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Is US prudishness ruining the internet?

Censorship, Anglo-Saxon values and boring economics

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Opinion Is US dominance of the internet – and particularly of the social networking space – leading to the export of US prudery across the globe? Or is the growing debate on international censorship a little more complicated?

As Becky Dwyer, a US citizen and, as member of CAAN Scotland, a campaigner for less censorship in the UK put it: "Isn't this more about American Corporations forcing conformity upon private individuals rather than 'American' values?"

First off, examples of US social networking sites coming down hard on subscribers who fail to toe the line set by Ts & Cs are widespread.

Let’s start with global social networking site, Facebook. Readers will by now be more than familiar with its policy when it comes to boobs: namely that above-waist nakedness, if it appears to be in the least bit sexualised, is a definite no-no.

A similar issue arises over any group or image that might be deemed overly sexual, as Helena Hewitt, instigator of art and fashion project "Fetish Rocks" found out to her cost. Ms Hewitt was twice forced to rebuild her Facebook group from scratch following anonymous complaints.

The ailing MySpace, by contrast, seem more than happy to host her images.

Of course, sex isn’t the only thing that Facebook censors. It has issues with profane language – and obscene words like "twitter", too. More bizarrely, it recently blocked an ad by pro-cannabis campaign group "just say now" on the grounds that its use of an image of a cannabis plant breached its rules on endorsing smoking products.

If Facebook has occasional issues with individual depictions of the physical and erotic, Apple is even stricter. Back in February, Apple banned the iBoobs app for the iPhone on the grounds that too much wobbliness was distressing some customers.

Along the way, it has had run-ins with South Park and political cartoonists. More seriously, it appears to be crossing swords with some of the world’s largest media groups, as the tribute it demands for admission to the i-universe is the de-eroticisation of mainstream reporting. The Sun, the New Yorker and Bild have all hit back at Apple’s nanny corporatism.

Another major potential censor of the internet is Google, which prior to a recent and abrupt volte-face was happy to go along with the Chinese government’s restrictions on what their citizens could look for on the net. Ironically, of course, it could be argued that the original censorship was respectful of local politics, and the about-turn was not.

The search giant's refusal to screen an ad for the Australian Sex Party possibly represents more of a return to form.

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