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This Week in MIT History

By Jennifer Chung

Staff Writer

During the last week of February, 1998, students entering 10-250 for a lecture were greeted with the home page for a pornographic web site.

Lecturers for Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001) displayed the page as an introduction to a lecture on the Platform for Internet Content Selection. PICS is a system designed by the World Wide Web Consortium to filter out pornographic web sites and other objectionable content.

The lecturers wanted to show that Internet pornography “really is a problem,” said Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Harold Abelson PhD ’73, who proposed using the graphic to introduce the lecture and who was one of the course’s four lecturers that term.

According to another lecturer, James S. Miller ‘76, “this is a page that does not ask for your age” or provide for any form of protection. The offensiveness of the page demonstrated the need for a rating system, he said.

Students in the class had mixed reactions about the full frontal nudity logo and banner advertisements that graced the projection screen at the front of the lecture hall. The most common reaction was disbelief.

“Some people laughed; that was more or less my reaction. I thought it humorous to see it up there ... It wasn’t what I expected to see ... in a 6.001 lecture,” one student commented.

“I still don’t think that showing this in a 6.001 lecture is a good idea,” said another student. “The class includes people who have strong beliefs against pornography for many different reasons.”