Masthead CMC Magazine August 1, 1995 / Page 7


Journey to the Center of Cybersmut

by Lisa Schmeiser (

How many clicks does it take to get to the steamy side of the Net? This question shares the same elusive, yet trivial quality as its tootsie-pop forebear, but the assumption that a child can, in three jumps, reach pornography seems to have taken hold.

Not having ever stumbled across a site featuring "obscene" content, I figured I was just looking for sludge in all the wrong places. I decided I would conduct a little experiment (1) to see how many sites I would have to click on before I randomly stumbled into a pornographic site.

In the interest of science, I decided to start with the Netscape home page; after all, that's what greets thousands of webcrawlers daily as they fire up the computer. Surely, I could find the quickest way to a obscene site. If children were doing it, I should be able to.

After two hours of futile point-and-click, I came to the conclusion that the same children who find such gems as the Ready Randy Farmers archive blindfolded are the same one who open childproof caps, program VCRs, and find the secret page on the Ben and Jerry's web site.

So I began my experiment on the Netscape home page. I quickly jumped to the What's Cool page, thinking the unique, subversive sites that peppered the 'Net would all be highlighted here. After scrolling through at least 30 commercial sites (including the FedEx site, the IRS, and MasterCard), I finally decided to hop to Glenn Davis's Cool Site of the Day.

I figured Mr. Davis would have an obscene link in his exhaustive archive. I scrolled down the screen, past the Pulitzer Prizes, Crayola, and the Detroit News. No quick leads there.

I clicked back to the June list; the only thing that would qualify as "obscene" was The Spot. Sporting a graphic inviting virgins to "lose it here," tame and tepid story lines, and lots of pictures of barely dressed women, the Spot is a soap opera written from a dog's point of view (2). If that doesn't violate somebody's sense of decency, I'm a Spotmate myself. The graphics load alone kept breaking my browser.

I was about to fire a quick email off to the advertising agency responsible, but my computer crashed again. I re-booted, and hit the "Spot Board," a bulletin board where webcrawlers could engage in such discussion as "Forget Paris? Tara should stay home!!!!!" Then a post announcing The Spot as a URL to Make You Hurl caught my eye. I hopped over. After all, I reasoned, if The Spot outraged someone, their list of similarly offensive sites should be the mother lode for obscenity.

I was disappointed; the page is in its infancy and while the content is fantastic, it provided only a link to Orbit, an e-zine devoted to " those of you who had to quit being anarchists because there were too many rules."

Disconsolately, I scrolled down, expected to find links to existential poems and confusing short stories written in the second person present tense. Then I found it - The Senator Jim Exon Memorial Web Pages, complete with warnings not to read the pages. I clicked.

Aside from a four-letter wallpaper, the site contained nothing truly depraved or onanistic. Instead, there are a series of reasoned arguments hiding under headlines like "Sexual Freedom is Not Moral Anarchy" and "Sodom2: A Modest Proposal to Placate the Christian Right." There is one link to sexually explicit material - Justin Hall's s e x site - and after linking there, I had to link through a menu, and then through another page before I finally accessed the site featured obscene material.

The grand total? From Netscape to the Complete Internet Sex Resource Guide (and I am not providing the URL; find it on your own), I clicked the mouse 12 times. As a control, I decided to see if I could find the same site through Yahoo only to discover they're replaced their "Erotic" listing with this message:

"As Yahoo's popularity has increased, this section has caused a lot of inconveniences both to users and site maintainers of this type of material. Users complain that none of the sites work, and new links that are listed here usually do not last for more than a few days. We have decided not to maintain these links in the future. The links we have currently will only be displayed for a short time. Thank you."

I called up Webcrawler and typed in "sex resource." The returns I got: Voice of the Shuttle English Literature Page, the AIDS and HIV resource page, Hockey Resources on the Net, and the Leather/S&M Sites. I scrolled through those four sites; the first three offered resources varying from medieval texts to hockey FAQs, and the S&M site was an text-only index to other sites.

The caffeine was beginning to wear off, so I decided the experiment was over. My conclusions? There will be children who circumvent passwords, Surfwatch software, and seemingly innocuous links to find the "adult" material. But these are the same kids who would visit every convenience store in a five-mile radius to find the one stocking Playboy. They make a concerted effort to find the material; the material does not find them. As I noted earlier, these are the same kids who can tamper with anything tamper-proof.

As for the rest of us, I can only say the odds are still pretty slim. After all, it took me quite a few lucky guesses and patient scrolls to find the Disney Erotica Archive (another URL I won't include...). Some people will still be able to find anything in three clicks - but the rest of us will be moving in the same leisurely fashion we eat lollipops - one (c)lick at a time. [CMC TOC]


Lisa Schmeiser, who has never liked lollipops, is a M.S. student in Technical Communication. She also wrote the article "Publishing on the Edge" in this month's issue.

Copyright © 1995 by Lisa Schmeiser. All Rights Reserved.

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