Pornography is no longer a poison creeping into the crevices of our popular culture. It is part of the very fabric. One sensation at a recent Apple conference for new and developing applications in San Francisco was the "iPorn bikini girls" advertising free X-rated films for your iPhone. It sounds like a whole new reason to fear people using their mobile phones while they drive.
Free porn sites are all over the Internet now, with zero restrictions or minimal electronic barriers against curious children who might be in for a very crude shock within seconds, just with the still photos on the home page. Even the most mainstream of video sites are inundated with pornography and its promoters. YouTube touts itself as the world's most popular portal for Internet videos. It has become so big it's even promoting a new technology called YouTube XL to put its videos directly on your big-screen TV.
A new study by Matthew Philbin and Dan Gainor of the Culture and Media Institute (CMI) found that YouTube is stuffed with porn videos. But a search for the word "porn" found more than 330,000 results. Out of the 157 "porn" clips that received more than 1 million views, almost two-thirds (101) advertised themselves to be actual pornography. Those 101 videos had 438,318,147 combined views -- or 1.38 views for every man, woman and child in the United States.
YouTube claims it's "not for pornography or sexually explicit content." It's just not against it, either.
Pornographers of all kinds exploit YouTube to drive traffic to their sites and products. Twelve percent of those 101 videos mentioned porn stars by name or were obvious clips from porn movies. In addition, there were thousands of videos and repeated comments that served only as advertisements for hardcore-porn sites, "dating" and escort services, and phone sex lines.
Particularly troubling are animated videos listed under "porn." Several videos put profanity and sex talk over classic Disney cartoons, like one called "Aladdin Porn." (Disney ought to be the first powerful player putting a stop to that.) Fans of Japanese anime cartoons can find the animated porn called "hentai," and skip over the 18-plus barrier or gravitate to hard-core sites the same way they could access live-action sex clips.
CMI also found that gay content, including pornography and ads for gay escort services, are rampant. There are 11,900 gay channels on YouTube, including 459 "gay porn" channels. A search for "gay porn" returns 52,700 individual videos. YouTube even promotes homosexuality on the home page. On the night of June 17, one featured video was a promo for a cheesy new British movie called "Lesbian Vampire Killers."
YouTube tells parents that its site is not appropriate for children under 13, but few videos are age-restricted. Some objectionable videos are flagged by users as adults-only. But all that's required is to register and state that you're over 18. That's not encouraging when nearly half of boys and a third of girls ages 13-17 name YouTube as one of their top three favorite websites, and they can watch it anywhere on laptop computers and cellular phones with Web browsers. Computers are commonplace in public schools and libraries that may not have much adult supervision.
Besides, is YouTube seriously suggesting that porn is inappropriate for 13-year-old children but it's okey-dokey for them at age 14?
After the Parents Television Council complained last December, YouTube implemented some reforms. Take profanity. Without parental supervision, every imaginable obscenity, including graphic sexual language, is rampant on the site. The F-word alone appeared in the titles of some 169,000 individual videos. YouTube recently offered parents a tool for filtering out dirty words (and even hiding all comments on video clips), but that protection only comes when vigilant parents look for it.
Last year, the search an innocent child would make for Disney Channel pop stars like Hannah Montana drew not only profane comments but inappropriate advertisements for horror movies. A search for Hannah Montana today finds only advertisements for J.C. Penney and other Disney child stars, so that's an improvement.
But as the CMI study insists, YouTube must construct "a far more formidable barrier" than its easily entered 18-plus category to protect children from graphic sexual content that parents wouldn't want their children to view. Just as a parent wouldn't let their child wander through a seedy neighborhood of sex shops, it's now impossible for parents to avoid watching their children carefully negotiate the Internet. Isn't there anyone in the corporate power structure at YouTube who worries about what their own children can find on their creation?