Jordanne Holyoak, Media Director: firstname.lastname@example.org|
Richard R. Becker: email@example.com
CCA, c/o Jordanne B.
P.O. Box 33063,
Indianapolis, IN 46203
Davids To Take On Goliath
Writers, Poets And Journalists To Take on AOL
Actions speak louder than words.
In a letter addressing its 4 million members, Steve Case, president and
CEO of America Online (AOL), wrote, "Our strong belief is that we can
accomplish the important goal of protecting children from inappropriate
material without compromising privacy or free speech by empowering
parents with a set of easy-to-use technologies and tools that allow
parents to choose the content that their children can access."
At the same time, AOL released new Terms of Service (TOS) and Rules of
the Road (ROR) for members to abide by or lose their accounts.
"To date, I have never seen more restrictive TOS guidelines on AOL," says
Holyoak, spokesperson for the Creative Coalition on AOL. "AOL's new
TOS guidelines completely compromise free speech."
The Creative Coalition on AOL (CCA) was founded by a little more than a
dozen poets and writers that became concerned about AOL policies when
several of their posted poems were removed from the boards and AOL
representatives issued TOS violation warnings. Too many TOS warnings
or violations in an unspecified area of time, or even one time in some
cases, can cause a subscriber to be barred from AOL's service.
"Our immediate reaction was to test what words AOL disagreed with,"
says Holyoak. "Several of us posted poems we knew would be 'TOSed,'
but there were also many well-structured poems with redeeming
In order to explore exactly what was permissible art on-line, one of the
writers who became interested in the poets' complaint, posted a Merriam-
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary definition that AOL provides in its
Reference area. The posting earned the writer a TOS warning and the
post was removed from the area these artists had created to explore free
speech on AOL, aptly titled WWIII. Under the profane and vulgar
provisions of AOL, CCA says even classic literature cannot be quoted
without fear of TOS violations. And, new TOS and ROR guidelines have
expanded those provisions to encompass anything that AOL, or any
member of their service, does not agree with.
Since the first WWIII folder was created, members of AOL have filled the
folder with comments (which was only allowed 450 posts at one point)
three times over. Combined, the amount of posts are roughly equivalent
to 3 novel-sized manuscripts. Recently, in perhaps an unprecedented
move, the group decided to become organized and founded the CCA on
the very server censoring them.
"We tried individually writing Steve Case and other AOL representatives
on-line, but largely, AOL ignored us. That's when we knew we had to
become organized," explains Holyoak. "We decided to increase our
membership, educate people about the importance of free speech, and try
to convince AOL to provide a Free Speech area for literary pursuits. All
we're really asking is to be able to speak without the fear of being
CCA feels that private industries that promote themselves as a
community should regard free speech with the same vigor as the
Constitution. Otherwise, Holyoak says, attacks on individuals who are
different will run wild over the Internet under the guise of private
"Perhaps it already is," she said, citing a recent American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) release that reads: "It appears that AOL's arbitrary
standards may be a little homophobic. While "Wet and Wild" was an
unacceptable title in a gay video catalog, AOL ran an ad in Downtown
AOL for Affinity Teleproductions, Inc. that read: "Now you can join exotic
Anna Nicole Smith on her sensuous Edenquest adventure in her
exclusive photo portfolio.... Anna Nicole Smith "The Collectors Set"
features ten eye opening Edenquest photographs in vivid color.... It's all
Anna Nicole Smith wet and wild drenched in sun and powder sugar
sand. "With Love, Anna Nicole" is your personal trip to paradise with the
world's most exciting woman in her most provocative photos ever." Other
words banned by AOL (that AOL accepted payment for and allowed to
run for 4 weeks of its one year contract) in a gay video ad included:
"pleasure," "black," "hard," "boys," "jock," "Rican," "sex," "stud," "straight,"
Holyoak also says, "AOL constantly solicits its members to participate in
debates and then censors those views or words that they don't agree
with. Additionally, AOL continually contradicts itself by advertising
"Cybersex" to people of all ages, but then claims to have "family values"
in regard to a poem about oppression."
Currently, officers of CCA are appealing to other groups such as the
ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to assist their cause,
saying that CCA hopes they're as aggressive about free speech as they
appear to be. Additionally, the group is studying court rulings on free
speech to build what will be an undeniable case that AOL cannot ignore.
The goal in this is not to bring class action against AOL, but that their
research will glean some information that will open AOL's eyes or least
the eyes of CCA's critics.
"We're continually pressured to give up and resign our AOL accounts by
some on-line members," says Holyoak. "But we feel we have a right to
request customer service and refuse to 'sit at the back of the bus'
because we have different views than AOL."
Although CCA has yet to create a physical address (as it was formed on-
line), its officers welcome supporters who do not subscribe to AOL by
sending Email to "CCA MEM@aol.com." Additionally, there is no
membership fee to join this organization and it does not accept monetary