By: Brian M. Watson
On February 11th of this year, the National Council on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) unveiled their annual list of “The Dirty Dozen.” In their words, the Dirty Dozen List is “an activism tool that gives back power to individuals who want a voice in the culture.” Typically, they call on activists to lobby corporations through email and social media in order to fight what they see as the enabling of sexual exploitation. Taking aim at corporations’ vulnerable and protective PR departments, activists engage in a name-and-shame campaign against corporations that they see as having a special interest in being family-friendly. The same tactics have been proven very successful when employed by both conservative and liberal groups, like Sleeping Giants.
Contrary to what you might expect though, NCOSE’s Dirty Dozen lists do not target morally-gray corporations or organizations. Instead, the list has included targets such as; the US Department of Defense for allowing the sale of magazines NCOSE deemed pornographic to soldiers; the US Department of Justice for not upholding obscenity standards with rigor; Wikipedia for hosting sexual imagery—most often on sexual education articles; Walmart (and others) for selling Cosmopolitan Magazine, which NCOSE sees as “verbally pornographic”; and corporations such as Facebook, Twitter, Comcast, or HBO for allowing sexual media and free speech.
Indeed, there was one notable absence from the Dirty Dozen this and last year—the American Library Association itself!
NCOSE’s crusade against the ALA began way back in 2013 in their first iteration of the list, where argued that “this self-styled champion of First Amendment freedoms has worked to encourage public libraries to keep their computer unfiltered. The ALA’s misguided campaign has resulted in countless patrons of all ages being able to access or being inadvertently exposed to hardcore adult pornography and even child pornography on library computers.” Over the course of the next five years, NCOSE’s language against the ALA got increasingly more righteous and angry—the ALA was accused in 2015, 2016 and 2017 of being responsible for “child sexual abuse, sexual assault, exhibitionism, stalking and other lewd behavior takes place in libraries across the country.”
Judging by the level of heated rhetoric from that statement, you might be led to believe that the ALA was promoting open, free, and unfettered access to pornography—it’s not.
NCOSE believes that public libraries should install filtering software and limit specific sites from the view of the public. The ALA however, has, in repeated statements, publications and policies, declared that:
- “The use of Internet filters to block constitutionally protected speech, including content on social networking and gaming sites, compromises First Amendment freedoms and the core values of librarianship”
- “Internet safety for children and adults is best addressed through educational programs that teach people how to find and evaluate information. “
- In the event that a filter is mandated, that “libraries and schools that choose to use content filters should implement policies and procedures that mitigate the negative effects of filtering to the greatest extent possible.”
NCOSE does not seem to be operating in good faith: their repeated vitriol for filters inevitably links their “Tech Solutions” page where, at the top of their list is a recommendation for Covenant Eyes, a self-installed Big Brother-style filter that reports user’s access to pornographic websites to their friends and family. It is owned by Ron DeHaas, who helps run NCOSE and argues that pornography is sent by Satan. Other solutions include NetNanny (CEO: Russ Warner, also contributes to NCOSE), CYBERsitter (CEO: Steve Ensley, contributor to NCOSE and Enough is Enough–another anti-porn evangelical site), and more. Funding sources for NCOSE’s 1.5 million dollar budget are not disclosed, but but President Patrick A. Trueman is paid about $150,000 to run the organization–none of the other volunteers appear to be paid [PDF LINK].
Failing to see any changes in the ALA’s stance, NCOSE chose remove the ALA from the List, but they continue to maintain a factually-distorted page on their website.
This is indeed a victory for the free speech of librarians and their communities, but instead of dropping the idea, NCOSE decided to go after a more vulnerable target–EBSCO. Their strategy has shifted from more First Amendment-protected companies and groups like Cosmopolitan and the ALA to private companies like EBSCO and Walmart.
James LaRue has discussed the EBSCO attack on this blog before, but it is worth noting in closing that NCOSE is not just targeting outright pornography: their “proof” page for EBSCO includes LGBT+ content, sexual education material, body positivity information, and political activism. Pornography seems to just be the first step.
Further Reading: Fredric Murray on EBSCO and NCOSE, OIF Associate Director Kristin Pekoll on the NCOSE-affiliated Utah censorship case, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Deputy Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom talking about Legal Intimidation as a Censorship Tool–the organization she mentions, Pornography is Not Education, is either affiliated or run by the same members as NCOSE. Finally, AASL President Audrey Church on Internet Filters.
Brian M. Watson
is a historian of the book and sexuality, and works as a pre-professional archivist at the Kinsey Institute. They are especially interested in histories of privacy, censorship, and queer theory. After receiving a History and English BA, they received a MA in History and Culture from Drew University and are currently pursuing a MLIS in Archives and Digital Humanities at Indiana University Bloomington.
Their first book, Annals of Pornographie: How Porn Became Bad resulted in an appearance on Conan O’Brien and elsewhere, and they are currently working on histories of post-war sexuality until the Reagan & AIDS and another on the history of nonmonogamy. They work as a pre-professional graduate assistant at IUB’s Scholarly Communications department and also as a volunteer moderator and podcast host for the world’s largest academic history forum, AskHistorians. Find them on twitter @HistoryOfPorn.