Caught in a Hyperlink


Al Gore’s campaign Web site promotes a homophobic Internet filter, the Voice has learned. Click on Gore 2000’s ” Internet Safety” section and you’ll be directed to a page with a link to the CYBERsitter filter, which allows parents to control what kids see online, and is notorious among the digerati for its ability to block sites “promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle,” as its promotional literature reads.

It’s not as if CYBERsitter were the only software available to parents; many firms offer similar filters, but only this and three others are hyped by the veep’s campaign site. CYBERsitter is so popular among the family values set that Focus on the Family offered it for sale at one time. How odd that the click-through candidate would be so politically clumsy.

Critics dub such filters “censorware,” because they err on the side of blocking broad categories (sex, hate, drugs), often preventing valuable sites from being seen. And because the software is geared mainly toward young children, filtered computers may block sites valuable to teenagers in areas like sexual orientation or sex education.

As the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) pointed out in its 1997 report “Access Denied,” “CYBERsitter is the most discriminatory [of filter products] toward the gay and lesbian community. Using phrase blocking, CYBERsitter automatically blocks out certain words and phrases,” such as “gay community” and “gay rights.”

When asked whether gay and lesbian issues are suitable for teenagers, a CYBERsitter representative once said it wasn’t a matter of debate: “We filter anything that has to do with sex. Sexual orientation [is about sex] by virtue of the fact that it has sex in the name.”

Should this taint Gore, who’s been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group? Loren Javier, GLAAD’s digital media director, conjectured that Gore’s campaign was merely “misinformed.”

In this hyperlinked world, it’s tricky to hold someone responsible for every link on every site. Still, a little digging should have raised concerns about CYBERsitter. Computer literacy may be a fundamental right, as Gore said last week, but for Gore and his Webmasters it seems more an issue of responsibility.

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