Changes contemplated in the 18 U.S.C. 2257 (United States Code of Federal Regulations) could mean the end of social networking websites that promote porn.
Known as "2257," the code defines requirements porn producers must follow to verify the age of every performer, keep records about the performers' identities and make those records available to the government.
Some changes now proposed would, in effect, extend the statute's reach beyond adult-content producers to include social networking websites, it is argued.
For, as per the revised regulations, every adult who wants to upload a "naughty" picture to a social network would have to submit a photo ID and state their full name, date of birth and other personal information. The network would have to maintain that record for as long as the picture exists -- likely in perpetuity throughout the universe -- and ensure the record is available without question to The Authorities for 20 hours a week, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Porn studios already have a hard time complying with all the ins and outs of recordkeeping laws. And while adult social networking sites do seem to try to keep illegal material off their servers, it would be impossible for a social networking site to comply with the proposed changes, says Regina Lynn, noted commentator on porn-related issues.
What if users submit false information -- who gets punished? Who verifies IDs? A studio production assistant can check performer IDs in person; would social networks have to open offices all over the country to verify prospective members in person?
Few people know much about the recordkeeping requirements. It's like the FBI warning you can't fast-forward on a DVD -- it's included on every porn website and adult video, but doesn't stand out to viewers any more than gang graffiti on delivery trucks.
The changes are being proposed in order to curtail child pornography, that's fine says Lynn.
But porn and adult social networking are entirely different things. The former is entertainment; the latter is sex.
An adult social networking site is not about producers publishing static content in hopes of making a profit. It's about people coming together and sharing sexual experiences.
They might plan to hook up in person or keep the sex online; they might simply participate in exhibitionism or voyeurism; it can be entirely fantasy or a platform for ongoing relationships. Sometimes it's as simple as uploading a favorite clip from a porn DVD.
But the foundation of social networking, or user-generated content, or Web 2.0, is community. Users don't passively look at content someone else chose to shove at them. They share, rate, create, organize, recommend, criticize. No member stands alone.
A porn delivery site is a one-on-one transaction; a social network is a many-to-many bazaar that exists because its members communicate. Minors on the site would not go unnoticed. And adults who frequent adults-only communities do so because those places are adults-only, not because they want to hang out with minors.
It's not just the technology that would make it impossible to enforce the new regulations on community sites. It's the attitude. Internet community is traditionally against anything smacking of outside control or authority, and the human need to expose ourselves in sexual ways online simply cannot be stopped. Anyway no government has any business to interfere is the argument.
Lynn is convinced whether the user-generated content is slick as studio porn or not, it is real and hence no longer porn, but sex. It's the difference between form and substance, or between art and life.
How many will agree with her? One has to wait and see.