Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Courts Government Censorship United States News

Google Trends vs. Community Standards On Obscenity 332

Posted by timothy
from the gotta-worry-about-the-apple-pie-searchers dept.
circletimessquare writes "Google Trends is being used in a novel way in a pornography trial in Florida. Under a 1973 Supreme Court ruling, 'contemporary community standards' may be used as a yardstick for judging material as unprotected obscenity. This is a very subjective judgment, and so Lawrence Walters, a defense lawyer for Clinton Raymond McCowen, is using Google Trends to show that, in the privacy of their own homes, more people in Pensacola (the only city in the court's jurisdiction that is large enough to be singled out in the service's data) are interested in 'orgy' than "apple pie'."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Google Trends vs. Community Standards On Obscenity

Comments Filter:
  • by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot@ ... m minus math_god> on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:47AM (#23915987) Homepage Journal

    That is awesome.

    • by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:53AM (#23916079) Homepage Journal
      In the state that I live (NH), obscene is defined by anything that most likely would cause "affront or alarm." This, of course, leaves a lot for interpretation. My new hair cut could be considered obscene.

      The question is simple: why are natural things like nudity, sex, and sexual intercourse considered obscene to begin with? Is it neccessary for society to function? Is it important to have a line drawn somewhere, for fear that if the line gets pushed, even more extreme things may become the norm? (Killing babies, public self mutiliation, goatse)?

      I, of course, don't support public obscenities and indecencies- it's just plainly wrong to do some things in public. But then I try to think why it is, and can't seem to find a good answer. Is it because that's how I was brought up, and that's how I learned it should be?

      There are a lot of things that I learned as I grew up that don't actually make sense. Is it possible that some things are just the way we've always done it, and that's why it shouldn't change? My parents spoon fed me loads of crap, how am I supposed to seperate the truth (shouldn't run around naked in public) from all the lies (go to church or you'll go to hell)?

      As an interesting side note, if he really wants to make a point, he should add a new term to the trends- Google Trends [google.com]. (Additionally, he shouldn't have public news like this- people will skew the trends when they find out about it.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:59AM (#23916159)

        In the state that I live (NH), obscene is defined by anything that most likely would cause "affront or alarm." This, of course, leaves a lot for interpretation. My new hair cut could be considered obscene.
        What? Do you have a penis and balls shaved onto the top of your head? Next time don't pass out drunk at a party, lightweight.
      • it's not like there once was a time in human history when love was free and sex was easy. there have always been social limits on sex for as long as we have been social apes. sure, we don't have to fight and scrounge for food anymore, but this has only been true for the last century. which, not coincidentally, the last century has seen a relaxation of sexual mores. the other hundreds of thousands of years of human history has been a desperate fight for resources for you and your children against the neighbors and their kids.

        prudish social conservatism is not some newfangled judeochristian invention, it is simply human nature. the gut human reaction at seeing someone more successful than you procreatively or materially is anger, and this anger is evolutionarily advantageous: to work hard at limiting your fellow man's success and enjoyment in life, so that you may have some success yourself.

        so sex is is fun, sex is pleasurable, sex is good, sex is harmless... unless it is someone else having it. then it is bad. is this selfish? absolutely. and evolutionarily advantageous. and therefore hardwired into how our brains function: there is no way the neighbor's children are going to get more bananas than my children, so there is no way the neighbors are going to freely have sex without my approval

        in this perverse way, the urge to prevent other people from enjoying sex is the same urge underlying the desire for social justice, for equality: you can't have more than me, its not fair. community standards on sex is simply the most primitive form of birth control. no, that's not "just say no", that's "you have sex and i'll punish you, because your children are taking resources from my children"

        • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary&yahoo,com> on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:42AM (#23916811) Journal

          I think you have a strange view of human nature. I feel pleasure at seeing someone more successful than I, as long as that success seems warranted. That urge towards justice and fairness you mention works both ways if you let it.

          You should also read up on anthropology, because you have some strange ideas about what humans are like in their 'natural' state. Read The Continuum Concept [wikipedia.org] for another view.

          There seem to be only two cultures in the world, the culture of feast and sharing, and the culture of famine and war. You are drawing your conclusions based on only the currently dominant culture. For most of human history, though, it was not.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I feel pleasure at seeing someone more successful than I, as long as that success seems warranted.

