Access to Information: Youth and Pornography

Project Team

Matthew Fisher, Christina Vasquez, Nicholas Strzelczyk, Ashley Bender



As with any new and unregulated medium, the Internet provided for a new wave of unrestricted expression of free speech though the dissemination of pornographic material.  Although controversy surrounding access to pornography (in any form) is not a novel topic, with the advent of the Internet came a new fear of child exposure to indecent material.  Chatting, Usenet (the precursor to Internet forums), and early-forms of websites “pushed” pornographic material onto users.  Child exposure to insensitive material on the Internet became an increasingly unavoidable problem.

Responding to the concerns of a growing number of constituents, Senator Jim Exon (D, Nebraska) initiated an act attempting to protect minors from any indecent material available on the internet.  Section V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Exon’s Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), aimed to prohibit the online display and transmission of indecent material to minors.  However, upon passage, nineteen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the law in court summiting in landmark case Reno v. ACLU.  ACLU’s argument – that the act infringed upon freedom of speech – was upheld by The District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania, which deemed that much of the CDA was unconstitutional.  The Court further stated that there were already sufficient precautions in place for the protection of minors, such as warnings before pornographic websites and Internet-usage monitoring software readily available to parents.

After the repeal of most of the CDA, one of the only remaining sections, Section 230, set the precedence for legal battles for years to come.  In effect, Section 230 grants legal immunity to “interactive computer services” form their content (S. 652. 104th Congress. 2nd Session. (1996)).  In a rather ironic outcome, the “rider” Section 230 actually grants content providers impunity for displaying graphic and insensitive material that the CDA was trying to curtail.  Upheld in dozens of cases, Section 230 protects the free speech of Internet content providers, protected by the first amendment.

As for the social implications of the CDA and Internet pornography in general, no conclusive data has been gathered.  With the complications of studying 1) children and 2) a controversial topic as pornography, any conclusions are lost in the shuffle of consent forms and cultural (and religious) biases.  Researchers oversimplify the interactions of people and pornography and typically study forced viewings instead of real-life scenarios.

For future research, we would like to delve further into the CDA and develop a better contextualization of mid-1990s views and society.  Additionally, we would examine the proceeding “replacement” acts of Child Online Protection Act of 1998 and the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 to address the changing views of society and Internet pornography.  Further, we would like to compare the aforementioned acts with both similar and conflicting acts in Western Europe in order to determine the extent to which culture has an influence on policy regulating pornography.


Barak, Azy and William A. Fisher. “Internet Pornography: A Social Psychological Perspective on Internet Sexuality.” The Journal of Sex Research. (2001) 38:4, 312-323.

This article is a social scientific analysis of current research on internet pornography and its effects on peoples’ attitudes and personalities. They point out many flaws in facts and figures used in such research, and show how there are large variations in statistical data between studies. They posit a cognitive model for analyzing the ways that sexual images and thoughts are related to behavior. They conclude that current research methods are inadequate to produce any reliable findings and that empirical definitions and longitudinal studies are necessary for future research. This article was used to identify the sociological controversies surrounding pornography in order to compare the data with the arguments used in legal debates.

Craig, Robert J. “Reno v. ACLU: The first amendment, electronic media, and the Internet Indecency issue.” Communications and the Law 20.2 (1998): 1-14.

This journal article, written by Robert J. Craig, discusses the Supreme Court Decision about Reno v. ALCU, which upheld the decision in the lower district court which decided that much of the Communications Decency Act was unconstitutional.  Craig discusses the reasons that the court upheld the district court decision, stating that much of the decision was based upon the ideals of free speech.  However, for this presentation, I focused on the commentary about the reactions to the decision by different groups, from media to the average constituent.  Reading about the different opinions gave great insight into the courts reasons for holding the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional.

Cyberporn: Protecting Our Children From the Back Alleys of the Internet. 104th Cong., 1st Sess. 16 (1995)

This is a hearing in Congress by the Committee on Science in the U.S. House of Representatives, on the perceived threat to children of pornography accessible on the internet. In it, committee members voice their concern that the traditional safeguards against children being exposed to porn are being subverted by email, peer-to-peer file sharing, and chat rooms. There is also some debate over whether it should be the government’s job to limit access to sexually explicit materials online or if parents should be educated about how to monitor their children. We used this source to better understand the debates which lead up to the congressional acts and how they evolved through the course of the legal disputes.

Exon, Jim. “The Communications Decency Act.” Federal Communications Law Journal 49.1 (1996): 95-98.

This article, from the Federal Communications Law Journal, is Senator Exon’s commentary on the act. Senator Exon was one of the main people behind the passage of the Communications Decency Act, along with Senator Coats.  This commentary discusses the act, and describes what Exon’s main purposes behind implementing the CDA.  Essentially, Exon’s main argument for the implementation of the act was to protect children from indecent material that they could possibly find on the internet.  Exon further goes on to criticize the overturning of much of the act in the court case Reno v. ALCU and gives counterarguments for the courts decisions.  This article gives a view of the act and the fact that it was overturned from the viewpoint of the Senator who implemented the act.  Seeing this viewpoint gives important insight to the history of the act.

