In 1995 Time magazine published a cover story about online pornography that gave grandstanding politicians an excuse to try to censor the Internet. The politicians would have succeeded, if it weren't for the efforts of civil libertarians, especially Mike Godwin, who was staff counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation at the time.
The "Cyberporn" article was written by Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who relied almost exclusively on a research paper that was completely fraudulent. Elmer-DeWitt is now a writer for Fortune, and he wrote an essay about how his "Cyberporn" article nearly ruined him:
The problem with the story, which I sensed as I was writing it but was too green, too ambitious, too scared of losing my cover slot to address, was the news hook—the “report coming out this week” that I’d pitched to the editors as a Time Magazine exclusive guaranteed to make a splash.
The report—an undergraduate research paper published in a law journal—made a splash all right, but not the kind that reflected well on me or the magazine.
It was immediately attacked from several quarters. By civil liberties groups who saw it as an assault on free speech. By academics who saw through its tissue thin methodology. By sociologists who disputed its most provocative thesis, duly reported in Time, that the market for online porn was driven by a demand for images that couldn’t be found in the average magazine rack: Pedophilia (nude photos of children), hebephilia (youths) and paraphilia—a grab bag of “deviant” material that includes images of bondage, sadomasochism, urination, defecation, and sex acts with animals.
One Time researcher assigned to my story remembers the study as “one of the more shameful, fear-mongering and unscientific efforts that we ever gave attention to.”
“Nearly every Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to fully reauthorize the Patriot Act through March 2020, extending the right of federal agents to use all sorts of secret surveillance against Americans,” reports Reason. As the EFF says, “The USA PATRIOT Act broadly expands law enforcement’s surveillance and investigative powers and represents […]
[[Editor's note: I was the Electronic Frontier Foundation's first-ever European Director, which was a crazy and amazing job at a time when the organization was much smaller; now EFF is much bigger, and international issues are a much bigger deal for us, with bad policy ideas ricocheting around the globe and needing a coordinated response; […]
Assigned to covertly observe and, if necessary, violently protect air travelers on flights which include passengers on a TSA terrorist watch list or on routes that are considered to have a higher probability of coming under attack in a terrorist action, federal air marshals have been a fixture on many flights since the September 11th […]
You might know someone who can make a pipe out of any conceivable household object. But if they’re doing it every time they smoke, it might be time to get them a little Christmas present. And we’ve got just the thing: The Twisty™️ Glass Original Combo Pack, priced way, way down for December. If you’ve […]
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Do you have any Star Wars fans on your list? Given the reach and output of its new corporate masters these days, it might be easier to ask if there’s anyone out there who isn’t a Star Wars fan. So let’s narrow it down further: Do you know a Star Wars fan who likes to […]