A Month of Writers, Day Three: Susie Bright

If you were wondering if I would only be featuring science fiction and fantasy writers in this Month of Writers thing, today’s guest answers that: Author and sex expert Susie Bright, who I’m proud to say I’ve been reading since she was editing On Our Backs (what was a straight guy doing reading a magazine for lesbians? Very clearly, reading it for the Susie Bright articles). Her most recent book (picture above) has her talking about, well, sex, motherhood and porn, and also about pie (which as you know is one of my favorite subjects), and is classic Susie Bright, which is to say, funny, sometimes surprising and always sex positive. Recently Susie borrowed one of my Whatever entries (this one, in fact), and is graciously allowing me to do the same for one of hers, on the subject of “NSFW.”

SUSIE BRIGHT:

Paul Rudnick’s Naughty Bedtime Stories— And the NSFW Bogeyman

Nursenancy04 Who’s afraid of naughty words? Not The New Yorker this week, but it made me wonder what would happen if I, a simple blograt, ran the same darn thing:

A children’s book that included the word “scrotum” was recently the subject of great controversy in school libraries nationwide. A Google search has discovered several more questionable titles and excerpts from other works intended for readers twelve and under.

From “Inappropriate,” by Paul Rudnick, The New Yorker, 2007-03-12

“The Pretty Little Bunny”

Melissa, the pretty little bunny, woke up one morning in May and said, “I think I’ll hop-hop-hop over to the carrot patch. I’m so pretty that all of the carrots will jump right out of the ground to see me.”

“You are very pretty,” said Melissa’s Bunny Mommy. “But your sister is pretty, too, and she doesn’t spend all of her time looking at herself in the mirror.”

“But is she as pretty as me?” asked Melissa. “Just look at my vagina.”


“The Clattery Caboose”

Carl the Caboose had worked for the railroad for a long time. He loved it when little children ran alongside the tracks and waved to him. But Carl was getting older. His bright-red paint was peeling, his wheels were getting squeaky, and don’t even ask about his prostate.


“Betsy Barstow, Colonial Girl”

One fine morning, as Betsy went to the village well in the Olde Massachusetts Baye colony, she ran into her best friend, feisty Katey Karmody.

“Oh, Katey,” said Betsy, “I have such news! My father and my brothers are joining up with the militia to fight the British, so that we may all be free!”

“Oh, Betsy, that is news!” cried Katey. “My nipples are like muskets!”


Oh, he never stops… Go read the whole thing this week before they archive it; it’s contagious!

But now, I must interrupt my giggle fit to reveal a little stone in my shoe. The New Yorker runs clever, sexually sophisticated stories all the time. They say “fuck.” They publish critically acclaimed erotic, and nude, photography. They discuss and illustrate the lives of famous artists (who can forget the Balthus story?) who may be highly eccentric fetishists with every sort of paraphilia.

Some of these articles receive wide discussion, like Daphne Merkin’s “Spanking Piece.” But even with less-known stories and photos, the NYer delivers a steady diet of grown-up arts and politics which resonates with thousands of readers.

Nowhere, in all the internet, would you ever hear The New Yorker described as “Not Safe for Work”: NSFW. Whether you brought their magazine to the office, or searched their web site on line, the firewall/censorship/Dilbert Nightmare of NSFW would never crease a NYEr reader’s brow.

Images_11You could say the exact same thing about Vogue, the fashion magazine— nudity in virtually every issue. Vanity Fair, a supermarket favorite, regularly publishes profane words, nudity, and explicit commentary on sexual controversies.

Newspapers belong to this daring group too. The New York Times reports with great gusto on every sexual debate. When it comes to art, they’re no wilting flowers— they just published a gorgeous slide show of naked women and their young children.

These photos were especially daring, because they violate the letter of U.S. Federal law, which stipulates that no nude photographs may be published or exhibited of minors, no matter what the context. Ever. Without exception.

This is why you hear stories about parents being dragged sobbing into court, their kids taken away, because their photos of their naked toddlers in the plastic play-pool were seized by do-gooders at a drugstore photo lab.

The law is sickeningly wrong. It’s unjust, it’s anti-art, anti-kid, and purely phobic. I love that the Times, Vogue, The New Yorker— and other high-status members of the publishing world— stick their neck out on this issue to prove a point.

I’m just as delighted that they don’t have to deal the provincial denigration or censor of their web sites with the appellation “NSFW.”

