Date: Wed, 7 Feb 1996 08:45:32 -0500 (EST)
From: "Shabbir J. Safdar" 
To: vtw-announce@VTW.ORG
Subject:  INFO: Internet users painting the net black on Thursday (2/6/96)
Reply-To: vtw-announce@VTW.ORG

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              FEBRUARY 6, 1996
                                            Contact:  Steven Cherry
                                                     (201) 596-2851
                                                     Shabbir Safdar
                                                     (718) 596-2851
New York, NY                                                         

                          INTO LAW

When there's a funeral in New Orleans, they don't just stand around 
looking at a casket, there's a marching band, and when they mourn on the 
Internet there's lots of noise as well. Virtual noise that is. Inside the 
casket lies the First Amendment, and the noise is people turning their 
World Wide Web sites black.

The last gasp for the First Amendment will be heard later this week when 
President Clinton signs the long-awaited Telecommunications Reform Bill. 
Buried just below its surface, like a bomb waiting to explode, lies the 
descendant of the Communications Decency Act, legislative language that 
will ban "indecency" in cyberspace. George Carlin-style indecency, 
broadcast-media style indecency. An FCC-enforced ban on indecency, as if 
the government could monitor the millions of Web pages, Usenet postings, 
email listservers, and chat messages generated across the Internet each 
day. As if American law could restrict what's available on a global 
Internet, where pinup photos, cancer support-group advice, and currency 
exchanges can move at the same speed and in packets that are essentially 
indistinguishable, and servers can move around the globe in a way that 
physical goods manufacturers can only look at, black with envy.

Black, as in the traditional color of mourning. The Grim Reaper wears 
black. Judges wear black -- black robes symbolize a lack of favor to one 
side or the other. The black of the "Day Without Art."  The black that 
people wear at funerals, to underline the loss of something important to 

On the Internet, a network, a networked community, based entirely on 
speech, nothing is more important the freedom from censorship enjoyed up 
to the moment when President Clinton's pen puts an asterisk next to the 
First Amendment, an asterisk that says, "except on-line speech," an 
asterisk it will probably take the Supreme Court months, if not years
to erase.

That black can be seen at, a popular site on
the Internet, and an especially ironic one to see it in. Surfwatch is
devoted to perfecting just the kind of parental controls that work far
more effectively than any government regulation could, and which
facilitate free speech instead of criminalizing it.

That black can be seen at sites large and small, commercial and 
noncommercial. Christopher L. Barnard, who maintains Illinois Virtual 
Tourist, says that his black pages are all ready to be loaded as soon as 
he hears the bill is signed.

Turning the pages black, involves changing the backgrounds so that light 
text appears on a dark background. It may not be aesthetically desirable, 
as some, who are changing their pages anyway, have pointed out. It can 
involve proprietary extensions to the formatting language of the Web, 
complain others. It's been characterized the "Paint it Black" campaign by 
some, and the "Thousand Points of Darkness" by others.

All in all, just the sort of free-wheeling, outspoken, opinionated 
activity that has characterized the Internet since its inception over 
twenty years ago. "What can we do?" asks Shabbir Safdar, co-founder of 
Voter's Telecommunications Watch, one of the many on-line activist 
organizations organizing the campaign. "It also can't be seen by 
text-only Web browsers, or by people with net-access that doesn't include 
the Web. But we couldn't let the day go by unmarked." The campaign asks 
Web-based information providers to turn their pages to black for 
forty-eight hours after the President signs the telecomm bill into law.

Sometimes it is easy to comply. Josh Quittner of Time-Warner's 
Pathfinder, says, "Heck, our pages are black half the time anyway. But 
for those two days they'll be black because of the telecomm bill." 
Pathfinder is one of the largest and most-used sites on the Internet.

Sheryl Stover, marketing director at Internet On-Ramp, Inc., of Austin, 
Texas, said her personal page is already black. But all non-client pages 
are being altered from Monday February 5th through the two day period 
after Clinton's pen adds a black-ink graffiti scrawl across the Bill of 

SurfWatch can be contacted at or 800-458-6600.

Christopher L. Barnard and the Illinois Virtual Tourist can be reached at
312-702-8850,, and

Pathfinder's Netly News can be found at

Sheryl Stover and the Internet On-Ramp, Inc. are at 509-624-RAMP and

Voters Telecommunications Watch is a volunteer organization, concentrating
on legislation as it relates to telecommunications and civil liberties. 
VTW publishes a weekly BillWatch that tracks relevant legislation as it
progresses through Congress. It publishes periodic Alerts to inform the
about immediate action it can take to protect its on-line civil liberties
and privacy.

More information about VTW can be found on-line at

  gopher -p 1/vtw

or by writing to The press can call (718) 596-2851 or

   Shabbir Safdar         Steven Cherry