            And herein lies the rub. What "seems warranted" varies wildly depending on what measuring stick you use. For example, is it possible for a teenage vacuum-head "pop star" to warrant worth 10000 greater then the best neurosurgeon or the discoverer of some properties of proteins which result in making the cure for cancer possible?

            What measurement do you use to make multi-billion economic empires - and with them

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tgd (2822)

        I, of course, don't support public obscenities and indecencies- it's just plainly wrong to do some things in public.

        I disagree. What you think is wrong is an opinion and you should explicitly have no right to influence the behavior of others, where that behavior isn't causing *demonstrable* harm to others, on the basis of your opinion.

        My parents spoon fed me loads of crap, how am I supposed to seperate the truth (shouldn't run around naked in public) from all the lies (go to church or you'll go to hell)?

        And there's the problem. You're assuming that there's some inherent truth to a claim that people shouldn't be running around naked in public -- when there's pretty substantial evidence from cultures going back to pre-history that there's not a bit of problem with it at all.

        This is why you

        • I'm sure you can see that I was arguing a point that I personally didn't agree with. It was just a bit of insight on my own thought process. I don't believe there exists an inherent truth, or that my opinion (or my parents) should be taken as one.

          I'm merely commenting on the state of society, their thought process, and my struggle with my own though process given to me by society.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by torkus (1133985)

          This is great - in theory (i'd spend +mod points if I had) and I wish reality matched up.

          Unfortunately in the USA people seem to feel they deserve to be comfortable, protected, and coddled anywhere and everywhere they go. How about the FCC complaints about radio (much less TV) in the past few years? Seriously, turn it off or just change the station. Instead, certain people feel the need to impose their own moral views on the greater population.

          As far as 'truths' - some people would emphatically argue tha

        • by ePhil_One (634771)

          And there's the problem. You're assuming that there's some inherent truth to a claim that people shouldn't be running around naked in public -- when there's pretty substantial evidence from cultures going back to pre-history that there's not a bit of problem with it at all.

          Seeing as most Americans descend from Europeans, there is a prehistoric problem with it, namely idiot cro-magnons that did so died of exposure during the winter. So along with a genetic ability to handle our alcohol, fight livestock derived diseases, and digest animal milk, we also inherited an understanding that running around naked isn't a good plan. Don't find many eskimos procreating in the great out doors, do you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Scrameustache (459504)

        The question is simple: why are natural things like nudity, sex, and sexual intercourse considered obscene to begin with?

        Simple answer: They don't make the rich richer.

        Suppressed sexual energy can be canalized for profit.

        Is it possible that some things are just the way we've always done it, and that's why it shouldn't change?

        That's what conservatism is all about.
        Except that it isn't even that things have always been like that, just that they are perceived that way. Take the pledge of allegiance, "under god" was added LONG after it was first uttered, but conservatives want to keep it because this is the version they heard first, so they assume it's how it always was. They oppose change because it's different from what they were

      • by Tom (822) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:31AM (#23916603) Homepage Journal

        The question is simple: why are natural things like nudity, sex, and sexual intercourse considered obscene to begin with? Is it neccessary for society to function? Is it important to have a line drawn somewhere, for fear that if the line gets pushed, even more extreme things may become the norm?
        No. To control a society through fear (of terrorism, eternal damnation, or whatever the meme of the day is) you need to make sure that said fear is present at all times.

        Sexuality is an excellent choice for a religion-dominated control-through-fear approach. It's one of the strongest natural drives, but contrary to hunger, thirst or the opposite bodily functions, you can actually suppress it for a long time. Thus you can have "good" examples to tell all the normal people that they are abnormal, evil, and will certainly go to hell unless... and the unless is what puts you in power.

        Worked in Europe for almost two thousand years. In some more primitive parts of the world, including certain regions of Europe and the US, it still works quite well.

        It is precisely because nudity and sex are such normal and natural things that they are made taboo.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by torkus (1133985)

          Actually you made a very interesting comparison.

          Religion to terrorism. Not only do they go hand-in-hand often enough but they seem to operate on very similar principles.

