Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Workplace Pornography: A "Virulent Cancer"!

By Radley Balko (Reprinted from Reason magazine's Hit & Run blog.)

The Washington Times unleashes a 750-word editorial on the scourge of Fleshbot culture.

Pornography is a major workplace problem in contemporary American society - and yet few private employers or government managers are willing to talk about it for fear of seeming prudish, or blindly trusting their employees, or being accused of infringing on individual liberties. With these attitudes, porn-at-work has grown like a virulent cancer, robbing employers of work time and wasted wages, causing litigation, and - most important - truly corrupting the minds of offenders while helping a squalid and perverted industry.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, to his credit, has the courage to tackle the issue of pornography at work head on. His action is an opportunity to begin a national conversation on the widespread social effects of Internet porn at the office. Is this the kind of America we want to live in?

Given that we now have pretty concslusive data that Internet porn actually reduces sex crimes, I'd say yes! The concluding graphs are especially Bork-a-licious:

Some of these employees know full well that they are being monitored - and get an additional thrill for being so brazen and taking such a risk. This bespeaks the magnitude of the porn-at-work phenomenon.

With so many employees now having their own work computers, the workplace has become a center of pornographic voyeurism among some segment of American society. How to respond, beyond more porn-detecting software and greater vigilance, remains to be seen. We claim no answer. But until we discuss the challenges, America will look less and less like a shining "city upon a hill" and more like Sodom and Gomorrah - a land in which workers betray the taxpayers, cheat their employers, embarrass their colleagues, diminish their lovers, and nobody cares.

I find the "additional thrill" line implausible, or at least assumptive of facts not in evidence—unless the editorial writer is testifying.

To be fair, part of the editorial focuses on reports of government workers surfing for porn on the taxpayer dime, which is a legitimate gripe. But then, so is government employees shopping on eBay. And yes, private employers should be able to fire porn addicts without fear of an ADA suit. I've read about one highly-publicized such lawsuit, but is this really a widespread problem?

Beyond that, I fail to see the issue, here. There's plenty of filtering software employers can use to block access to porn if they wish. If an employee's porn habits are making him unproductive, fire him. I hardly think we need a "national conversation" about Felicity Fey (Did I reveal too much?).

Moreover, other than the assertions of breathless editorial writers, there's just not much support for the idea that the widespread availability of porn is "corrupting minds" or morally "cancerous." Just about every social indicator that one might anticipate being affected by the mainstreaming of porn (divorce and abortion rates, sex crimes, sex crimes against children, teen pregnancy, etc.) has for about 15 years generally been moving in a positive direction. That of course would be the very period during which pornography became widely available on the Internet.


  1. I figured the above hit the nail on the head – there isn't a porn problem here, but a fucking off on the public/company dime problem, and there's some pretty simple ways of dealing with that.

    Other than that, of course, I offer my usual objection, that no, the study that was quoted in the article does not conclusively say that porn reduces sex crimes. Its a correlative study that could be interpreted in a lot of ways. The study does serve, however, as a powerful counter-argument against oft-quoted correlative studies that claimed porn increases sex crimes.

  2. Ah yes, The Washington Times, house organ of Sun Myung Moon and lickspittle fan rag of Geo. W. Bush.

    Now there's a fair and balanced source for you.

    Evidently, with a society teetering on the brink of economic collapse, two wars in progress that the W.T. helped sell at untold cost in blood and treasure and a health care system down on its rims, we should all really be worrying about the "cancer" of porn in the workplace.

    Thanks for the heads-up, W.T.

  3. Sorry for being late to comment...I'm still fending off the aftereffects of my govenor's embarrassing attempt of an SOTU response.

    Anyways...I'm usually not down with the right-wing libertarianism of Reason magazine, but they hit this subject head on perfect. The issue here is NOT porn, but, as IACB said, people goofing off on company time and with the company's dime using the company's servers for their own purpose.

    But...aren't companies already free to offer swift and strict punishments for those misusing their assets for any reason?? Have the Washington Times editorialists ever heard of filtering software or simply blocking at the server level access to outside sites??

    And what about those businesses that tend to do their business relatively well, yet don't censor their workers access?? It may even be that access to porn might even improve a company's bottom line by helping to motivate them to work better....but I guess that that wouldn't mesh too well with their agenda, now wouldn't it???

    Yeah...kinda misplaced in their priorities, those folks at the Washington Times.