When editors at such periodicals send their email to academic colleagues and other publishers, their letters aren’t deleted because of a NSFW “origin.” What a privelege…

NSFW exists because of undefined and bigoted conceits. It’s more outrageous, in its own DIY-Prude fashion, than the federal “child porn” law, the Hays Code, or the MPAA. Why? Because it is unmandated, unlegislated, censorship.
If NSFW means filtering out something that is “sexually explicit” or that uses profanity, what does that mean, exactly? Is there a list of seven profane words, while others make the cut? Is a woman’s breast sexually explicit in every context, be it eroticism, cancer, or nursing? And if the material in question is published by a major corporation, does that render NSFW moot? Exactly how does that get argued?

NSFW has no meaning in print— in paper journalism or publishing. It has no place in a newsroom or the bookstore. It only exists on the Internet— which is ironically notorious for its libertarianism. NSFW, whoever dreamed it up, is a Bowdlerization of the Web, a Scarlet Letter. It exists because fearful people believe in it, like a bad fairy. It says more about the psychological fears and prejudices of the person using it, than it does about the content in question. Why do web authors put up with it?

Female_4The “W” in NSFW seems to imply that the “workplace” is an environment where all must be defended against impropriety and loss of efficiency. But surely clock-watching bosses have noticed that employees can just as easily daydream about online seed catalogs as they can about porn.

Public libraries seem to have figured out how to have unfettered Internet access for their patrons— why can’t corporate America get a clue?

“The “S” stands for “Safe”— although it seems more of a “Satire.” What is the danger of seeing or reading something you don’t agree with? Will you fly through a windshield? Where are the corpses of those who died from being offended?

Yes, I’m at the end of my rope. My blog and internet communications have, many times, been dragged to a standstill because my blog, or even my email, was characterized by the ever-mysterious and anonymous mob of “Some People” as NSFW.

I have friends at major universities who can’t get my email because it has my URL in it. Do you think professors should have email banned from susiebright.com?
I work with major publishers and NEWS organizations who can’t receive my email if there are any “NSFW” words in the message text! Yes, these are the same handful of corporations that own 99% of the American media.
One colleague taught me how to misspell words like “Crp” so that her international wire service could receive my correspondence. She can’t read my blog at work, even though it directly comments on issues she writes on, every day.
But it’s not just the major corporations that censor in this manner.

It galls me when I see that someone has blogged about one of my stories, or passed it around a newsletter, and added the note: “Oh by the way, you better be careful because it’s NSFW.”

But if my same story is in one of the aforementioned magazines— no problem! No one seems to be terrified of being caught at the lunch table reading a copy of… Harpers Bazaar. Rolling Stone. And I’ve got a long way to go before I can catch up with their nudity and profanity.

When I started my first web page, NSFW didn’t exist, and therefore, I didn’t get tarred with the brush. Amazingly, it never came up. The world hung onto its axis. U.S. productivity continued unimpaired.
When I blogged years later, and more importantly, when I blogged about women’s issues, like abortion and birth control, I found myself stabbed with NSFW daggers for the first time. My editorials on the South Dakota abortion ban— which included video footage from primetime SD television news— were the items that nailed my Safety-Free coffin.

There is not a single feminist political blogger I’ve met who hasn’t dealt with this issue. I brought it up at the last Blogher conference, and it was like the Zoolander explosion at the gas station.

Of course, it’s not just mouthy women who get the NSFW tattoo. Needless to say, if you’re gay— in any fashion— you are NSFW. If you use a “bad” word that would otherwise be published in Entertainment Weekly without blinking an eye, you’re NSFW. If you present photographs of antique, artistic, or educational breasts! — In Any Form!— You. Are. So. Wrong. Nursing Mothers can just forget about it.

25kino6The NSFW prejudice is entirely dependent on size, with a soupcon of prejudice thrown in. There are certainly a few quiet, no-fuss lactation sites that haven’t been destroyed by NSFW, but they exist in a sheltered world. If they get political, or uppity, just watch the backlash.

That’s the odd case though. It’s usually about the money. If you reach a critical mass, or have the imprinteur of high society, you can run ANYTHING on your site, no matter how sensational or sexually bizarre— no matter how many religions it offends, or work hours it squanders. No one will dream of calling you names and sending you to the sidelines. No longer are you NSFW— you are Safe for Bank, baby.