          Terrorism - we hurt you with whatever means we have because you disagree with our views or don't follow our way of life.

          Religion - we threaten eternal damnation, expulsion from the community, and whatever else we can imply/coerce (and corporal/capital punishment particularly in older times) if you don't follow our views and ways of life.

          So

      • My parents spoon fed me loads of crap, how am I supposed to seperate the truth (shouldn't run around naked in public) from all the lies (go to church or you'll go to hell)?
        Interesting. I'm not sure why running around naked in public is a bad thing. You might get a cold, but no worse that if you go running around in swimming trunks. Maybe because there's a risk of snagging yourself on something?
        • Well, at least legally, it's not a good idea right now. That doesn't touch the basis of the rules, but at least it gives me a foundation that will keep me out of jail..?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TractorBarry (788340)

        > why are natural things like nudity, sex, and sexual intercourse considered obscene to begin with?

        Because the sex instinct is one of the most powerful forces at work in an individuals psyche. Control that and you can (to a large degree) control the individual.

        Why do you think we have societies which encourage widespread sexual repression but which advertise most goods with unsubtle hints about how their possession will get you more sex ?

        Why do you think that the people who make the most fuss about nudi

    • by Potor (658520) <farker1@gmail . c om> on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:56AM (#23916131) Journal
      Not really. FTA:

      The Google service does, however, show the relative strength of many mainstream queries in Pensacola: "Nascar," "surfing" and "Nintendo" all beat "orgy."

      Lawyers can select any word combination that is helpful to them. Nothing here more than a new way to load an argument.

    • Who farted? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:37AM (#23916695) Journal

      A little almost on topic background to the cliche "Hoist with his own petard" [wikipedia.org] before getting entirely ON topic:

      A petard was a small medieval bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. In a typical implementation, it was commonly either a conical or rectangular metal object containing 5 or 6 pounds of gun powder, activated with a slow match used as a fuse. It was often placed either inside tunnels under walls, or directly upon gates. When placed inside a tunnel under a wall and exploded, large amounts of air would often be released from the tunnel, as the tunnel collapsed. By securing the device firmly to the gate, the shape of the device allows the concussive pressure of the blast to be applied entirely towards the destruction of the gate. Depending on design, a petard could be secured by propping it against the gate using beams as illustrated, or nailing it in place by way of a wooden board fixed to the end of the petard in advance.

      The word remains in modern usage in the phrase to be hoist by one's own petard, which means "to be harmed by one's own plan to harm someone else" or "to fall in one's own trap", literally implying that one could be lifted up (hoisted, or blown upward) by one's own bomb. Shakespeare used the now proverbial phrase in Hamlet.

      In medieval and Renaissance siege warfare, a common tactic was to dig a shallow trench close to the enemy gate, and then erect a small hoisting engine that would lift the lit petard out of the trench, swing it up, out, and over to the gate, where it would detonate and hopefully breach the gate. It was not impossible, however, that this procedure would go awry, and the engineer lighting the bomb could be snagged in the ropes and lifted out with the petard and consequently blown up. Alternately, and perhaps a more likely scenario, if the petard were to detonate prematurely due to a faulty or short slow match, the engineer would be lifted or 'hoist' by the explosion.

      Thus to be 'hoist with his own petar' is to be caught up and destroyed by his own plot. Hamlet's actual meaning is "cause the bomb maker to be blown up with his own bomb", metaphorically turning the tables on Claudius, whose messengers are killed instead of Hamlet. Also note here, Shakespeare's probable off-color pun "hoisted with his own petar" (i.e., fart) as reason for the spelling "petar" rather than "petard".

      My thought on using google trends is that perhaps the petard hasn't yet detonated, and may well not detonate at all.

      The only reason one would look up "apple pie" would be to get a recipe for it. And "orgy" could mean, according to wikipedia, asecret cultic congregation at nighttime in Ancient Greek religion; a synth rock band from Los Angeles, California named "Orgy"; or a musical marathon radio format created by WHRB 95.3 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

      Perhaps the defense should look up some other words besides "apple pie" and "orgy". Perhaps "vinyl siding" and "anal sex" would be better search terms. Surely the prosecution will see this and counter.