Myers, Ken S. “Wikimmunity: Fitting the Communications Decency Act to Wikipedia.” Harvard Journal of Law and Technology. (2006) 20; 164-208.

Following the Seigenthaler controversy, Wikipedia became under direct fire for their “user content” and susceptibility to false and erroneous information.  This journal article details the concept of Wikipedia as a user-defined encyclopedia, emphasizing the possibility for discrepancies.  After establishing the case, the author proposed that Wikipedia should be protected under Section 230 of the CDA.  As the article is a Harvard Journal of Law, Myers then described the legal proceedings in which Wikipedia should be upheld, most of which is overly technical and outside the scope of the presentation.  However, what I got from this article was the Seigenthaler case and knowledge of the how the law actually works.  I used this as one of my main case studies about the upholding of Section 230 of the CDA and used it as a jumping off point for further research into other cases regarding immunity provided by Section 230. S. 652. 104th Congress. 2nd Session. (1996).

This primary source is the actual act literature presented at Congress.  It details all of the provisions and details of the act.  I used the actual literature to understand a basis for the general stipulations of the act, what it protected against, and who is involved.  I wanted to contextualize Section 230 by seeing how it fits in with the rest of the act.  Also, after reading the fine delineations and at times vague statements, it made me question who exactly is protected under this section of the act.  Trying to found out who exactly is protected under this provision led to a gateway of different pathways of inquiry.  It was though this that I found my specific cases in which the section is upheld and only then could I properly assess the lasting significance of the section.

Sloviter, Dolores K, Ronald L. Buckwalter; Stewart Dalzell. “American Civil Liberties Union,, v. Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States; American Library Association, Inc., et al., v. United States Department of Justice, et al.” United Stated District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 11 June, 1996.

In this District Court case, Judges Sloviter, Buckwalter, and Dalzell determine that much of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is unconstitutional.  The judges site many reasons for their decision, but the most prominent is that the act undermines free speech on the internet.  The judges also site many other reasons, such as the fact that the act would blanket the internet with protection that would affect more people than the minors it is aimed toward.  Futher, there are already protections parents can use to block their children’s access to websites, and websites themselves have warnings already implemented. This is very pertinent to the topic at hand as it describes how effective the CDA was, and which parts of the act are still viable today.

Thornburg, Dick and Herbert S. Lin. Youth, Pornography, and the Internet. Washington, D.C.:

National Academy Press, 2002. Print.

Thornburg and Lin used a methodical means to outline the importance of the development of technology and more specifically on the adult entertainment industry. The information was key in terms of understanding how different avenues on the internet developed into means to distribute inappropriate material to youth on the intern. The source also outlined how each specific medium helped youth engage in internet pornography. We used this material to focus our research on online web sites. This source also gave more information on how children interact with media which explains why youth have gravitated toward the online pornography industry. Youth often spend more time in interacting with multimedia which inadvertently makes them a target for marketing and using pornographic sites. The information presented in the book was a valuable resource which helped us outline our research question and gave us essential information on how youth engage with explicit material.

Waskul, Dennis D. Net.seXXX. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. Print.

Waskul outlined in detail how sex became an integrated feature on the internet. He first argues how culture has influenced internet sex and then develops his argument to include pornographic and explicit material. This source provided a background in the history and the development of the pornographic industry. He also refers to certain genres which have evolved from traditional pornographic sites into fetish sites like race and gender. It also gave relevant information on the different types of sites, the industry, and the revenue that generates from pornographic sites. Overall, this source collectively gave a historical background on the industry and key features which have allowed it to grow exponentially over the past ten years.

Other sources

Armaghan, Sarah, Kerry Burke, Dave Goldiner. ”Craigslist Date with Murder for N.Y. Beauty Julissa Brisman, Model and Internet Masseuse Shot in Hotel.” Daily News. 23 April, 2009.

Babwin, Don. “Officials Say Craigslist is Still Selling Sex.” Associated Press. 24 July, 2009.

Cannon, Robert. “The Legislative History of Senator Exon’s Communications Decency Act:

Regulating Barbarians on the Information Superhighway.” Federal Communications Law Journal 49.1 (1996): 51-92.

DeAngelis, Tori. “Web pornography’s effect on children.” Monitor on Psychology 38 (2007): 50.

APA Online. <>

Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. “On a Screen Near You.” Time Magazine. 3 July, 1995.

Immunity for Online Publishers Under the Communications Decency Act.  30 April, 2009.  Citizen Media Law Project.  30 July, 2009.  <>.

Jacobs, Katrien. Netporn. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2007. Print.

Marty, Rimm. “Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway: A Survey of 917,410

Images, Descriptions, Short Stories, and Animations Downloaded 8.5 Million Times by

Consumers in over 2000 Cities in Forty Countries, Provinces, and Territories.” 83. Georgetown Law Review, 1995.

Miller, Leslie. “Internet Decency Act Goes to Court.” USA Today. 21 March, 1996, 1.

O’Donnell, Ian, and Claire Milner. Child Pornography. United Kingdom: Willan, 2007. Print.

Sarno, David. “Craigslist to remove erotic services section, monitor adult services posts.” Los Angeles Times. 13 May 2009.

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