How much does it “cost” to get your NSFW wings clipped? I asked a Google AdSense rep that once. He turned down my application because of… well, you know. This was before I had one bare breast on my page. I argued with him, by pointing to all the sexually vivid stories that were in the Times the same week I put in my application.
He agreed; he said, I was “absolutely right.” “But they have millions of hits,” he wrote me. “And you don’t.”

When I point out the ethical disaster of NSFW, many shake their heads. Of course it’s about money, what isn’t? How could I be so naive?

What’s interesting, is how few characterize the hypocrisy of NSFW group-think as unAmerican, undemocratic, illegal— or unethical. All that fuss and bother to make democratic publishing possible was just a mistake, a joke. It’s as if everyone gave up.

If you see an R-rated film advertised, you can elect to avoid it, or not bring your small child to the theater. It’s not banned from your neighborhood. Can you imagine— think of all the Oscar-winning movies this year that were rated ‘R”— if you never heard of these films, if you weren’t allowed to hear of them, because there was a theatrical firewall in your town? And what if the people who dared to take a peek at these censored films were castigated and looked upon as perverts?

I’m sure many people must be disappointed when they arrive at my “NSFW” site. Too many words, a jack-off disaster. I talk about sex, and then something else, without even counting! I write as if I thought I was Paul Rudnick or something, like I was a… journalist. An essayist. A political activist. A human being.

Is your journalism, art, and publishing compromised on the Internet because of NSFW? Is your communication, reading, and education suffering from NSFW? Is your mom unable to receive your email at her office because of this crp?
I’d like to hear your NSFW stories. I’d like to know your NSFW questions, arguments, and perhaps your success stories of ethical challenges. I’ve been thinking of hosting a NSFW Carnival and we might as well start here.
Photos, from top to bottom: My very own copy of Nurse Nancy; a Balthus painting that is way tame compared to what The New Yorker printed— but they don’t have it archived online, sorry!; Mapplethorpe nude from Vogue magazine, and Justine Kurland’s wonderful exhibit as discussed in the NYT.


(See the original article and its comments here)

39 thoughts on “A Month of Writers, Day Three: Susie Bright

  1. An excellent article on the newest form of censorship. It has always galled me that some fora could do as they pleased, while others get labeled – all done by some self-appointed arbiter. Such was not how the internet (or the US) was supposed to function.

  2. I think Miss (Ms.? M.?) Bright is more than a little bit overwrought about this whole NSFW thing. Out here in what seems (at least to me, and I suspect to some others) to be the real world, all NSFW means is that the content of a recommended link might trip alarms that the vierwer might rather not have tripped.

    Now, one might question the reasons for those alarms, but in my experience at least, they’re intended to discourage viewing things that might be offensive to one’s fellow workers. Once again, one might question what offends certain persons, but let’s not forget that everyone has the same right and expectation in our society not to be negligently offended, even those who’s values you don’t agree with.

  3. I’m with E. The ‘NSFW’ tag doesn’t qualify as censorship. It is a reaction to private corporations establishing their own rules for acceptable content. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and it is not censorship. China practices censorship. The NSFW tag is a courtesy to people who may have restrictive employers. The differences, I hope, are obvious.

    Also, Ms. Bright is mistaken about the legality of photographs of nude minors. It is forbidden (and justifiably so) to display images of minors for the purposes of sexual exploitation, which is to say in the classic ‘porn’ poses. It is not illegal to take or display images of minors who are merely nude. In a society that has difficulty separating nudity from sexuality, one gets mixed up with the other all the time.

  4. While I understand Susie’s concerns, I would be very upset if someone read something on my blog that subsequently got them reprimanded (or fired) because it violated their company’s policies. I have no intention of censoring myself, but sometimes I think the “NSFW” label is a good idea, not to protect reader’s sensibilities, but to protect the reader’s jobs.

  5. I generally agree with Susie on almost everything (we worked together on http://www.betonted.com!).

    I have mixed feelings about “NSFW” or “NSFL” (not safe for library). I guess it depends quite a bit about where you work. Walking by a cubicle, glancing in and seeing a nude woman on display is annoying. Most workplaces, for example, don’t permit you to hang, say, a Playboy calendar in your office.

    I’d argue that audio without headphones is, by default, NSFW.

    But should the stuff be permitted online at all? Of course it should be!

