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IS AOL CENSORING LIBERAL INFORMATION?

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AOL's "youth filters" protect kids from Democrats

By Brian Livingston
April 24, 2000

America Online provides "youth filters" that are supposed to keep kids out of dangerous Web sites--but they seem designed to eliminate creeping liberalism. For example, if you've set up AOL to restrict your children to "Kids Only" Web sites:

Your children can easily view the site of the Republican National Committee, but the Democratic National Committee is blocked.

Children can call up the conservative Constitution Party and Libertarian Party, both of which are promoting their own U.S. presidential candidates. But if they attempt to view Ralph Nader's Green Party or Ross Perot's Reform Party, they see only a "not appropriate for children" error.

AOL's "Young Teens" filter, designed for older children, allows a few more Web sites to be viewed. The apparent political bias, however, remains the same:

Sites promoting gun use are available, including Colt, Browning and the National Rifle Association. But prominent gun safety organizations are blocked, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Safer Guns Now and the Million Mom March.

None of the blocked sites contain depictions of nudity or even models in swimwear.

"It's not just indecency that AOL is trying to keep away from children," says Susan Wishnetsky, a Chicago librarian.

As a board member of a youth rights organization, Wishnetsky feels the dominant Internet service provider is "eliminating the scope of experience kids have access to."

AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato said today that he was "unaware of any conservative bias" in the youth filters used by the service.

The software firm that produces the filtering rules is The Learning Company, a unit of toymaker Mattel, which the toymaker says it plans to sell off.

Susan Getgood, general manager of The Learning Company's "Cyber Patrol" division, said her group "uses a 'whitelist' approach," in which a specific list of sites is approved for young children.

Getgood denied that the list has a deliberate slant.

"We have a regular process of reviewing sites that are submitted, and if they meet our criteria they are added," she said. "If some sites are included, it's probably because someone submitted them."

AOL's latest software, version 5.0, was tested by viewing more than 100 political sites over a period of several days. AOL's filters for children consistently allowed the viewing of far more conservative sites than Democratic and liberal sites. The selection remained consistent throughout the testing period....

about the writer
Brian Livingston has published 10 books, including "Windows 2000 Secrets" and "Windows Me Secrets." He has been a contributing editor at PC World, Windows Magazine, InfoWorld and other magazines for more than 10 years. Before his work as an author, Livingston was a management consultant advising financial institutions on computer technologies. In 1991, he received the Award for Technical Excellence from the National Microcomputer Managers Association for his efforts to develop standards in the computer industry.

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ADDENDUM..."The article: "AOL's "youth filters" protect kids from Democrats," is out of date. I've set up child accounts and have gone to all the sites the article says you cannot go to." --David, 12/08/01

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It goes without saying the following information is anecdotal and may or may not relate to the above. However, many of my online friends who belong to liberal or progressive-oriented email lists have written to me complaining that *only* the list members who use AOL as their email server fail to receive all mail from the lists. List subscribers using Internet email servers other than AOL have reported they receive all list email.

Both my brother and I subscribe to Online Journal. Lately, my brother always receives Online Journal via his Internet email server, however he doesn't always receive it through AOL, and he often receives only a few but not all of the articles via AOL. In recent weeks, though I subscribe, I almost never receive Online Journal through AOL, not even at the times when my brother gets his Online Journal articles via his Internet server. Needless to say, the problem appears to be from AOL's end and is no fault of Online Journal's.

This week I signed up for a new email server. I've set aside time to write this brief message on behalf of other Online Journal readers and any other online liberals who may happen to know AOL members who are having trouble receiving their progressive-oriented email from various email lists. If you know any such AOL members, you might suggest they find another email server, even if they want to keep their AOL accounts for other purposes.

--Mike, Political Sanity Digest, 10/16/01

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I find it interesting that I received an email this afternoon re: censored liberal email. For weeks now I am not able to open the Bush Watch emails and have to go directly to the site to get the info. I am being censored from opening my emails. Before I even try to open the email, I get a message stating illegal operation and my computer automatically shuts down. Needless to say, I am very aggravated! --Jill, 10/16/01

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Have had consistent access troubles with my site, American Liberal, on AOL, Yahoo, MSN and Metacrawler for about six weeks (coincidentally started about a week before w/ 9-11). I doubt that my site gets 1/10 the hits you do, even so, I've had e-mails from people wondering if Am Lib had gone away. Some days even left me wondering...

There have been some server issues w/ host, WebSeed, so I tried not to be too paranoid. My site seems to be back in biz w/ Yahoo and Metacrawler, but not MSN or AOL. Just tried to access Am Lib @ AOL, seached "american liberal, it came up #4 in the listing but when I clicked on it, got message "you are not authorized to view this page..." Yet I'm authorized to get into other sites, including search: "bush watch." This search brings BW up, but only after scrolling through 2 pages to page 3 (26th of 29 entries and past two old geocities bw listing which no longer exist.

-Susan, 10/16/01

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