After a tip from Pennywit, who had trouble visiting our humble pages from Panera Bread, I went to take a look at a website "content filtering service" that apparently has rated mediagirl.org as:
Category 1 - Violence/Hate/Racism
Isn't that interesting? I wonder, what does it take to get that rating? Not much, apparently -- especially since this site advocates no violence, and only speaks of it in terms of violent crime and violent wars, really has not addressed anything about racism, except for its pernicious persistence in our society, and has expressed hate only for hate.
Is this one new facet we'll see of "a better internet"? Helpful services that will wash the web of content that is uncomfortable for the masters?
But don't feel left out! You too can play the game! Find out your favorite website's rating and share it here!
Sorry, I already spoiled the fun for:
media girl gets a clue
Typical of me, I'm so behind the times, I was just oblivious of others who got the jolly pleasure of having their website censored.
The wall against free speech
The filtering is also apparently used for political purposes, as noted in this From Now On article about censoring school district content for teachers:
The practice of unfairly blocking teachers (and students) from reading politically oriented materials came to this author's attention when a teacher from a school district in California e-mailed complaining about her district's filtering of an FNO Press journal and Web site criticizing NCLB (http://nochildleft.com
The district and its filtering company allowed teachers to access and read the highly partisan marketing efforts and advocacy on behalf of NCLB issued by the outgoing Secretary of Education but blocked the reading of materials critical of NCLB. Even though the Department had been caught paying a journalist to promote its agendas and even though the Department has a very large PR budget advocating NCLB to parents, teachers and others through Web sites and press releases, the district and the filtering company, SonicWALL left the Department's blatant advocacy unfettered while blocking criticism of "No Child Left."
SonicWALL invents the list of blocked sites. They decide who gets filtered. They do not explain their criteria and do not reveal which sites are blocked. Most clients could not thoughtfully select which sites to block if SonicWALL does not tell them. The default setting for blocking sites is determined by the company and the school district electing this filter is complicit.
Is that bread or a gag in your mouth?
In a comment on metrofreefi.com, Chuck Remmell reports that Panera blocks what it wants:
Do a search on "Panera SonicWALL" and you will find many people who have experienced Panera's site-blocking. It is because of this unnecessary censorship that I no longer go to Panera.
Below that, Greg Thomas comments:
Hello, I am a former Field Systems IT employee at Panera. Panera is a publicly held company, so there is no political agenda behind political site blocking. The reason they block POTENTIALLY questionable sites is because Panera is a family institution. The last thing any cafe manager wants is to deal with someone watching porn in the cafe. Yes, I know there are other ways to do that, but at least Panera makes an attempt to not provide another means to do so. Panera's free WiFi is unlike any other in the US, and is the largest free WiFi network in the world. It is provided via a Savvis network and is also one of the most reliable. It may block certain sites, but it is provided free. You want unfiltered access? Go pay for it.
Aside from the ridiculous notion that a publicly held company cannot have a political agenda -- I mean, what are all those lobbyists doing in Washington, anyway? -- he has a point, which is:
Whatcha gonna do abbowdit?!
The thing is, what's being censored are internet sites not owned by Panera being viewed on privately owned laptops people have with them. Or, as Tinfoil + Raccoon puts it:
Why in the world would a Panera, or any business that offers WiFi to individuals who are using their own machines, filter content in such a broad manner? A google search of panera sonicwall will reveal lots more grumblers. In fairness, WiFi is free at Panera--maybe they need to add employees who can make baguettes and configure crummy filtering software.
The Google hits on SonicWall also led to the Wikipedia entry on 'censorware':
Groups like The Censorware Project
begun reverse-engineering the censorware software and decrypting the blacklists to figure out what kind of sites the software blocked. They discovered that such tools routinely block sites that are clearly outside what they claim to block, while also failing to block what they claim to.
The SonicWall page says:
At the core of SonicWALL CFS is a revolutionary content rating and caching architecture that rates and filters millions of URLs, IP addresses and Websites. When a network user makes a request, SonicWALL CFS checks the URL or Web site against its immense database. A rating is returned and permission is then granted or denied based on established access policies. Ratings for acceptable Web sites and URLs are cached within the SonicWALL appliance, enabling instantaneous compliance.
How that rating happens, they don't say. Their ratings categories page describes mediagirl.org's rating category as:
Anti-social websites that advocate or provide instructions for causing physical harm to people or property through use of weapons, explosives, pranks, or other types of violence.
Sites that advocate hostility or aggression toward an individual or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, nationality, ethnic origin, or other involuntary characteristics; sites which denigrate others on the basis of those characteristics or justify inequality on the basis of those characteristics; sites which purports to use scientific or other commonly accredited methods to justify said aggression, hostility or denigration.
Where they're getting this impression, I don't know. Perhaps a little troll whispered in their ear?