U panel discusses Internet censorship

Andrew Tellijohn

University students can surf the Internet at will, and this freedom should not change very much in the future.
“The policy is at the more extreme end of permissiveness as it relates to free speech,” said University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg.
Rotenberg was one of a four-member panel that discussed freedom of speech and cyberspace as it relates to the University Monday in the Law Building.
There are two predominant views as to what degree the Internet should be regulated, said panel member Laura Gurak, a University professor of rhetoric and technical communication.
One view is that nothing should be censored on the Internet. The other is that the Internet needs to be heavily regulated to prevent inappropriate materials, such as pornography, from being accessed by minors.
All University students have access to the Internet. The University’s current Web policy does not prohibit students from accessing any materials on the Internet. But the policy stresses that students should refrain from reproducing copyrighted materials or those that are deemed obscene.
Last year the University tried to adopt a more aggressive World Wide Web policy that would have prohibited students from creating offensive Web pages or linking their University-sponsored Web pages to other sites that contain offensive materials.
“That lasted about 12 minutes,” said Marcia Fluer, director of University Relations and moderator of the panel. The problem was that the term “offensive” is vague and there was no feasible means of enforcing the policy.
Much of the responsibility comes down to students policing themselves, Fluer said.
But self-regulation doesn’t always work, Gurak said. She said the sense of anonymity people have when they use the Internet can give them a sense of strength.
“People open up a little more when they’re talking online,” said Jon Gordon, a panel member and a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio.
The ability to use pseudonyms in online chat lines and e-mail can often lead to inflammatory messages because the users cannot be identified, Gurak said. The state of Georgia wants to pass a law banning the use of pseudonyms because of the influx of harassing behavior.
But it’s also easier, through e-mail, to say something nice about someone, Gordon said.
Ten years ago, hardly anyone on campus had access to the Internet. Five years ago, the numbers had grown, but it was difficult to use.
Now, because everyone at the University can access the Internet, there is a need for a definitive language in the Web policy, Gurak said.