Most people who work in places with Internet access have a company-wide policy on Internet use. Where I work is no different. My employer, a government agency, permits casual use of computer networks (including the Internet) for personal use provided that it is infrequent does not involve any gambling or profit-making activities, it’s not for any obscene or objectionable uses (i.e., pornography or hate-based uses), doesn’t involve or promote criminal activity, and that it is – as they describe – of “de minimus” amounts of employee time. The terms infrequent and obscene and objectionable and de minimus are somewhat vague and overbroad and highly subjective, but that’s a journal/blog entry for another day. Any Websites the organization feels are inappropriate are blocked. I discovered such a site one day a few years ago when I was gathering information for a class in my Master’s degree program. (Another point for another blog post is the great employee benefit it is that my employer paid for the degree).
So, I was looking up information on the domestic terrorism threats to reproductive health organizations and safe sex organizations in the United States. Believe it or not, there are evidently lots of attacks, threats of attacks, and other acts of violence disguised as legal acts of civil disobedience lodged at these organizations, organizations designed to provide health-related, objective information to those who need it.
My research led me to the site of one such organization, the New York AIDS Coalition – an organization whose mission is to “secure, strengthen, and enhance [the] community-based fight against AIDS and to promote the fair and compassionate treatment of New Yorkers living with HIV disease.” When I typed in the address, I was taken to a blue and white page – and the following message was displayed: “Your organization’s Internet use policy prohibits employees from viewing this site (Category: safe sex).”
I was quite puzzled. Why would any organization prohibit its employees from gathering information about safe sex? AIDS is running through this country like a Mack truck at high speed with no brakes. The discussions aren’t as wide-spread as they use to be and not as widespread as I think they need to be, but the pervasiveness of the epidemic is very much out of control. Furthermore, talked about even less frequently are STDs such as but herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis, and gonorrhea. These diseases that are still out there too – and while these maladies are not normally terminal, their consequences can be great and their presence in the body could become exacerbated if the person also has HIV infection, which impairs the body’s immune system.
Yes, this truly puzzled me. What puzzled me even more is the fact that some people hang out extensively on social media throughout the day or play solitaire or other computer games or engage in a variety of brainless activities; however, going online to gather information that many people would consider valuable information regarding their life and health is prohibited. Where is the logic in that? I’m sure that it all boils down to the algorithm being used that monitors and tracks employee’s Internet activity. Additionally, there was the option to challenge the blockage by filling out a form and providing the URL of the site I attempted to visit, a description of the site and the organization’s mission/objection, and any other information that I think would be helpful in assisting them in adjudicating the decision favorably. Though I have done so on other occasion – and the block was lifted – I opted not to do so this time. Some things are just not worth the effort to try and figure out. But it sure did weigh heavy on my mind that day.