Internet Red-light District

August 3, 2000

In previous commentaries I've talked about the problem of Internet pornography. People who would never go to an adult bookstore or gentleman's club, surf the Internet for pornographic sites in the comfort of their home. And children who would never be exposed to pornography stumble on it or even seek it out on the family computer.

A recent article in World magazine talks about a proposed solution: create a red-light district on the Internet. Pornographic sites would be given their own domain ending. Instead of having a "dot com" address, they would have a "dot sex" address. The dot sex sites could be more easily filtered, and could be made subject to the same laws that govern adult bookstores and pornographic movie theaters.

While zoning works fairly well in the real world, the jury is still out as to whether you can zone areas of the virtual world on the Internet. Real world zoning forces sex shops out of respectable neighborhoods. Perhaps this new proposal would do the same to pornographic sites.

Historically, red-light districts turned out to be counterproductive. Instead of limiting prostitution, these districts often allowed it to flourish. So zoning off a red-light district on the Internet won't be a panacea. But at least it might prevent children from stumbling onto sites that looked like they were innocent and were a sham front for pornography.

It might also make it a little harder for adults to access pornography. American Express has announced that it would deny merchant status to online pornographers. Those sites would be easy to identify if they were forced to carry a "dot sex" address.

Changing the domain ending of pornographic sites won't solve all the problems, but I think it could be a step in the right direction.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.