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The Net’s dark side

Peter Jenkins’s book, “Beyond Tolerance.”

An unbiased account of child pornography on the Internet sounds impossible. But Peter Jenkins, the author of “Beyond Tolerance: Child Pornography on the Internet,” wanted to take an anthropological look at the shadowy world of cyberporn, and the tone of his book is scholarly rather than political. He describes the actions, strategies, opinions, and justifications of the people who post and download child porn.

Jenkins gives us a look into the world of these anonymous posters and lets them speak for themselves by quoting directly from child porn discussion boards. We hear the members’ perspectives and opinions, their attempts to reframe child porn as a children’s-rights issue, and most disturbingly, their own moral dilemmas about the pictures and movies they pursue so avidly.

Later in the book, Jenkins tells about the hackers who attack porn boards and try to make posters too nervous to congregate on the Net. Several of these groups nearly wiped out all the major child porn discussion boards on the Net in 2000, and the board participants counterattacked in kind almost immediately. These chapters (5 and 7, respectively) read like a thriller and constitute the most interesting part of the book.

Given how much has happened in Internet governance related to child porn this year, it might be worthwhile to wait on “Beyond Tolerance” and see if a revised edition comes out soon. But most of the information is still timely, and more important are the questions Jenkins poses: How can we make the Internet less friendly to child porn? How much do we want to give up, in terms of privacy and freedom on the Net, to get rid of it? And can we reasonably expect to succeed, even if we give up those freedoms?

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