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Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report (Second edition; fully revised and updated)

May 17, 2006

No sooner was the Internet upon us than anxiety arose over the ease of accessing pornography and other controversial content. In response, entrepreneurs soon developed filtering products. By the end of the decade, a new industry had emerged to create and market Internet filters....Yet filters were highly imprecise from the beginning. The sheer size of the Internet meant that identifying potentially offensive content had to be done mechanically, by matching "key" words and phrases; hence, the blocking of Web sites for "Middlesex County," or words such as "magna cum laude". Internet filters are crude and error-prone because they categorize expression without regard to its context, meaning, and value. Yet these sweeping censorship tools are now widely used in companies, homes, schools, and libraries. Internet filters remain a pressing public policy issue to all those concerned about free expression, education, culture, and democracy. This fully revised and updated report surveys tests and studies of Internet filtering products from the mid-1990s through 2006. It provides an essential resource for the ongoing debate.

Media Literacy: An Alternative to Censorship

September 29, 2003

Media literacy education has come a long way since the 1970s, when the first "critical thinking" courses were introduced in a few American schools. Most educators today understand that with the revolutionary changes in communication that have occurred in the last half-century, media literacy has become as essential a skill as the ability to read the printed word. Equally important, media literacy education can relieve the pressures for censorship that have, over the last decade, distorted the political process, threatened First Amendment values, and distracted policymakers from truly effective approaches to widely shared concerns about the mass media's influence on youth.

Free Expression in Arts Funding

June 26, 2003

The result of almost two years of research, this report surveys free expression policies among state and local arts agencies, including procedures for anticipating and handling controversy. Its purpose is to provide the arts community, as well as others interested in censorship or cultural policy, with solid research that will enable grant-making agencies to take a principled stand on artistic freedom without alienating their audiences or losing their funding. The report includes candid interviews with agency officials regarding funding disputes, political accountability, and most important, ways of reaching out to communities and opening up dialogue about challenging or provocative art. The report also contains extensive background on the "funding wars" of the 1990s, illustrations, and two appendices summarizing free expression statements and policies among all state arts agencies and a random sample of local agencies.As the Executive Summary points out, despite America's recent history of attacks on controversial art, artistic freedom in the context of public funding remains a critical issue. The ability to make challenging art that can explore all facets of the human condition, including unpleasant ones, is essential to a vibrant culture and a healthy democracy. Neither private philanthropy nor the mass media conglomerates that dominate commercial entertainment can be counted upon to support the give-and-take of diverse viewpoints, reflected through literature, theater, music, film, and other visual art, or to provide visibility for the multi-layered, varied, and inventive cultures of America.