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Yahoo! is to blame for incidences of kidnapping, rape and torture reckons some god-awful, blinkered and self-satisfied member of the American Family Association.

Patrick Trueman has taken the recent example of a 15 year-old girl from Massachusetts who was kidnapped and then subjected to days of abuse to embark on a fire and brimstone crusade. The case itself is pretty shocking: the girl, who had run away from home, was abducted by a bloke and a woman (James Warren and Beth Loschin) and raped. She was then "lent" to another person who raped her, beat her and tied her up in a closet.

This is where Yahoo! comes in: apparently, the girl was offered to others on a Yahoo! chatroom, or "sex club" as the AFA calls it. Frothing at the mouth, the press release from the AFA then goes into great detail over what chatrooms Yahoo! allows to exist and what goes on in them.

"Yahoo! has numerous, perhaps hundreds, of similar clubs that promote kidnapping, rape and torture of girls. Sexually explicit photos on these clubs depict just such conduct. Messages are exchanged daily on these club sites among Yahoo! users seeking or offering females for sex and torture. Yahoo! even provides publicly accessible directories of thousands of Yahoo! users involved in every manner of sexual fetish, even pedophilia [sic] and incest," it reads.

It admits that Yahoo! shuts down such sites as soon as it is aware of them, but "perhaps it is in these and similar clubs that the twisted desires of James Warren and his cohorts were fueled [sic]".

It also managed to find some new ones, which it delights in naming. "Yahoo! should close all its kidnap, rape, torture, and pornography clubs and the Justice Department should prosecute Yahoo! if they don't," it ends, while explaining that Patrick Trueman is the AFA's director of governmental affairs, and was chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Criminal Division, US Department of Justice, from 1988 to 1992.

Not that we take Yahoo!'s side on this - the company is appallingly lazy about monitoring its chatrooms - but such self-righteous posturing only adds fuel to the fire.

The criticism of Yahoo! and its chatrooms is hardly new either. People have been complaining for more than a year and it has had the desired effect in that Yahoo! has drastically cut back on anything to do with sex.

The critics are right as well: Yahoo! doesn't care what goes on its chatrooms and it doesn't want to pay a small fortune to have them constantly monitored. It isn't doing anything against the law and its "tell us and then we'll pull it" policy keeps it from being sued while putting in the minimum effort. Also, regarding porn and sex - there's very good money to be had from the sex industry and when you're a dotcom business, you'd be daft not to look at it.

Yahoo! has also relied on freedom of speech and liberty arguments to justify its laziness. They don't wash with us. The problem is that if Yahoo! does start controlling content then it risks making itself liable for any content on its servers and that is a whole can of worms.

What it should be doing is working with the police so that anyone posting and boasting about illegal activities is traced by the law. Perhaps it already does but it's not publicising the fact, which you would think Yahoo! would. It should definitely improve its monitoring approach for a second time. Perhaps threatening it with a change in the law would work but then there is always the risk that such a law would go through - to the detriment of everyone on the Internet. But whichever way you look at it, incoherent ranting from the AFA won't help matters.

You certainly can't accuse Yahoo! of being two-faced in its free and easy policy. The AFA press release came to our attention through, you've guessed, Yahoo's news service. You can see it here. ®

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