BY MEGHAN NEAL
Did you know today is “404 Day?” Yeah me neither, but here we are, on the fourth day of the fourth month, talking about the fragility of the web. Dreamed up by the punny activists at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, 404 Day is a campaign to remind everyone that the internet, once popularly called “the information superhighway,” is full of roadblocks and rotting infrastructure—especially in public schools and libraries where kids have access.
Part of the problem, as EFF and other internet freedom advocates see it, is that web filters meant to protect young people from “obscene” content, namely pornography, inadvertently block all sorts of harmless, important, educational, non-porn websites, too.
That includes honest keyword mixups that censor webpages about chicken “breasts” or “breast” cancer, even Shakespeare. It also targets more controversial filters that block content whenever authorities deem something “inappropriate”—things like non-mainstream religions like Wiccan or Native American spirituality, LGBTQ information, youth tobacco use, sexual health. This, says EFF, violates the First Amendment.
Web filters—most notably, the UK’s recent “pornwall”—have been criticized for being overly aggressive, blocking legitimate sites, and threatening censorship creep. Also for being ineffective in the first place; one famously failed to block Pornhub, the third-biggest pornography website on the web.
But the problem’s particularly acute in schools and libraries because of a little law called the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires public institutions to block obscene content before they can get the federal funding that keeps them afloat. Trouble is, automated keyword-blockers are notoriously bad at distinguishing between actual harmful content and webpages on topics that are merely controversial or happen to show someone naked.
So, EFF partnered with MIT’s Center for Civic Media and the National Coalition Against Censorship to draw attention to the issue. Harvard University jumped on the campaign bandwagon too, suggesting people report any blacked out sites they encounter through the university’s Herdict tool.
Read the full story on Motherboard.
Image via Lego.com 404 page