By SCOTT DEWING
Published: January 2006

NOW THAT I’VE GOT YOUR ATTENTION, let me tell you the Internet’s “dirty little secret”: online porn is big business, so big that pornographic websites account for 12 percent of all websites on the World Wide Web. That’s more than 4 million porn sites that annually receive 72 million visitors and generate $2.5 billion in revenue.

And when we’re not viewing porn online, we’re busy searching for it. Of course, when I say “we” I don’t really mean you and me—I mean all those other Internet miscreants out there who regularly visit porn sites, which in the U.S. is estimated to be 40 million users. With a total of 200 million Internet users in the U.S. that means that 1 out of every 5 has, or will, surf porn sometime this year. In regards to searching for pornographic material online, 25 percent of all search engine requests are pornography related. According to the uncensored version of the Wordtracker Report, which lists the top keyword searches on the Internet, the current top three keyword searches are related to pornography. No. 3 is “sex”. No. 2 is “porn”. And the #1 keyword search is for—well, let’s just say that it rhymes with “wussy”, which is what you might call me for not saying the actual word.

And it’s not just the top three keyword searches that have to do with porn—50 percent of the top 100 keyword searches are directly related to a search for pornography. Other phrases such as “Paris Hilton” and “Pamela Anderson” probably aren’t search phrases that were typed in by curious fans looking for these women’s curriculum vitae online. The only saving grace amidst the mostly disgraceful and pathetic list of top 100 search words is “poetry”, which amidst the smut quest is holding steady at #8. That means there is either a highly literate and cultured class of Internet users out there (you know, like you and me) amongst the porn-searching rabble, or it suggests some causal relationship between porn and poetry in which the viewing of porn makes one prone to reading poetry or the reading of poetry makes one yearn for porn. Either scenario is disturbing and cries out for a doctoral thesis that I’m sure would find no shortage of college-aged volunteers to surf porn for a couple of hours to determine if that creates an uncontrollable desire to read some poetry. Finding volunteers to read poetry to see if that elicits desires to view porn may be a bit harder to come by.

This past summer, the Internet Company for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit organization that manages domain names and IP addresses, approved a proposal to add a new “.xxx” domain extension. The “dot-triple-x” extension would be reserved for pornographic websites, essentially creating a “red-light district” on the Internet. Proponents of the plan to create the .xxx domain name extension argued that it would provide better regulation of pornography websites as well as protection for children because it would simplify content filtering for homes and school networks.

The idea of creating a segregated domain for sex sites was not a new one. It has been being debated since the late 1990s. In testimony before the Commission on Online Child Protection (COPA) in June 2000, Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat with presidential aspirations, stated, “As I understand it, you are weighing the pros and cons of creating a special domain to accommodate X-rated or other forms of adult content and segregate it away from kids. This idea, which would in effect establish a virtual red-light district…has a lot of merit, for rather than constricting the Net’s open architecture it would capitalize on it to effectively shield children from pornography…”

ICANN didn’t approve the first attempt at creating a .xxx domain. Ironically, that domain extension was turned down along with .kids, which would have been used for kid-oriented and kid-friendly websites. Democrat’s, such as Lieberman, were not the only ones outraged with the ICANN withdrawal of the .xxx domain. Fred Upton, a Republican representative from Michigan, railed that the .xxx domain would have been “a means of protecting our kids from the awful, awful filth, which is sometimes widespread on the Internet.”

Fast-forward five years and ICANN announced yet again its intention to approve the .xxx domain—only to renege on that a couple months later. Why is ICANN flip-flopping more than John Kerry in an election year? Well, turns out that Kerry and ICANN have a common thorn in their side that comes from the same Bush. ICANN’s flip-flop in this round of the dot-triple-x debate came after Bush administration officials objected to the creation of a the .xxx domain extension, citing concerns about a virtual red-light district reserved exclusively for pornography. Apparently it’s better to let porn-pushers intermingle their domains in the .com, .net, .org and other common name-spaces rather than segregate and regulate them in the exclusive .xxx arena.

The U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC), which ultimately has oversight of ICANN, “received nearly 6,000 letters and emails from individuals expressing concern about the impact of pornography on families,” according to Michael Gallagher, the DoC’s assistant secretary. Wow, “nearly 6,000”…that represents like nearly .02 percent of the U.S. population. The DoC listened though and ICANN kowtowed to its wish to kill the .xxx domain initiative. I wonder if any of these concerned activist received thank you letters or emails from the porn industry lobbyists who are also opposed to the .xxx domain extension?

The terrible irony here is that approving and establishing a .xxx domain would do more to put controls on Internet pornographers than not having the exclusive domain extension. The Bush administration, however, has pressured ICANN to drop the .xxx domain because of paranoia that allowing its establishment would show tacit consent for the allowed existence of pornography on the Internet. The debate over the .xxx domain is sure to continue and will never gain traction as long as ICANN continues to be a wussy.

As for me, I’ve had just about enough of this debate over the dirty business of Internet pornography. I think I’ll go read some poetry.