How the Media Can Misrepresent the Web

Wayne MacPhail, columnist for (among other things–Wayne wears many hats), tackles the the topic of How Media Can Misrepresent the Web using the sensitive topic of reporting that takes place regarding child pornography. From his article:

A couple of weeks ago, Canadian media outlets reported that, across the country, 44,970 computers were actively engaged in trading child pornography – 15,140 of them in Ontario.

First, this story is a classic case of mainstream media slipping casually into the “Internet as source of all evil” mindset. Yes, child pornography is heinous and those who either abuse children and/or collect child pornography (two very different pathologies) should be stopped and punished. But, media outlets should be very careful about allowing pre-built frames to colour their news coverage.

MacPhail refers to numbers compiled by Flint Waters, a special agent for the Wyoming Attorney General and commander of the Internet Sex Crimes Against Children task force in the U.S. Waters developed software that can track IP addresses associate images traded on peer-to-peer networks. MacPhail takes a critical look at these numbers used in reporting, how their use distorts the real picture, and how we should not just accept what we see written.

Immediately after posting his article, MacPhail received a response from Mr. Waters. Mr. Waters confirms:

At no point do I advocate the claims that the Internet is the “source of all evil.” You are correct that this is a common theme among stories that relate to our data. No matter how much you address the issue during the interviews it does not make it into the stories.

Thought-provoking stuff. In light of John C. Bouck’s article here on Slaw regarding Criminal Law, it makes you wonder how much people’s frustration with our criminal system is actually based on a distorted sense of reality.


  1. Also, perception of civil law are problematic, and media-based: