The talk about the recent widespread release of the Daniel Pearl Video (news ) and the fact that I have inevitably run into this video online has started me thinking about the moral dilemmas a webmaster faces when publishing questionable or controversial content online.
Interest runs through all parts of life and is often confused with entertainment. I wouldn't exactly call the news entertainment; however, I spend at least an hour a day catching up on daily news. I have no desire to actually view some of the rather disgusting types of porn or macabre imagery often thrown in the mix of an innocent search for humor. Sites such as ConsumptionJunction (that give you a fair and consistent description or warning) have given me as much fun as they have disturbing thoughts. "The truth is out there" and if you go looking for trouble, it's not very hard to find.
Paying to Play
The fact of the matter is, you, the webmaster, pays to publish content online. The hosting costs of serving "hot" pictures or videos can quickly skyrocket. If that content is construed as harmful, be it porn or gore (or whatever), attempting to even the costs by putting up banners or popup windows to make a profit makes you the worst person in the world in the eyes of the conservative public. This conservative group, my webmaster friends, is the public majority and our government.
Being The Bad Guy
When it comes down to it, we all exploit content online. We buy (or "acquire") it and we use it to try to turn a profit. From softcore porn to scat, it's out there and some webmaster has to look at it every day like a mirror. What you publish or what you work on reflects a part of yourself, and whether your reasons are monetary, enjoyment, or free speech there are moral issues, ethics, and the consequences of how that content will be perceived by the majority public and the law. These are things that need to be taken into consideration beyond financial gain.
What is Harmful?
It is not for me to question why someone would search to look at death, rape, bestiality, hate, or other forms of extreme content. Curiosity comes to mind, the "because you can" factor, but is that novelty idea enough to make it worth a webmaster's while? Just like interest, humor has a very broad perspective in the human psyche and in society. Personally, I think the above named forms of content are much more harmful to minors than most forms of porn found online. I would rather have my 13 year old brother or son having wet dreams about a beautiful naked woman than having nightmares about messy suicides, accidents, and murders. Regardless of what I think, all these are parts of our rights to free speech that I would not give up for the world.
I am becoming more of an advocate of the idea that we can better protect our free speech rights by regulating how "mature" forms of content are marketed and presented. Unfortunately there are always going to be the deadbeat reckless webmaster who has to push the bar by doing something unethical just to make a buck, but these are the types of people that need to be punished. Do you throw away apple because of one bad spot? They say all it takes is one bad apply but through self regulation and education, positive changes can be made with out changing laws.
I believe many of these issues of publishing questionable content online can be resolved by simply requiring the user acknowledge that they are entering a site themed for a mature audience and are of age, and either a second screen, section, or description of each image warning the viewer of exactly what to expect. If you choose to create a rating system than do so, especially if you are mixing soft with hardcore, straight and gay, or humor and graphic content.
For example, at ConsumptionJunction I may want to see all the "drunken shaming" pictures but definitely NOT "god's mulligan". Banners that feature nudity on a non-adult page are completely out of place, same with popup consoles. Mixing the two forms of advertising (especially in the search engines) requires that page titles contain a "Mature" warning and it is important to frequently search for your domain name in the engines to view pages where users can "walk into" pages with content that should require a disclaimer. This can be easily done by invisibly framing the page and will not result in loss of ranking.
Ultimately I think the TGP2 concept had the right idea but is only one singular format for keeping free hardcore porn out of the "limelight" and eyes of young or unsuspecting viewers. I believe it starts with every adult webmaster who has ever given advice to a newbie about a site or required certain criteria before listing a site in a directory or engine.
Most people won't change on their own but does it take new laws and a loss of freedoms to make positive change happen? No, I don't believe it should. It will take a growing number of ethical webmasters, editors, and sponsors to set the bar - the example. It is impossible to know the story behind every photo shoot, extreme video or photo just as it is impossible to know what the interpretation of every user that sees it will be. We all know in our hearts the right thing and it is in this trust I know our webmaster community will over come any obstacles presented by our government.
Our freedoms are too important not to care. In a perfect world there would be no moral dilemmas and how boring would life be. We all know in our hearts the right thing and it is in this trust I know our webmaster community will over come any obstacles presented by our government. Like every form of adult media before us, we will overcome and find a secure balance in the future of many generations of webmasters to follow.
Cynthia A. Fanshaw is a guest writer for XBiz.com. A full time search engine marketer for over 4 years, Cynthia is the Marketing Director and Webmaster of http://adultchamber.com and contributing writer for Klixxx Magazine as well as for a number of webmaster resource centers online. Her focus is to help webmasters by developing marketing tools and resources, and to communicate good information about Internet marketing strategies.