    Dean – the problem with the “nude kid” photos is that what is “mere nudity” to some of us is titilation or kiddie porn to others. Remember the Robert Mapplethorpe bruhaha in the late ’80s and early ’90s? I saw a few Mapplethorpe kid photos and thought they were art. Other people looking at the same photos claimed they were kiddie porn. *sigh*

  6. Why do corporations want to establish their own their own rules? Lawsuits, that’s why. Scared “crpless” that someone may sue them and win. So they clamp down on almost everything to avoid it. And here’s a great example….

    An employee at a VERY large corporation is let go because he put a link on an internal company website to a page of optical illusions. An anonymous employee surfs the site and eventually sees one that “offends” her. Complaints are registered and people fired. I figured the surfer managed to stray at least 30 clicks from the original page she saw. At what point does one stop becoming responsible for what the internet has to offer?

    All in the name of being sure no one is offended lest they sue.

  7. Dean, I’m very sorry to say you’re out of date on this issue. I wish you so much you were right.

    Context used to matter in terms of pictures of minors w/nudity, but that law changed, via US Code § 2252. You can read about all the kinds of legal havoc that’s created in this article:

    http://susiebright.blogs.com/Adler_ThePerverseLawofChildPornography.pdf

    As for NSFW being a form of thoughtful etiquette– it isn’t when it’s the basis for nanny filters at multitudes of public and private institutions. If you can read Scalzi’s site or boing- boing, or my blog because of a “NSFW” filter, it’s not because some cubicle mate decided to spare you the fright.

    My anger and exasperation shows in my editorial. But this is an issue that has outraged every single political and cutting edge cultural blog you enjoy.

  8. At my last company before retirement, the powers that were decided to put a stop to people looking at porn or reading naughty literature at work. They implemented a filter that blocked any e-mail with certain words, even if they were embedded in other words. When one employee, call her Susan Shitakare, complained that she couldn’t receive or send any e-mail, they decided that perhaps they had gone a wee bit too far and started actually thinking. That resulted in removal of practically all filtering.

  9. It’s worth noting that at least some filters block sites such as http://www.archive.org, home of the Wayback Machine. In the course of some legal research, I found that I had to do a fair amount of work at home for that reason.

  10. Susie said:

    “As for NSFW being a form of thoughtful etiquette– it isn’t when it’s the basis for nanny filters at multitudes of public and private institutions. If you can read Scalzi’s site or boing- boing, or my blog because of a “NSFW” filter, it’s not because some cubicle mate decided to spare you the fright.”

    I suppose that’s satisfying on some intellectual plain, but we live in a practical world, and content that has NSFW attached to it was judged by somebody, at some point, for practical reasons, to be of a nature that a polite warning should be issued. I suppose Susie thinks that’s a terrible thing. I find it just a feature of the world we live in.

    Remember, instituions that employ NSFW filters own the equipment that the content will be displayed on and the licenses to the software that will be used for display. They have every right to say what content will be allowed. No content creator, no matter how avant garde, progessive, whatever, has any right to expect everything be available to anybody through the use of private property.

    Yeah, NSFW filters have all the disadvantages of being a cookie cutter solution, and legal liability is one of the major motivators, but then again, it’s not the content creator’s property or reputation that is at risk. It’s an amoral and apolitical decision to dilligently protect that property and reputation against the risk of conflicting politics and morals. There’s not one thing nefarious or even all that wrong in it. It’s just the way things work outside of intellectual hothouses where everything is possible and nothing has a cost.

  11. Re the pictures of kids: Yes, the law has changed and it is a lot more severe than it used to be and it used to be pretty bad. I have kept track of things over the years because I do photography (but not of naked kids) and it is scary. People have been arrested because of pictures in which their child’s clothing slipped a bit, let alone the cliched baby on the rug shot. I once mentioned to a co-worker that I had seen cute relative at a family reunion who was a ham and made a point of posing to have pictures taken of her very photogenic 3 year old face and was told that such actions indicated that she had been abused and used for kiddie porn. People who think like that scare me. They can take a perfectly innocent photo and find something objectionable in it.

    Something else that is very frightening is that what used to be legal, such as that picture of you your parents took when you were being bathed in the sink 50 years ago, is now illegal. Burn your family photo albums to be safe, I guess.

  12. I’m afraid the New Yorker has already taken that content offline or archived it. Linking over just results in a very tasteful ‘File not found’ page.

