enter such clubs as "The Woodshed," "Leather and Power," "Swingers," etc. And the spread of increasingly explicit graphics on the Net will inevitably widen and heighten public discussion of this phenemenon.
Last month, Sen. Exon and the Senate Commerce Committee approved a proposal that calls for fines of up to $100,000 and jail terms of as much as two years for anyone who transmits "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent" material. This should begin a necessary debate on how government can control access to such material without impinging on U.S. citizens' constitutional rights to free speech and expression. That's no reason for inaction by the private sector and by all online users who value this resource, however.
For starters, numerous online services are posting warnings about "for adults only" material. Plus the U.S. has a large body of legal experience aimed at curbing smut traffic, including restrictions on "dial-a-porn" phone lines and the transmitting of pornographic material by mail.
But in an age where children are often the most computer literate among us, questions will continue to revolve around the nature of material readily available online and on the Internet, not how to prevent access in the first place. "Buyer beware" just doesn't sound like protection enough when kids are just a mouse click away.
Marketers who see the Internet as a promising showcase should be in the forefront of this debate, helping shape not only the commercial future but the moral future of the medium. Free speech absolutists will decry all this. Yet we ask why pornographers have the right to poison a well we all drink from?