Porn Spam Problem Grows while Solutions Prove Elusive

July 7, 2008 - 7:04 PM

(Editor's Note: Corrects reference to Morality in Media)

(CNSNews.com) - A recent study by San Francisco-based Brightmail, Inc., found that computers field an average of 6.2 spam items per day, nearly double the amount of spam received in 2001.

The total amount of spam lobbed to U.S. computer users increased 86 percent in the space of a year, from 140 billion to 261 billion, according to Brightmail.

Just one "spam attack" can consist of millions of individual spam messages sent over the Internet at once.

A lot of that spam consists of product advertisements, everything from Viagra to home septic tank systems to printer cartridges. But many spam e-mails are all about pornography, with text, web page links and even graphic images.

And it's the pornographic spam that most concerns many Americans.

"These images have a very strong psychological impact," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America.

"People who probably otherwise would never go to the seedy part of town to go into a dirty book store are very easily tempted when it comes into their home in this very private manner," said LaRue. "Pretty soon, they're obsessed with the stuff.

"When I was 14 years old, you had to go looking for pornography; you couldn't find it except in a porn store on the seedy side of town, but today, you can't escape it," said Phil Burress, president of the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values.

A self-described former porn addict of 25 years, Burress says there are five steps down the path of porn addiction: exposure, addiction, desensitization, escalation and acting out.

The group's survey of Ohio grade-schoolers shows that the average age of exposure is 9 years old, when it used to be 13.

"For a young boy to be exposed to pornographic images, if that's his first exposure to sex, it could set off a series of horrible events that happen in his life that could give him a distorted view of women, a distorted view of sexuality," said Burress.

"I am convinced that the number one problem that's leading to divorce today is disrespect of women, and pornography teaches disrespect of women," he said.

Solutions to the problem remain elusive, but Burress and other activists, like Donna Rice Hughes, suggest that consumers and parents can already take some steps to protect themselves and their children.

Parents should put computers in a common space within the home and buy filtering software for the family computer, such as that offered by the American Family Association. Such software blocks pornographic websites but not email.

Microsoft will be offering new anti-spam features in its 2003 versions of Word and Exchange.

For e-mail, consumers can purchase "challenge and response" systems that respond to e-mails with a reply request, for which spammers won't follow up. Also, a "white list" of pre-approved e-mailers (like grandma) can be set up for children.

But there's also legal action. The Department of Justice has an office that prosecutes child exploitation and obscenity. Consumers can report e-mail and Internet porn to this office.

The New York-based Morality in Media also runs a site to which consumers can report unsolicited pornography, which is then sent to the FBI for follow up.

The Cato Institute's Wayne Crews, however, cautions against the temptation to seek remedies from Congress.

"You just have to tread carefully because you're regulating communications," said Crews. "While it's right to go after fraudulent spam and deceptive spam, menacing spam, the problem is you can undermine either legitimate business communication, bulk nonprofit communication or simply free speech with respect to people trying to communicate anonymously.

"I worry about the proposals that would ban anonymous e-mails," he said, because it's "simply a tool for people to communicate en mass anonymously" and such a ban would hurt small businesses that are trying to make a go of on-line business. Also, he added, spammers in, say, China would ignore American laws.

The problem with the status quo, says Crews, is that spammers can ply their trade at very low cost - no postage, no long distance phone charges. "You've got to, one way or another, shift the cost of bulk e-mail back to the spammer," said Crews.

"So the question we face is whether the best way to do that is legislatively or technologically, and I think ultimately, technologically is the way we'll have to go," he added.

That, however, may be difficult to orchestrate, Crews acknowledges.

See Earlier Story:
Both Sides Spinning Results of Internet Porn Filter Study (Dec. 11, 2002)

E-mail a news tip to Christine Hall.

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