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Protecting Our Rights: What Goes on the Internet? (NIF Report)

This 1999 report assembled by Doble Research Associates describes how forum participants are thinking about questions of privacy, censorship, free speech, and free enterprise on the Internet. Find more details & order info on the NIF website. From the report…

Five Overarching Themes from the Forums:

As people deliberated about issues related to the Internet, five distinct themes emerged. Each is a composite of participants’ feelings about the many choices or policy options presented in the NIF issue book, Protecting Our Rights: What Goes on the Internet? 

1. People are deeply concerned about protecting children from sexually explicit material on the Internet. Protecting children from exposure to on-line pornography was by far participants’ greatest concern about the Internet.

2. But concern about children does not translate into support for having the government outlaw, censor, or limit the sexually explicit material that is on the Net. In the forums, people generally felt that whatever is permissible in print should be permitted on the Internet.

3. Sexually explicit material should not be banned or limited, people said, if two other conditions (in addition to software that enables parents to protect children) are met: cyberporn should come in a “plain brown wrapper,” and it should not assault or be unsolicited. Those conditions would allow them to tolerate Internet pornography: first, it should come in a “plain brown wrapper,” meaning that X-rated sites should clearly warn users before they enter so that people are not inadvertently exposed; second, pornography should not assault, either via unsolicited e-mail or unsought advertising banners.

4. People’s thinking about privacy protection is an emerging national issue that is now in a prelegislative stage.  Keeping personal information private was not an especially salient issue in the beginning of most forums.

5. Participants did not express much spontaneous concern about an array of other Internet issues, including hate sites, partly because people said they are protected by the First Amendment and partly because participants did not see them as presenting a “clear and present danger.”  People in the forums, including those that took place after the shootings at Columbine High School, were not overly worried about hate sites on the Internet.

More about National Issues Forums and their Reports on the Issues…

The National Issues Forums (NIF) network includes civic, educational, and other organizations, and individuals, whose common interest is to promote public deliberation in America. NIF issue guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. Look through all the NIF issue guides and their corresponding moderator guides, DVDs, and other resources at www.nifi.org/issue_books.

Reports are published periodically to communicate the outcomes of forums held across the nation about a particular issue. Making use of participants’ answers to forum questionnaires, reports from moderators, and in-depth studies of selected forums, these reports describe in some detail what happened as people deliberated about the issue at hand. View all NIF Reports on the Issues at www.nifi.org/reports/issues.aspx.

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/reports/detail_issues.aspx?catID=17&itemID=303

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