Applying movie ratings to Web sites is a dumb idea

Should "PG" and "R" be used to warn you about the content on the Web? Don Reisinger thinks not.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

The British secretary of state for culture, media, and sports, Andy Burnham, told The Daily Telegraph recently that he thinks "cinema-style ratings" should be placed on all Web sites to grade them based on their content and decency.

According to Burnham, the Web is "a dangerous place" and we need to do a better job of ensuring children don't make their way to the wrong sites. He believes that by using the ratings system already imposed on films, it could do the world a great deal of good.

He's kidding, right? How can anyone expect a "cinema-style" ratings system to work in an environment where individuality and "user-owned" content are coveted above all else? Oh, and what about the whole enforcement of such an idea? Should we hire pimple-faced teenagers to check IDs before your 13-year-old decides to surf to HowardStern.com like they do at movie theaters?

The idea that anyone would want to place ratings on Web sites strikes me as, well, one of the dumbest Ideas I've heard in a long time. It's not that I'm against keeping kids away from questionable content. I simply don't know how a ratings system could do any good.

Age verification on the Web is disastrous. How many times have you been to a site that requires age verification, left the month and day alone, and changed the year to something like 1950 to get in? I'm willing to bet 90 percent of all the people on the Web were born on January 1.

Realizing that, what makes anyone believe a ratings system would work? If it doesn't stop young teenagers from sneaking into a rated-R movie, what makes anyone think it will keep them out when they're in the privacy of their home surfing the Web?

I know, I know: this ratings system is for parents! Right. I'm sure there are a slew of parents out there who would look at ratings each time their children surf the Web and I would commend them for that. But I'm also willing to bet that there are some parents that would either see these ratings for what they are--a waste of time--or ignore them altogether.

Think about it--how is it possible to rate any Web site? If you had to take a guess, what would you rate CNET.com? PG? PG-13? R? I'm sure anyone can make the case for any rating. But for our purposes, let's just say that the ratings board chose PG. In other words, children can go to CNET.com based on the content we create on the site.

But what about the comments? What about some of the hate-filled, vituperation readers place on different stories across the site? Sure, the article itself is fine for children, but calling others names, cursing, or using other generally unaccepted language probably isn't rated PG, right? Realizing that, maybe we should rate the content PG, but the comments R. But then again, not all the comments are bad and many are educational. Should we then start rating individual comments? If so, who will be given that menial task?

Rating a movie is one thing, but trying to place those ratings onto a Web site is ridiculous. There are too many people providing too much content on too many sites for it to make any sense. In other words, the Web, unlike film, is not a controlled environment.

I'm all for protecting kids from dangers in the world, and the Internet has plenty of it. But trying to apply generic ratings to the multi-faceted Web is ridiculous.

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