July 1996

Root Page of Article: The Wired World According to Women, by Leslie Regan Shade

Women's Views on Free Speech, Censorship, and Online Harassment

The issue of offensive material (including pornography, hate material, harassing messages, and defamation) on the Internet has generated considerable controversy and coverage, both well-informed and sensationalistic. Stephanie Brail's experience with online harassment, which she details in her essay, "The Price of Admission: Harrassment and Free Speech in the Wild, Wild West," became a bit of a media sensation and, for many feminists, problematized the fine distinctions between free speech and censorship. Her nonlegal definition of online harassment is 'wanna fuck' e- mail: unsolicited e-mail for dates or sex, typically from men to women. Even though such harassment is 'only words', when "words hurt," the fuzziness sets in. Bozo filters and kill-files are some of the technical solutions for eliminating such nuisances, but many women find that these remedies can't ameliorate the situation. Riotgrrl sensibilitiesħspeaking outħmay be the only solution now for 'taking back the Net'.

As well, issues over free speech and censorship has certainly impacted one community of users--the academic community and users of Usenet. Recent controversies in the Canadian and U.S. academic community, including several cases at universities where various Usenet conferences in the hierarchy have been removed, from university computing facilities due to their sexually explicit and offensive content, raise several troubling questions: what are acceptable use policies for networks?; what constitutes proper use of university computing facilities?; what is free speech in the electronic environment, and on university computing facilities?; can offensive newsgroups and offensive messages be considered sexual harassment or hate literature? In "Sex, Fear and Condescension on Campus: Cybercensorship at Carnegie Mellon" Donna M. Riley examines what happened at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh when administrators attempted to censor the hierarchy. Riley, a pro-sex anti-censorship feminist organized the Clitoral Hoods, who have continued to work on issues of censorship and women's sexuality, debunking the notion that the censoring of supposedly salacious Usenet newsgroups 'protects' women. --

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