    I accept a NSFW heading as a form of etiquette on the Internet, but yes, the filtering companies lazy and improper usage of NSFW as a censoring mechanism has gotten far out of hand. I have to access various sites as part of my day job as a web designer in order to acquire graphics and other resources. Because some graphics sites (like http://www.DeviantArt.com) dare to actually host art that features nudity as well, I can never access it from work for work-related purposes!

    Kermit Woodall
    Managing Editor
    GadgetNutz.com

  13. Tangentially on-topic:

    In the early ’90’s when you about to go into production on a movie for one of the major studios, they’d fly in someone to run a “Risk Management” meeting for all of the department heads. The short version is that you were supposed to come away from the meeting knowing that if anyone was injured on set, you should first, call Risk Management; second, call the studio attorney, and third, … oh, what was that? Oh yeah. Seek medical attention.

    Things have changed. Right before starting production of Starved, a short lived TV show for F/X in 2005, the studio flew someone out to run a meeting about Sexual Harassment in the workplace. When we got to the Q&A session, things turned really bizarre.

    Script Supervisor: “Can we talk about piss fetishes?”
    Studio Suit: ““No you can’t talk about fetishes of any kind.”
    Script Supervisor: “Well, you know, there’s quite a few fetishes that are kinda central to the scripts.”
    Studio Suit: “Well, OK, you can talk about those fetishes, but only as related to the scripts.
    Prop Master: “Can I bring dildos to work?”
    Studio Suit: “No you can’t bring dildos to work.”
    Prop Master: “You do know that episode two has a whole scene about one of the characters’ dildo collection.”
    Studio Suit: “Well you can bring dildos to the set for that scene.”

    The conversation went on like this for quite a while before the Suit finally said, “Who the fuck greenlighted this fucking show?”

    Best. Preproduction. Meeting. Ever.

  14. The thing is that this is all part of a much larger societal problem. It’s not just internet sites with ‘questionable’ content being targeted, it’s everything. For crying out loud, early episodes of Sesame Street are ‘unsuitable for today’s youth’ in part because Oscar the Grouch was ‘too grouchy.’

    The problem is that the government has somehow become a hyper-parent, progressively since the dawn of the Baby Boomers generation. In this context, it’s clear that the same mentality is finding all-too bountiful purchase in even the newest of media.

  15. AEM said:

    “The problem is that the government has somehow become a hyper-parent, progressively since the dawn of the Baby Boomers generation. In this context, it’s clear that the same mentality is finding all-too bountiful purchase in even the newest of media.”

    The people asked for it in a thousand different ways. Every time somebody said, “There ought to be a law,” instead of saying, “Really? Why?” the people said, “Sure, why not?” Now that the incremental costs are piling up on us, everydoby points a finger and says, “There are too many laws/regulations/rules. Something needs to be done. You go first.” So nothing is going to change. Welcome to the New World.

  16. Oh, let’s not start with the “Europe is the land of freedom” business. They have their own goofy and disturbing laws.

    Perhaps the discussion might be a bit clearer if we talked about pictures of shoes. Harmless, right? Seen in public advertising, everywhere… and yet, you know, many people out there are enjoying it a lot more than others. Shoe fetishes are not that uncommon.

    Shouldn’t pictures of shoes be labeled NSFW?

    …and 80% of you are saying, “no, that’s ridiculous”, 10% are saying, “what? I don’t get it”, 10% are hustling off to write their congressmen to ban pictures of shoes, and .1% are worrying that someone is drawing the correct conclusion about their shoe collection…

    Everything can be pornographic. That’s not a valid excuse to ban everything.

  17. I don’t want to be the Internet cop. As IT director, however, I got drafted. So, here’s a few thoughts.

    1) My employer is paying for the computer and bandwidth for business purposes. I can (and have) locked people down so they can only go to specific, listed sites they have a business need to see.
    2) I think having to lock people out of the Internet as per #1 is a function of bad management – if they’re not getting their work done, then the manager should either fix it or bounce the individual out.
    3) Companies have been sued for “hostile work environment.” Letting people surf nudie sites all day counts as hostile.
    4) More then a few European customs would be ruled as sexual harrassment in a US court.
    5) Some folks would surf the web all day in lieu of work. Heck, we had so many folks spending all day on Facebook that we had network slowdowns and had to block the site.
    6) Reading a risque magazine in the lunchroom on your time is different then at your desk during work.
    7) Try reading a copy of “Playboy” in the corporate lunchroom and see how long you last.
    8) Most companies buy web filtering software that allows them to block sites by category. We started blocking sites that were “adult content.” All of LiveJournal (including my personal blog) was blocked. “Adult content” we discovered meant more then just sex – all social networking sites were blocked.

