Information without ethics

    What do hard-core pornography companies and extremist pro-life groups have in common? If you answered “”a string of highly deceptive, addictive and/or unavoidable Web sites containing explicit photographs and having URLs closely resembling the names of major corporations and cultural icons,”” you’re correct! Congratulations, give yourself a cookie.

    Pat Leung
    Guardian

    Despite the overly complex description, most students at UCSD know exactly what I am talking about. Pornography Web sites have long since tried to register URLs, or Web addresses, that resemble typos of other URLs (such as http://www.yaho.com, an obvious typo of http://www.yahoo.com). These sites also register URLs with similar names but different domains, such as the infamous http://www.whitehouse.com (a definite surprise for everyone trying to learn about the office of the President at http://www.whitehouse.gov). Most students have probably fallen prey to this shady advertising strategy, especially at inopportune times such as, say, looking up test materials with your critical gender study group.

    In an attempt to be idealistic, I was skeptical that pro-life groups would sink to this level. Based on the knowledge that most extreme pro-life groups are fundamentally religious, it seems ironic that they would steal an advertising ploy — an unethical one at that — from companies that embody everything they despise.

    To verify my suspicions, I went to http://www.mypepsi.org, one of the suspect Web sites. This would seem like an appropriate Web site to go to if you were inexplicably overcome with the urge to research soda. I was alarmed — though no longer surprised — to find myself looking at dozens of pictures of aborted fetuses. Along with these pictures came strongly worded warnings to ward off abortion as well as any advocates of abortion.

    Don’t get me wrong: I am very pro-life, and I don’t mind defending that viewpoint. However, I am appalled that these groups reduce themselves to marketing strategies that deceive Internet users into viewing photos they had no intention of viewing. The makers of the site are ambitious: the pictures can also be reached via the URLs http://www.louisfarrakhan.com, http://www.garycoleman.com, http://www.nationalorganizationforwomen.com and http://www.usatodaysays.com, among others.

    Not only does this strategy reek of poor ethics, but it also negatively affects the attitudes of the women it reaches, destroys the organization’s own credibility and reflects poorly on all other decent, intellectual pro-life advocates.

    Ideally, if a woman wishes to have an abortion, she should understand what she is doing. That does not mean attacking her with pictures of aborted fetuses, but it does mean showing her the pros and cons of her situation.

    She should understand why pro-life groups believe it is a child, and therefore murder. She should learn why pro-choice groups believe it’s a lifeless fetus and therefore the woman’s choice. Ignorance is never the healthy choice, as we all should know by attending universities where intellectual enlightenment is the goal.

    That said, pro-life groups should not be deciding whether the woman would be ignorant. This is about as effective as cigarette packets’ health warnings aimed at deterring smokers. Everyone knows it’s dangerous, but no one really bothers to read the warning.

    Aside from being unethical, deception ruins credibility. Any woman who looks at these Web sites will be angry that she was deceived into seeing them, and will almost certainly continue with the abortion. Because these Web sites have the gall to con women into rejecting abortion, many people will become indignant to the cause. This advertising is self-destructive.

    Furthermore, when has the Internet ever been a haven of undeniable fact? There are countless reasons to doubt the pictures and sayings of these groups merely because it’s the Internet. For one, the photos may be doctored or stolen from another Web site. Also, the photos may not be of abortions. Perhaps the photo is a botched birth. Perhaps the child has suffered a rare and horrific genetic defect. Perhaps the pictures were taken at a black market abortion in a Third World country. Perhaps the photo is years old, showing procedures long outdated and overly messy.

    Regardless of the possibilities, there is no reason to believe, at first glance, that these pictures are exactly what the pro-life groups say they are. And because they have already deceived us into viewing their Web site, why should we believe them?

    Hoping that there would be a way to stop this woe, I went searching the unconscionably dull copyright laws to see if any laws had been broken, both by pornography rings and pro-life groups. Internet copyright laws are ridiculously nebulous, making it difficult to get a grasp on what you can and can’t do.

    But there seems to be one rule that most of the Internet copyright specialists agree on: URLs are not copyright protection. As http://www.cydislist.com/ internet.htm, a site with information about internet copyright law, says, “”URLs to Web sites are not under copyright protection by themselves because they are a fact, just as telephone numbers are.”” Therefore, no URL is off limits to the first party to register it. Porn rings and pro-life groups have every right to trip Internet users into stumbling onto their Web sites. URL deception uses our freedom (not to mention inability to type) against us. I believe that it is unethical. Sadly, it is also unavoidable.

    Any attempt of the government to regulate this would just flood the courts with frivolous lawsuits by frivolous people. People would soon be copyrighting letters of the alphabet in their URLs. Unfortunately, nothing more may be done legally except to make Internet users aware of these organizations.

    All organizations, from porno rings to pro-life crusaders, should count this sort of activity as ethically reprehensible. But until it can be proven that these morally negligent groups have done something illegal, we had all better learn how to type.

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