educational

The Ratings Rumble

Stephen Yagielowicz

Yesterday, the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) announced that AOL / Time Warner, Yahoo! and the Microsoft Network will support their new Web site filtering system. A mainstay of the Online Adult Entertainment Industry, voluntary participation in the ICRA site rating program is something that all Webmasters should do.

The press release read: "In an unparalleled display of public-private partnership, the three most trafficked Internet destinations AOL, MSN and Yahoo! have adopted the Internet Content Rating Association [ICRA] content labeling system with broad support from children's advocates and the First Amendment community. Content providers such as Playboy.com have also self-labeled their sites. Today, ICRA kicked off a campaign to urge others to join the effort." And now today, I'm going to join that effort, too.

Formerly known as RSACi, the Internet Content Rating Association (http://www.icra.org/) provides a flexible framework for industry self-regulation that allows individual Web site owners to indicate the presence of any objectionable or potentially harmful material on their sites, such as nudity, violence, gambling, and more.

Who They Are, and What They Do
According to their Web site, "The Internet Content Rating Association is an independent, non-profit organization with offices in the US and Europe. ICRA's aim is to protect children from potentially harmful material while protecting the free speech rights of content providers. ICRA owns and operates the ICRA labelling [sic] system, and its RSACi forerunner."

This mission is accomplished in practice through a system whereby Webmasters fill out a simple questionnaire to describe their site's content. Upon successful submission of the online form, a special META tag is generated that the Webmaster then inserts into the newly rated Web page. Optionally, a text or graphical link will publicly display the site's support for this valuable program.

Surfers can select from a variety of custom settings, either on their browser or filtering software, that will allow or restrict access to individual sites based upon their content ratings. The range of choices permits surfer access to information on breast cancer, while blocking adult sites about "tiny tits" for instance. Through the use of this technology, responsible and caring parents will now have the ability to easily block objectionable sites from their children's curious eyes.

In addition to the built in functionality currently available to surfers within Microsoft's popular Internet Explorer browser, support for the ICRA content rating tags is or will be available through most commercial software filtering products, as well as ICRA's own upcoming MS Windows based filtering product.

Why Bother Rating Your Site?
For Adult Webmasters, there is little downside to participating in a free, voluntary self-labeling program. The continued availability of adult material on the Internet should be a matter of choice, not censorship, and ICRA labeling gives surfers the power and information to make that choice; not just for themselves, but for their families. By using these tools on your site, you put the onus for exposure to adult materials back upon the surfer, and their own personal responsibility.

ICRA labeling, as well as adding a comment tag such as as the first line of your HTML code (a tag recognized by most commercial filtering products) plus a clearly visible "warning" and disclaimer text, can go a long way towards showing a "good faith effort" to keep minors from your adult content. While this should only be considered a first step at protecting children (and your bandwidth), this practice, along with only displaying hardcore material in an age-verified environment, can only help to quell the voices of censorship and intolerance. ...a clearly visible "warning" and disclaimer text, can go a long way towards showing a "good faith effort"...

Your support of ICRA's program for industry self-regulation (along with other worthy efforts such as ASACP's fight against online child pornography) may make the difference between choice and censorship. Do your part by voluntarily rating your site today!

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