A few members of Electronic Frontier Canada have developed an amusing and interactive Web page to celebrate `Freedom to Read Week'.The Internet, some people say, is out of control and in need of strict government regulation. But just what might a censored Internet look like?
One possible answer to that question is given by the ``Black Thursday Machine'', an interactive Web page that was the brainchild of three multimedia designers: Brian Hall, Andrew Chak, and Rob Stanley. Stanley is also a member of the online civil-liberties organization Electronic Frontier Canada.
The ``Black Thursday Machine'' invites Internet surfers who visit the site to type in the address of their favourite Web page, to see what it might look like if a Canadian version of the new and controversial American ``Communications Decency Act'' were put into effect.
The ``Black Thursday Machine'' will fetch any page you request, but it presents you with a censored version. The algorithm it uses is simple and unsophisticated -- but these are the same kinds of rules recently used by America Online and CompuServe when they blocked access to discussions including the words `gay', `sex', or `breasts'.
``Any naughty word is replaced by the word `CENSORED' in bright red,'' says Rob Stanley, who was the chief programmer. Which words are on the forbidden list? ``It works just like government censorship,'' says Stanley, ``you don't get to choose. It's an arbitrary process.''
The Web site has links to a few representative examples, including pages about `Breast Feeding', `Safe Sex', `Planned Parenthood', and help for troubled `Gay Youth', that are rendered almost unintelligible by the crude censorship.
``Despite well-intentioned desires to protect children,'' says Jeffrey Shallit, vice-president of Electronic Frontier Canada, ``adults need to be able to communicate freely about controversial issues. Otherwise, we'll reduce the level of discussion on the Net to Winnie-the-Pooh.'' Paraphrasing a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Shallit said that censoring the net to protect children is like ``burning down your house in order to roast a pig.''
``The `Black Thursday Machine' demonstrates the ravages of censorship in an amusing and provocative manner,'' says David Jones, president of EFC. ``I hope people will take a moment during `Freedom to Read Week' to visit the web site because it illustrates what the wired world might look like if artistic expression, vigourous debate, and all the subtley of human communication and interaction were subjected to the cold, calculating, and heartless scrutiny of a machine that filters out what the government might deem as controversial, offensive, or just plain inappropriate for the eyes of its citizens.''
New and harsh restrictions on what can be communicated through American computer networks were signed into law on Thursday, February 8th, 1996 -- `Black Thursday'. ``This sent a shock wave through the Internet, where concerned individuals around the world `Painted the Web Black' for 48 hours as a sign of protest,'' says David Jones, EFC president.
``The purpose of `Freedom to Read Week','' says Sandra Bernstein, ``is to encourage Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.'' Sandra Bernstein, also a member of Electronic Frontier Canada, represents the Periodical Writers Association of Canada on the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee, which sponsors `Freedom to Read Week' each year.
Bernstein also maintains an online `Chronicle' which documents challenges to Freedom of Expression in Canada: http://www.efc.ca/pages/chronicle
Multimedia designers who dreamed up the "Black Thursday Machine": -- programming, engine development. Rob Stanley, phone: (416) 928-9503 (home), (416) 960-8400 (work) email: firstname.lastname@example.org -- graphical look, interface, design, and copy Andrew Chak, phone: (416) 469-4154 (home), (416) 448-2403 (work) email: email@example.com fax: (416) 469-0914 -- concept development, design Brian Hall, phone: (416) 504-0908 (home), (416) 351-1040 (work) email: firstname.lastname@example.org, pager: (416) 337-3377 These fellows also dreamed up the award-winning "Canadianizer" at the following URL: http://www.io.org/~themaxx/canada/can.html - - - - -Additional sponsors of the `Black Thursday Machine':
- - - - - Further Contact Information for `Freedom to Read Week' in general Freedom to Read Week -- Web page URL: http://www.cycor.ca/pwac/freeweek.htm Freedom to Read Week -- Publicist, Sarah Thring phone: (416) 480-2533, fax: (416) 480-2434. Sandra Bernstein, phone: (416) 465-0798 email: email@example.com, URL: http://www.inforamp.net/~sandrab/home.htm Book and Periodical Council, 35 Spadina Road Toronto, ON Canada M5R 2S9 email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: (416) 975 9366, fax: (416) 975 1839 Periodical Writers Assoc. of Canada, 54 Wolseley St, 2nd Floor, Toronto M5T 1A5 email: email@example.com URL: http://www.cycor.ca/PWAC/Words.htm phone: (416) 504-1645, fax: (416) 703-0059