.xxx—Solution or Setback?
What could unite organizations as diverse as the Free Speech Coalition (an organized section of the pornography industry), Morality in Media, American Civil Liberties Union, and American Family Association? Just three little letters with a dot in front of them—.xxx.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating the Internet naming system, has pushed for a special domain for pornographic sites since 2000. The reasoning behind the creation of .xxx is that if we can herd all "adult" sites into one domain, we can more easily protect children from inappropriate material.1 Their proposed solution to a complicated problem has sparked opposition from polar opposites throughout the country.
Not surprisingly, the porn industry has objected to the move. They cite higher fees and the possibility of being forced into the new domain which could lead to government regulation.2 I say possibility because proposed use of a .xxx domain is strictly voluntary. And with our high courts' history of protecting pornographers' free speech "rights," I see little chance porn purveyors will lose their .com status or their "freedom" to disseminate pornography.
But what about objections to the new domain from family and Christian groups? Unfortunately, some of their assertions don't wash. One states the new domain will validate the pornography industry.3 With Internet sales garnering $2.84 billion for 2006 in this country alone, porn is already big business.4 I don't believe starting a new domain in an attempt to protect children will legitimize it.
Another argument claims the .xxx domain will increase pornography on the Internet.5 With 4.2 million porn sites on the Internet already, I find that doubtful.6 Nothing is stopping pornographers from launching new web sites now, so why would a .xxx domain trigger more? Webmasters would simply point the new .xxx address to an existing site. For example, www.TeresaCook.com and www.PornProofYourChild.com both take you to the same place, my Porn Proof Your Child site. If I wanted a .xxx url, I could also point it to my site, but it's still just one site.
In effect, this could be a blessing. Stuart Lawley, who won rights on June 25, 2010, to begin selling registrations to the new domain, plans a compulsory labeling system. This will tag .xxx sites with keywords, making it easier for browsers and search engines to filter or block them. The rule adds that any website the url redirects to or lands on also has to be labeled, so if any sites point to a particular page include an .xxx domain, they will all be blocked.7 Using the above analogy of my web sites, if I did add a .xxx domain to point to my Porn Proof Your Child site, search engines would block all three sites since one of them had a .xxx domain. Sounds good—if it works.
So what does all this mean for parents? If the uproar raises parents' consciousness of the dangers of the Internet, I'm all for it. But the furor will soon die down. Then what? My greatest fear is the following concern raised by Morality in Media President Robert Peters: "A well-publicized .xxx top-level domain will lull many parents into thinking that if they program their computers to block access to sites using the domain their children will be safe."8
Only about half of households with children use Internet filters now.9 Many parents either do not understand how easily obscene material enters their homes or do not care. Of the ones who do, the .xxx domain may look like an easy solution. However, reliance on the new domain will be like counting on a piece of cardboard to protect kids from enemy fire. And their children will be the ones who pay the price.