  18. I worked at a major university whose internet policy stated the usual but had no prohibitions against pornography. When I asked about it they said it would’ve prohibited research into sexual matters. And since we were the home of the Kinsey Institute…. :-)

  19. I think one thing that gets overlooked in this whole NSFW discussion is another employer motivation besides “adult” content, fear of giving offense, and the fear of lawsuits: many employers simply don’t want their employees surfing the ‘net for entertainment when they’re supposed to be working. In other words, if you want to look at porn or other adult content, fine, but do it of the clock, on your own time.

    Mind you, I don’t fully subscribe to this mindset, but I know employers well enough to know that that’s at least part of what they’re thinking.

  20. I saw a few Mapplethorpe kid photos and thought they were art. Other people looking at the same photos claimed they were kiddie porn.

    I looked at them and thought they were, well, just crap. But that’s art for you, in the eye of the beer holder and all that.

    I find if fairly interesting that most employees would agree that spending the entire work day hanging out in the break area is wrong, but spending the entire day surfing myspace or chatting online is perfectly acceptable. While I despise censorship in any form, I can certainly understand the need for employers to limit and monitor internet access in order to maintain some semblance of reasonable efficiency in their workforce. I can also understand that in this day and age where Joe Average American takes litigious offense at anything and everything and demands that the government protect him from such, that employers feel the need to ban any material that they arbitrarily perceive as NSFW. On the other hand, I have to wonder how long it will be until union negotiations include certain levels of internet access for their members.

    Until Americans grow the fuck up and start acting like adults, I expect things will keep moving towards more and more restrictions.

  21. I think Susie (can I call you that? I feel like I’ve been reading your stuff forever, but it also feel presumptuous :) ) is conflating two separate phenomenon, as a few people have mentioned above. There are people who label e-mails, and especially links in e-mails NSFW (including myself), and there are policies employers have created to limit email access (including ones written by me for clients). They serve two very different purposes.

    When I send stuff to paranoid friend at large multinational, I am letting him know that he should check over his shoulder before clicking on the link. His company is european, so there likely isn’t any net-nanny, but he’s the kind of guy that wouldn’t want someone to walk up as he was looking at something risque. He very well might share it with men and women at his job, and has done so, but he would like to pick the audience, the way he wouldn’t care about if it was all text. To my brother, his large bank employer DOES have a net-nanny, and he’ll know to open the link at home, so a flag doesn’t get raised and he doesn’t have to answer questions about why he was looking at ‘tubgirl’ (NSFW) :) The flag does very different things to different people, but I don’t have to spell out what is at the end of the link, I can just type NSFW.

    On the other hand, employer’s policies accomplish a number of very important things. As people have mentioned, they allow the employer to limit the amount of recreational web surfing being done, and to limit the amount of bandwidth taken up but said surfing, but more importantly, it allows the employer to discipline employees who are abusing the internet. If a supervisor has a picture of a naked woman on his screen every time he calls in his female secretary, his secretary shouldn’t have to complain, wait for HR to react, set up a policy just for this supervisor, and then for the supervisor to violate the policy to be able to discipline or terminate the supervisor. In a union context, if there isn’t an explicit work rule preventing the conduct, you can’t terminate for it, no matter how explicit the conduct. Misuse of the internet is at the heart of a majority of hostile work environment claims out there, at least in my experience, whether it is picture, videos or email – and an electronic communications policy (referenced as a NSFW policy in the original article) allows employers to terminate harassers and limit unintentional but offensive conduct.

    Should we be able to talk more about sex at work? I dunno – sex isn’t anything shameful, and it *shouldn’t* cause the problems it often does, but sexual content and work doesn’t seem to mix well in a lot of cases.

    In any event, NSFW in an email is something I see as a courtesy, not censorship. I always click on the links (I’m an employment attorney – it’s research!), my friend clicks on the links after looking over his shoulder, and my brother never does at work. But each of us gets to pick the response we want. If no one ever used NSFW – it could be analogous to showing someone a playboy while in the break room. Some people would never have wanted to see it, and would never click on the link, some would want to see it, just not where everyone could watch them looking at it, and others just wouldn’t care who saw them – but with NSFW, it is the recipeint making the decision about what their comfort level is, not the sender.

