FTRW 2008 –

One of the semi-frequent questions/complaints I get from our branch librarians is how to deal with patrons who are looking at pornography.  But during my training, one branch librarian mentioned that she'd had an incident with a patron looking at something much much worse:

(I don't usually do warnings on my blog but I'm doing one here.  Although there's nothing disturbing on the front page that I linked to above, remember that you can't “unsee” anything you see once you start clicking on the links on that page! bills itself this way:

The soft white underbelly of the net, eviscerated
for all to see: Rotten dot com collects images and information
from many sources to present the viewer with a truly
unpleasant experience.

while Wikipedia sums it up like this:

[] is devoted to morbid curiosities, primarily pictures of gruesome fatalities, deformities, autopsy or forensic photographs, depictions of perverse sex acts, and historical curios that are disturbing or misanthropic in nature.

(There's also a summary on Wikipedia of a few of the site's legal challenges.)

I've got mixed feelings about the site myself.  Does seeing a picture of a decapitated person (to take but one example of what you might see if you click through the links on the site) harm you in some way?  Is it illegal?  Is it immoral?  (And is that simply a cultural construct or a personal bias?  Or is this an absolute value?)

On the other hand, is the site just a way to satisfy natural human curiosity?  Is it better to be able to see this type of material rather than having it hidden?  (The US policy of not allowing photos of caskets returning from Iraq is on the very opposite end of the spectrum.)  Is it any different than the six o'clock news where you can regularly see video of people being killed, dying, being tortured, being assassinated, and god knows what else.  It's explicit but on some level, is it any different than a site like  (again, as just one example among hundreds that could be cited.) has an article exploring some of these questions called “The Internet's Public Enema #1: Will ever be kicked offline?

isn't just a database of the disgusting; it's also a venue for making a
point about censorship, at least according to “Soylent,” the
pseudonymous proprietor of, whose highly graphic content has
earned him enemies around the world. The site is currently being
investigated by Scotland Yard and the FBI for cannibalism. The German
Family Ministry has threatened Soylent with legal action if he doesn't
find a way to shield minors from his site. And then there's the endless
cease-and-desist letters that flood in from a long list of major
corporations that object to the site.

“Rotten dot-com
serves as a beacon to demonstrate that censorship of the Internet is
impractical, unethical and wrong,” Soylent writes in his manifesto,
adding that nothing he posts there can't be found elsewhere. “To censor
this site, it is necessary to censor medical texts, history texts,
evidence rooms, courtrooms, art museums, libraries, and other sources
of information vital to functioning of free society.”

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Darcy M. responded to this post on Facebook:
    A misquote from a bit by David Cross went something like this:
    George Bush says “the terrorists hate our freedom”. Well I hate our freedom, if that's what we're going to do with it. makes me think about that. Once stuff like that gets in your head, it can never get out again. And all that desensitization does have long term impacts on our society, and I'm thinking not towards a more enlightened one.

    Posted 29 Feb 2008 at 12:14 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    As I said in the post, I can definitely see both sides of the issue on this one. But I lean towards the side that sites like this should exist even if they do cause desensitization (which is probably arguable – could this site “increase sensitization?” by making you more aware of say, the horrors of war or the dangers of fixing your electric lawn mower while it's still plugged in? A bit facetious on that last one but hopefully you see what I'm getting at.)
    I think it's all about where the line is – for some people, all violent video games should be banned because they lead to the downfall of society. For others who would never think of banning video games, a site like this is horrific and shouldn't exist – which, to my mind, is a pretty solid argument that it should. (Not saying you're necessarily making that argument by the way.)
    And for the record, although I've looked at things on that site in the past, I do give it a wide berth these days and can not stand to look at it as it bugs me that much. Perhaps, in a weird way, it has helped me to become enlightened over my younger, more craven self? 😉

    Posted 29 Feb 2008 at 12:38 pm

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