Marjorie Heins


Etzioni's argument for censorship of minors ignores the fundamental problem with Internet filters, misstates the results of media-effects research, and uses emotional terms like "protection" and "harm" to mask moral judgments about what is appropriate for youth.

Given the size and constantly changing character of the Internet, filters necessarily rely on key words and phrases. As a result, thousands of valuable Web pages are mistakenly blocked by filters, even at their narrowest settings. The problem is inherent in the system.

Most media-effects studies do not show a causal link between violent content and violent (or "aggressive") behavior. The studies that claim positive results often involve manipulation of the numbers or use dubious proxies for aggression (such as popping balloons). Media violence actually has a variety of effects. Scholars say that for many youths, it provides a harmless outlet for aggression.

Etzioni evades the task of defining what he thinks should be censored. But this challenge cannot be avoided. Because of the difficulty of definition, restrictions are inevitably vague and overbroad. They also ignore minors' free expression rights, which expand as they mature. Noncensorial approaches—media literacy, sexuality education, and funding of alternative, nonprofit media—are in any event more effective than censorship in addressing concerns about adverse media effects.