If you don’t run a sex blog, don’t feature nudity on your site or generally don’t have anything that might be seen as offensive or risque, you might think the issue of adult content or content blocking doesn’t apply to you. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Simply put, the Web is a big place and the content that’s on it doesn’t get passed through any centralized ratings board like the MPAA or the ESRB (both of which have problems of their own). However, countless companies, groups, countries and even individuals have made attempts at trying to make sure that content is appropriate for whoever is visiting it and, unfortunately, they often make mistakes or, in worst case scenarios, abuse the process to silence speech they don’t like.
The issues of adult content, content rating, site filtering and so forth are ones that every blogger needs to be aware of and at least mindful of simply because the rules are so subjective and it is far too easy for innocent sites to get caught in the crossfire of a war against certain types of content.
The biggest problem when talking about “adult”, “restricted” or “banned” content is that the terms themselves are inherently ambiguous. Though, in the U.S. we tend to put this in the context of pornography, even that can be almost impossible to define, leading to a famous quip from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I’ll know it when I see it.”
If the Supreme Court can’t clearly define what is obscene or pornographic, what hope does a Web filtering company or, even worse, your host?
Of course, the problem gets even worse when you realize that the standards of what is and is not acceptable vary wildly from country to country and culture to culture. For example, sites are routinely banned in China merely for being critical of the government or supporting policies counter to the country’s. Likewise, Thailand notoriously blocks sites that are critical of the country’s king.
To make matters still worse, the bans often have a great deal of collateral damage. For example, all of WordPress.com was banned in Brazil in 2008 due to a sex video that was embedded on at least one blog.
Of course, it isn’t just filters and national bans one has to worry about. Many hosts have a strict policy against hosting “adult content” or “obscene material” and, considering how subjective the rules can be, many sites are booted from their homes for violating these rules when they thought they were doing nothing wrong.
In short, every blog is being held to a variety of subjective and confusing standards as to their content and violating these standards could get you banned in various countries, filtered by prominent site blocking tools or, in some cases, kicked off your existing hosting provider.
This is an issue that every blogger has to think about and, unfortunately, it’s an issue that is only getting worse. However, if you want to make sure every visitor who wants to read your site can, you have to take steps now to ensure that this doesn’t become a problem and that your site doesn’t needlessly get caught up in the crossfire.
How to Avoid it
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely avoid this issue and only so much you can do to mitigate it. For example, my site, which deals with copyright and plagiarism issues on the Web, was put on several filters and blocklists simply for writing an article about how the porn industry was dealing with piracy.
That being said, most of the blocks were lifted but it illustrates the point nicely, that even having words that can be mistaken for being restricted content can create at least a temporary problem.
Without severely curtailing your speech, there’s not much you can do to ensure that you don’t get unjustly filtered, blocked or booted. Still, there are a few steps that every blogger can and should consider taking to make sure that their site isn’t unjustly caught up in the crossfire.
- Choose a Host That Allows Adult Content: Even if you don’t plan on posting anything that could be considered pornographic or adult, make sure that your host allows it. The mere fact that your host is making judgments as to what is and is not acceptable content beyond what the law says it has to should give you cause to worry.
- Avoid Free Blogging Services: Services like Blogspot and WordPress.com, as great as they are, are often targeted together because they are on the same domain. As such, if one blogger on a service becomes a target, likely all of them are blocked or filtered.
- Rate Yourself: There are a variety of rating services such as Safe Surf that let webmasters publicize, through metadata, what their content is. Many services look at this before making decisions based on the content. This might be useful if don’t have any pornographic content, but might use terms that could be confused for it.
- Choose Terms Carefully: Remember that what you say is often more important than how you say it, especially when dealing with automated filters. Excessively coarse language may get you filtered out and mean that others can’t access your site.
- Watch Your Comments: Remember that your comments matter too, so have a good comment policy on your site and remove those that violate it.
Unfortunately, none of these methods will completely prevent your site from being filtered, blocked or banned, but it might reduce the number of sources that do it.
Of course, if you run a site that does feature adult content, you can expect to be filtered legitimately. For better or worse, it’s a hazard of running a site that features such material, child filters, workplace firewalls and other monitoring services will do what they can to block you.
On that front, there probably isn’t much that you can do at all.
To be clear, website filtering, especially voluntarily filtering by families and within companies, are not necessarily evil, but they are highly imperfect.
Unfortunately, that imperfection can catch you and that, in turn, can restrict access to your site from people who may want to visit it. Get mistaken for pornography, for example, and visitors who try to come buy while at work will be blocked if their company runs filtering software.
Your best bet is to do what you can to avoid being mistakenly identified as some kind of unwanted content. Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible to do, especially with how broad of a net many of these filters, firewalls and other tools cast.
The best thing you can do is be mindful of the risks and do what you can to mitigate them. It’s not much and, most likely, if you reach any level of popularity you will be filtered by someone somewhere, but you can certainly limit the problem.
That, in the end, is better than nothing.