  22. Susie sez: Dean, I’m very sorry to say you’re out of date on this issue. I wish you so much you were right.

    Quoting just part of 2252 (sorry, don’t know how to do the little swirly symbol thingie): all parts use identical language for (A) and (B).

    (a) Any person who—
    (1) knowingly transports or ships in interstate or foreign commerce by any means including by computer or mails, any visual depiction, if—
    (A) the producing of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; and
    (B) such visual depiction is of such conduct;

    See, that’s what I was talking about, the confusion of nudity and sex. The code says ‘sexually explicit conduct’. We have a very similar law in Canada, probably a little better, because ‘sexually explicit conduct’ is also therein defined.

    My familiarity with this comes from 2 things: 1. A long time ago I worked in a store in which an overly zealous employee called the police based on innocent photos of children swimming naked in a kiddy pool in their back yard. 2. I photograph my own children sometimes.

    In any event, I don’t think that 2252 is the problem. I have no problem at all with photographs of children engaged in explicitly sexual conduct being illegal. If there is a problem, it is with those that interpret this law such that ‘nudity’ is equated with ‘explicitly sexual conduct’.

    I didn’t read the whole article you linked (I will tonight) but Jock Sturges, who took a lot of photographs of people, including many minors, at nudist resorts in California and France, was charged on, I think, two separate occasions about ten years ago and in both the courts decided that Sturges was innocent. Since then, he has continued to photograph the same subjects. I take that as a sign that the hysteria has eased somewhat.

  23. I tend to agree somewhat with Tor. Specifically, I have a filter on my LiveJournal where I keep off the sexually oriented communities, users, etc that I have friended and restrict myself to those that would generally not get me in trouble at work. Since my work has the ability to make arbitrary decisions about what I can’t do on company time, that’s ok. In fact, I’m rather annoyed that after leaving The Whatever on my worksafe filter (since text is generally not a problem, just pictures) I got the images I did on my friends page. Now, I realize that this isn’t your problem, but it means I’ll probably now have to move it to my “only read at home” list, and participate a lot less. For lots of journals, the parts that might be objected to are linked or LJ cut, and so I can remember that they were posted and go back at home and read them.

    Finally, I’ll bring up a little incident from work. I work at an IT Outsourcing multinational that does a lot of government work, including in our case the nation’s newest Cabinet department. I got a call from the assistant of a VIP who was trying to read an article on Islamic Radicalism in London on the Vanity Fair website, and it was being blocked as inappropriate content. I had access to the site on my work machine, and so saved a copy of the article and emailed it to the assistant. So yes, Vanity Fair can be considered inappropriate by the Government in some formats.

  24. I have nothing substantive to add to the real discussion, so instead I will ask – why in the name of all that’s holy is there a misspelled word in the quote on the cover of Ms. Bright’s book? Does no one check these things before they’re printed?

  25. Perhaps at work people should be using the company-provided computers for work, rather than for reading blogs.

  26. Remember, instituions that employ NSFW filters own the equipment that the content will be displayed on and the licenses to the software that will be used for display. They have every right to say what content will be allowed.

    I’m utterly sick of that argument. Just because something is legal to do, doesn’t mean it isn’t fucking stupid to do so. It’s perfectly within our rights to complain about it.

    Unfortunately, it’s become amazingly common to see this argument used as an attempt to shut down discussion and criticism – as if the fact that something is legal puts it beyond comment or criticism.

    By law, people have every right to waste gasoline and clog up the streets with their stupid behemoth SUVs. That’s not going to stop me from thinking that’s a wrong and evil thing to do.

    It seems we’ve reached a point where corporations are allowed to do/say anything they want – but if anybody dares question their actions/speech, they are shouted down by the “but they own it and can do whatever they want” crowd.

  27. @ 19:

    We started blocking sites that were “adult content.”

    So, a company (which is usually made up of adults) can only visit sites designed for children? How strange. Isn’t adults looking at kids’ stuff a little more disturbing?

    Does this mean the company can’t even market itself in a mature way? That conversations must be infantile?

  28. I don’t see NSFW as censorship. Your email and internet connection belong to and are granted by you company. A company has the right to determine what is and is not acceptable in its offices and/or on or through its equipment. Now if Comcast/Cox/Verizon filtered NSFW content, that would be censorship.

