Does online fandom cause child pornography?

This is a weird and ugly case reported in the LA Times where an underaged extra recruited through MySpace is suing Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records, and others for allegedly getting her drunk and coercing her into performing pornographic acts for a music video:

The Internet has transformed how bands interact with their fans. But that can lead to troublesome consequences.A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records and other music industry organizations helped coerce a 16-year-old girl into making pornographic rock videos when a band advertised for extras on MySpace, News Corp.’s teen-oriented social networking site.

The companies and musicians’ representatives deny they did anything wrong. But they acknowledge that difficult situations may arise as they reach out to young fans.

But it is just such situations, the girl’s attorney said, that demand heightened caution by the music business.

“For years, the industry has been talking about how online sales and online promotion creates unique opportunities to reach out to fans,” said the attorney, Douglas Silverstein. “Well, that also creates a unique burden” to protect minors from online exploitation, he added.

The suit, filed Thursday, alleges that popular rock group Buckcherry, which is known for its sexually suggestive lyrics and members’ tattooed torsos, asked fans to show up at Hollywood’s Key Club in October.

The plaintiff, a minor identified as Jane Doe who was living in Southern California, was allegedly given alcohol to drink and filmed exposing her breasts, kissing another female and writhing against a pole while Buckcherry performed a song with an unprintable title.

According to the lawsuit, the music video was posted on the band’s website and distributed widely online, as was a “behind the scenes” program that referred to the girl’s first name, featured more nudity and had band members saying, “It’s like watching seven hours of porn.”

The behavior here is terrible, but blaming the internet or the music industry is quite a stretch. I say hold the people who gave her alcohol, filmed her, and posted the film responsible. They’re the bad guys, not the companies (unless the band’s website were run by the label, which Buckcherry’s does not seem to be). I don’t think the communicative potential of the internet creates a “unique burden” any more than in-store appearances, concert halls, backstages, tour buses, bars, and hotel rooms do.

I had a discussion with someone in the music business a few months ago where he argued that labels must be hypervigilant (i.e. limit fan involvement) with sites for bands that appeal to underage girls because they are used by predators. No question that’s a bad thing, and I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking reasonable precautions to prevent it. But I wanted to know whether the labels also felt it was their responsibility to go to these artists’ concerts or ensure there was adequate security present to protect the girls who saw them live.

It concerns me because the rhetoric of protecting children, especially girls, and especially girls who might (horror!) be sexual, has been used as an argument for shutting things down at least since the advent of the telephone. Just look at Deletion of Online Predator’s Act which seeks to ban the use of social networking sites in federally funded places like libraries and schools. The need to protect kids as best we can is real, but focussing on the technology allows us to ignore the really scary truth that almost all cases of bad sexual things that happen to kids have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the home, the neighborhood, and the family. We have to be careful not to keep everyone, including those kids, from participating in culture more fully because we have fears about what might happen to a very few.

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