When we discuss free speech, especially in our electronic era of Internet communications, a brief review of recent history is in order.
In the 1970s and 80s we saw a fierce battle between Betamax and VHS video tapes. Two technologies were vying to dominate the market and eventually VHS won. Some make the case that it was the pornography industry that clenched the victory for VHS. There was clearly a customer base, and their desire was met.
Along with the business and technical battles came a loud cry about putting state imposed limitations on the distribution of pornographic videos with the “think of the children” theme. With the limitations in place, the phonography industry was now free to thrive because they had the protection of the state.
In the early 1990s the Internet was introduced to the world. The earlier technology tries of CompuServe, AOL, and MSN, were absorbed into the ubiquitous Internet. Bandwidths were still low, but when it was enough for the dissemination of pictures, and the same cry about pornography was heard. Thinking of the children, many put in policies and promoted state mandates to limit distribution.
By the early 2000s video via the Internet became possible and in time generally available. The video tape market, long replace by DVDs, was now seeing another move to online distribution of video, including pornography. Thinking again of the children, and after a lot of centralization of the Internet into a few large players, policies and some state regulations were proposed or implemented.
But at the same time the culture had shifted. What was considered unacceptable in society as pornographic was split into hard-core and soft-core or soft-porn. Making it soft made it acceptable to a wider audience and eventually the norm. I am also guilty of allowing the “soft” into my life. It was a terrible mistake.
Since we have corporate policies and state regulations in place, the issue is not as contested as in years past, so we needed something new to maintain our “think of the children” concern. Two things have taken the stage, child pornography and terrorism.
In the 1970s there was still a clear line as most of the culture would reject what we now call soft-porn. In 2018 that line has shifted radically as we are generally accepting of soft-porn and tolerant of hard-porn in an “adult” setting, but draw the line with child-pornography. But that line is blurring and there is a growing soft push to allow for a degree of freedom in that area. If the trend continues, the 2030s view of the 2010s, will be like looking at the 1970s in 2018. We will have put in policies and regulations to make child-pornography acceptable in context.
Terrorism is similar. We are concerned about what those people over there are doing, how violent they are, how they hate us, and we must put in policies and regulations to prevent them from having influence here. Think of the children!
While cultural debasement is a real issue and a clear trend, is it caused by technology or is it more by the policies and regulations that have been put into place? The regulation of pornography did not stop it, but rather gave it a legally defined place to thrive. Once we were safe and it was in its box, we ignored it and it spread because it was regulated. What happens when you put terrorism into a box?