Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Double Standard in Computer Bulletin Board Mideast Discussion?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Double Standard in Computer Bulletin Board Mideast Discussion?

Article excerpt

A Double Standard in Computer Bulletin Board Mideast Discussion?

The Prodigy On-Line Information Service, a joint venture of Sears and Roebuck and IBM, is exercising what appears to be selective censorship of Middle East news and views on its bulletin boards.

Prodigy is an on-line information network that provides information and entertainment by computer through modems in the homes and offices of subscribers. Approximately 1.4 million households nationwide are subscribers to the Prodigy Service. Close to 60 million computer users have access to the service from their homes or businesses. Subscribers can view news stories, pursue subjects of interest, exchange views, play games, search through informational libraries and buy products and services, all without leaving their homes.

The problem with Prodigy concerns one of its most popular features--its bulletin boards. Bulletin boards enable members to exchange ideas on topics of mutual interest. Under Prodigy's Arts Club Bulletin Board topic (non-fiction books), such exchanges may turn into lively debates on such subjects as Arab and Jew, Israeli civil rights and Palestinian reality.

Prodigy Guidelines

To keep discussions on any topic within acceptable bounds, Prodigy has established guidelines. Notes posted on the bulletin board should not contain: "Obscene, profane, sexually explicit, or otherwise offensive material (i.e. material that is grossly repugnant to community standards, which includes blatant expressions of bigotry, racism or hate)."

The guidelines require Prodigy board managers to delete bulletin board messages that violate the standards and to give an explanation for each deletion. Problems arise, however, with the application of double standards to Middle East debates. Subscribers have observed that remarks rejected as "offensive" by the bulletin board censors have included instances of legitimate and critical inquiry into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

For example, a public note was written describing in detail examples of Arab terrorism. The note also stated that terrorism has never been an Israeli tactic. When a rebuttal was submitted listing some terrorist activities of the Jewish Defense League, however, it was censored by the Prodigy board managers. The explanation for the returned note was that "it may insult another member."

Several notes critical of Israeli government policy were returned for being "offensive" or "insulting." Other purely political comments were rejected for being "primarily private in nature," or "substantially similar" to others the authors had previously posted. In fact, the messages were carefully documented criticisms of Israeli policy.

Prodigy users have been informed that "all Arabs are liars."

Double standards also are applied to comments submitted under the subject of Arab and Jew. Quite properly, no anti-Jewish comments appear on users' screens. The same cannot be said of racist anti-Arab remarks. Arab-American Prodigy users have been informed that "all Arabs are liars," and "Arabs' ancestors shoveled camel chips." There have been references to "greasy Arab dollars." In what should be open debate on issues, Prodigy users critical of Israeli policies have been harassed personally as being PLO sympathizers or sympathetic to terrorists.

The writer has collected numerous messages which illustrate the double standards employed by the board censors. …

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