Saturday, November 11, 2006

Implicit content, filters and labels

An important concept introduced in the testimony of the COPA trial on Thursday Nov 9 is implicit content. This idea came up in testimony that discussed the way Internet filters (to protect kids from inappropriate content) have to parse sentences and language to deduce meaning. The concept would appear to refer to the meaning that a visitor gets from content based on the mindset of the viewer, context of the content and likely knowledge of the reader about the speaker. The concept also applies to ordinary verbal speech, as demonstrated in the testimony.

I have been concerned about this idea particularly with respect to the Second Prong of the HTM definition. Concept might not itself be explicit but might "reference" something that is explicit (this reminds me of the concept of "CALL BY CONTENT" or "CALL BY REFERENCE" in various computer programming languages; it is especially important in Object Oriented Programming). Therefore, the immature visitor might be disturbed by the referenced material being brought to mind and, given some sets of circumstances, might feel enticed to do something inappropriate. The "reference" wording might make dramatic or narrative writings more vulnerable to HTM classification than intellectual essays, and it might refer to the idea that the author went ("gratuituously") beyond what is necessary to communicate a legitimate intellectual concept. (However, the event or object "referenced" must be of an explicit nature itself; part-objects, it seems, would not trigger this prong.)

It's important to note that content labels would allow the web master to set up his/her own "filter" based on the belief that some content, because of a contextual meaning, is inappropriate for some age ranges. This idea is well known from movie rating systems, already discussed on Oct 30. Automated filters in common use may have much more difficulty doing this.

Again, let's reiterate that content-based regulation of speech in any media is presumptively invalid. What is so difficult to determine is what speech is really affected by any law, and the trial has a way to go in establishing that. It looks like it (the government) runs at least through Nov. 16.

I am particularly concerned over the idea that the HTM concept could involve "implicit content" as well as explicit items. I realize that this interpretation is open to dispute. This might have more effect on me than on others. I can imagine the Educational Testing Service or some similar agency making up an SAT test with the COPA text and then making up multiple choice alternatives in a reading test questions as to what HTM would mean in one situation or another.

My links are here.

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