    If work related emails are getting through, call IT and get them to add the email address to their whitelist. If you have a specific website you need to access for work related purposes, talk to HR they can probably work something out with IT if there is a legitimate need.

  29. Harvard Irving – You do have every right to complain, and maybe your company will listen. No one is saying that you don’t have a right to complain to your IT or HR department about your company’s web filters. You company may listen, or maybe it has quietly settled several hostile work environment complaints and had to fire a couple of employees due to their surfing – and would rather not put a tool used to create a hostile work environment in the hands of employees who will misuse it, when there is no work related reason for them to go to adult sites in the first place (and by adult, I mean porn, not the Economist – duh). You are confusing your right to complain, with the company being required to change what you are complaining about.

    And if you don’t like it, you are free to leave your job, and find one that will let you surf to your heat’s content. Just as the employer has a right to limit internet access over their connection, on their computers and on their property while they are paying you to do your job (the last one doesn’t count if you only surf the sites with nekkid people on your breaks) – you have the right to vote with your feet.

    That’s the difference between the employer doing it, and the government.

  30. Ms. Bright is upset and confused that offices have the right to control what sort of input comes in on computer screens in the workplace, but calling it censorship and crying foul against people who use NSFW as a concept, and put things behind filters is misdirected anger, and counterproductive – she’s attacking people who found a workaround for an unhappy situation, not the corporate culture that created it.

    Oh, and here’s a bit of irony for you – Ms Bright banned me from commenting in her blog for disagreeing with her (rather vehemently, but without namecalling) about the issue. I don’t much care, but it speaks to her rationality on the issue.

  31. “I’m utterly sick of that argument. Just because something is legal to do, doesn’t mean it isn’t fucking stupid to do so. It’s perfectly within our rights to complain about it.”

    Excuse me? Have you ever actually been involved in a hostile workplace investigation? People can find some really nasty stuff to waste their time with, stuff that not only do I not want to see but stuff that would offend 95% of the population. No one has any right to view that kind of content at work.

    Enjoy your silly little right to complain. If I were a manager and had to deal with somebody who complained about NSFW filters, after some of the stuff I’ve seen, that person would immediately make my list of people not to be trusted. IOW, you don’t know half of what you think you know about why organizations do what they do, and just because you have a right to complain doesn’t mean that complaining is the right thing to do.

    “Unfortunately, it’s become amazingly common to see this argument used as an attempt to shut down discussion and criticism – as if the fact that something is legal puts it beyond comment or criticism.”

    No — some actions are so prudent that prudence alone puts them beyond criticism by any sensible person.

    “By law, people have every right to waste gasoline and clog up the streets with their stupid behemoth SUVs. That’s not going to stop me from thinking that’s a wrong and evil thing to do.”

    Well, there you go — you don’t know the difference between evil and imprudence. Why should anyone take you seriously?

    “It seems we’ve reached a point where corporations are allowed to do/say anything they want – but if anybody dares question their actions/speech, they are shouted down by the “but they own it and can do whatever they want” crowd.”

    They do own it, and they are responsible for what is done with property they own. Would you want to be bitten by somebody’s dog, only to have the owner say, “Hey, the dog bit you, not me. Who am I to restrain my own dog?”

  32. We use content filtering to lock down Internet access, and it isn’t always about porn. We block a whole range of sites, from neo-Nazi websites to ESPN.com (the latter because a couple of employees were streaming videos and chewing up our bandwidth).

    Content filtering in the workplace is not censorship — the company is not telling their employees they can never visit those sites, just that they won’t be allowed to do so from work. I don’t see it as all that different from dress codes or rules against certain types of behavior or language. If the management of the company decides something is inappropriate for the workplace, they have that right. Just as the employee has the right to quit a job they feel is too repressive.

  33. Tangentially related to all this (it’s something I thought of because of the references to Vogue and Glamour) is a controversy that occurred a few months ago where I live (Nashville, Tennessee). Kroger stores decided not to allow the local free gay and lesbian new publication, Out & About, to be distributed in the news racks in the stores or even on the sidewalks in front of the stores–even though the sidewalks are not, to my knowledge, store property. You’d find more explicit photography and discussions of sex in the magazines on sale at the checkout, but the store’s managers probably objected to the fact that Out & About was free more than anything else.

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