Your Best Defense Against Online Offense
Counter Odious Web Content With Well-Aimed e-Mail

Last year I attended a talk given by Brent Bozell, founder and chairman of the Media Research Center (www.mediaresearch.org) and the Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org).

He told how he had faxed all the commercial advertisers of a particular TV show with the specific anti-Catholic sentiments being expressed on it. He asked the advertisers—who are worth millions in ad revenues to the networks that run the shows—if they had intended to be associated with anti-Catholic bigotry. Thus enlightened, some of the advertisers withdrew their support for the show. Mr. Bozell emphasized in his talk that "bigotry" was one word with which advertisers definitely do not want to be associated.

And what does this have to do with the Internet? Let me show you by example.

I use message boards on our web site to enable people to submit prayer requests, make announcements and meet one another. When I launched this service, I selected a free message-board host called Casual Forums. I learned quickly that the catch, as in many freebies, is the banner advertising your message board must carry at the top of each page. Sure enough, before long I received an e-mail from one of the visitors to our site complaining about a weight-loss ad on our message boards. The ad featured a picture of a young woman in a bikini, and the visitor didn't think it was appropriate on a message board associated with our site. I agreed, and moved our message boards to another free service. This one is called EZboard (www.ezboard.com) and it, too, uses banner advertising.

Things were going fine until one day when I received an e-mail from a Catholic parent saying, "My son Joshua set up an EZboard site for home schoolers. With love and hope he worked very hard. With many tears, we had to ask all who visit, to stop posting. I trust you will follow his lead. The ad that set this action into motion is from Planned Parenthood. The ads come and go, in rotation with other ads, so they may not be obvious at first look, but they are there!"

I was getting tired of running. Instead of pulling out this time, I decided to fight. Bearing in mind Brent Bozell's technique, I sent the following e-mail to Ezboard:

"Dear Sirs, When I joined EZboard I had no idea that you used 'adult content' advertisers like Planned Parenthood. By using such advertisers, you are driving people away from using your free service. Another of your users recently e-mailed me saying he was pulling his son's site out of your service because of this advertisement. So as you see such advertising will not be tolerated by those using your service. I realize that you support yourself by advertising, but unless you want to be rated as an adults-only site you had better choose carefully who you allow to advertise on your forums.

"Now if this situation doesn't change in the very near future, you can look forward to the following: I will click on the other advertiser links that you have and inform them who else is being advertised. I don't think they would be very happy and would pull out from supporting you. Further, I will have visitors who see such offensive advertising in our forums e-mail you as well as your other advertisers. And eventually, if there is no change, I and others will be forced to leave your service and not recommend it on our own web sites. Now I don't want to do this to you and I really like your service, but adult advertising belongs on adult sites. Thank you and I await your response."

It wasn't long Ezboard's Customer Support Representive responded as follows:

"Hi there. We are sorry for the offending advertisement. We are in the process of trying to find a way to keep all banners like this one off of our EZboards. We will make sure to block this one from our banners and, in the future, if you could send us the links again we will investigate those as well. I am very sorry for the inconvenience."

In this particular instance of using Mr. Bozell's method, I wasn't trying to shut down a bad web site; my aim was to stop a bad ad. Notice that EZboard did agree to block Planned Parenthood ads in the future. Further, I could submit other offensive ads to them for review. Had I not taken a stand and just pulled out you can be sure that Planned Parenthood ads would still be used on Wzboard's service.

Notice that I didn't argue against Planned Parenthood because of the immoral things they promote. That could just have led to an endless debate. Calling Planned Parenthood an "adult site" was something EZboard would not want to be known for supporting.

To be sure, this is a very small victory against Planned Parenthood on the Internet. Yet it illustrates that we can influence Web-site content and advertising. Banner advertising funds many sites. By threatening to attack a site's bottom line—dollars and cents—you can be assured the site's operator will take notice of what you have to say.

Now to this month's recommended Catholic Web sites:

Bob and Linda Easterbrooks have put together The Catholic Calendar Page at www.easterbrooks.com/personal/calendar/index.html. Here you can view the liturgical calendar with graphics or, if you are in a real hurry, in text-only format. You can also get Mass readings and other useful information for each day.

The Focus Worldwide Network at www.focusvideos.com was originally designed by yours truly but has undergone many changes since then. Retired New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan and Mary Lou McCall, former TV reporter and anchor for a New Orleans ABC affiliate, have hosted the Focus TV show for a number of years.

St. Ann's Basilica in Scranton, Pa., at www.themass.org is another place for viewing daily Mass, this time with Windows Media Player. A liturgical calendar can be found here as well.

Mass Times at www.masstimes.org enables you to search for Mass times around the country in English and other languages. Further, find times and locations for the sacrament of reconciliation, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and religious devotions. Other useful information includes tourist Mass locations, wheelchair access and Web links for Catholic travelers.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org.