Everyone Wants To Ban Certain Content Online. No One Wants To Talk Enforcement.
Last weekend’s deplatforming of Kiwi Farms, an internet forum known for encouraging the doxxing and harassment of disfavored figures, has brought the eternal question of online content regulation once again to the fore. In this case, the deplatforming was a private business decision by Cloudflare, a web services provider, following a pressure campaign led by trans activists. But a government takedown of the site would have had fans, too. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.), who was swatted by a Kiwi Farms user, argued that it is a “failure of our government and failure of our law enforcement to not take down a website like that,” “all of these types of groups need to be completely eradicated,” and “they should not be allowed to exist.”
Greene’s remarks were brief and primarily concerned with attacking Democrats. But even if she’d spoken longer, my guess is she would have omitted a topic almost always ignored by proponents of banning objectionable content online: Enforcement.
That would be an issue with any plan for government content regulation, especially in forum-style sites like Kiwi Farms with a large base of users creating content, but this glaring absence is most obvious in proposals for banning pornography. I’ve read a lot of these proposals, researching the idea for a chapter I contributed to a forthcoming book on the digital public square. Almost universally, they don’t discuss enforcement.
Senate candidate J.D. Vance (R–Ohio), for example, has endorsed the idea of a complete porn ban, but to my knowledge, he hasn’t elaborated on enforcement at all. Former First Things senior editor Matthew Schmitz’s 2016 case in The Washington Post for banning porn likened it to “bans” on murder and rape, which raises the specter of prison time, but he lets the implication slip away without explicit comment.
A 2019 First Things suggestion of digital “zoning”—say, by limiting all porn to regulated .xxx domains—says “all pornography and indecent material that showed up outside the zone (for example, on a website with a .com or .org domain) could be deemed illegal and referred to the DOJ for prosecution.” But it doesn’t say who’s doing those referrals and what consequences the prosecution should bring. Likewise, a contemporary argument from The Daily Wire‘s Matt Walsh for “much heavier regulation” or an outright ban of online porn is long on rationale but silent on enforcement.
A 2021 piece at National Review seeks to ban only free online porn and delves into constitutionality in a way the Schmitz article does not. But it too is silent on enforcement mechanisms. And an article published this past June at Fox News contends “it is time to tear down the virtual porn theaters” but devotes no space to explaining how this would be done or what punishment violators should face.
In other proposals, it’s all more of the same. The only porn re
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