      • to be more precise, i find your historical anecdotes to be petarded

        • by sm62704 (957197)

          They're not my historical anecdotes, they're wikipedia's. You can change it if you want (but they'll change it right back).

          Since you obviously have a problem with wikipedia's accuracy, I looked it up on uncyclopedia. Unfortionately, according to the uncyclopedia, petards don't exist. But Picard [uncyclopedia.org] does. According to uncyclopedia, what Shakespeare said was "He was hoist by his own Picard".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:48AM (#23915993)

    As American Pie demonstrated, it just doesn't work as well as they claim.

  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:49AM (#23915999)

    are interested in 'orgy' than "apple pie'."
    And even if they were interested in apple pie, this could still be spun the right way.
  • Yeah (Score:4, Funny)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:49AM (#23916005) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, but did he try "warm apple pie". I bet he'd get very different results! :-D

  • I know I am. And apple pie sure is tasty!

    On the other hand, you already know where to get apple pie, but you have to use the internet to get porn, or post in the swingers classifieds. The comparison is skewed.

  • by MMC Monster (602931) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:55AM (#23916107)

    Can anyone put up a picture of the U.S. (and world) that highlights areas that find apple pies more interesting that orgies?

  • You'd think they'd've been struck down a long time ago. But I guess that'd give the Supreme Court too much common sense credit....

  • Weird spike (Score:5, Funny)

    by rhombic (140326) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:56AM (#23916127)

    O.k., I can understand "Apple Pie" spiking every fall, presumably people looking up recipes. But wtf is up with the enormous spike in searches for "orgy" in Sept. 2006? It's as if everyone in Pensacola had a mass orgy meme sweep through the community. Must have been a mess month.

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:58AM (#23916153)

    Group sex and orgies apparently. (From the courtcase)

    "We tried to come up with comparison search terms that would embody typical American values," Mr. Walters said. "What is more American than apple pie?" But according to the search service, he said, "people are at least as interested in group sex and orgies as they are in apple pie."

    Chris Hansen, a staff lawyer for the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the tactic clever and novel, but said it underscored the power of the Internet to reveal personal preferences -- something that raises concerns about the collection of personal information.

    "That's why a lot of people are nervous about Google or Yahoo having all this data," he said.

    Subscribe to Google Blackmail now: Because We Know You Know We Know.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Iamthecheese (1264298)
      Thats aggregate data son, and used correctly, its useless as a tool to violate privacy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Lars T. (470328)
      Interesting, when you switch to all regions: the gap between orgy and apple pie widens (so Americans are more prude it seems). But Tampa, FL, USA is still the #1 city searching for Orgy, the Czechs beat the Greece, and Polish is the second most used language to search for Orgy.
  • by djdavetrouble (442175) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @08:59AM (#23916169) Homepage

    I wonder if the great orgy spike of 2006 had anything to do with
    the subsequent surfing decline and what was the net overall effect on Apple Pie-ism?

    For even more fun with statistics, I recommend
    How to Lie with Statistics [wikipedia.org].

    Even the chapter titles are funny:

    The Sample with the Built-in Bias
    The Well-Chosen Average
    The Little Figures That Are Not There
    Much Ado about Practically Nothing
    The Gee-Whiz Graph
    The One-Dimensional Picture
    The Semi-attached Figure
    Post Hoc Rides Again
    How to Statisticulate
    How to Talk Back to a Statistic

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:04AM (#23916231) Journal
    Mr. Walters might like to know that Walters is more popular than apple pie [google.com] but less popular than orgy.
  • FTA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stainlesssteelpat (905359) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:13AM (#23916331)

    Mr. Walters is defending Clinton Raymond McCowen, who is facing charges that he created and distributed obscene material through a Web site based in Florida. The charges include racketeering and prostitution, but Mr. Walters said the prosecution's case fundamentally relies on proving that the material on the site is obscene.

    How exactly is google trends going to clear him of racketeering and prostitution? Just curious.

    • Re:FTA (Score:5, Informative)

      by Scrameustache (459504) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:40AM (#23916745) Homepage Journal

      Mr. Walters is defending Clinton Raymond McCowen, who is facing charges that he created and distributed obscene material through a Web site based in Florida. The charges include racketeering and prostitution, but Mr. Walters said the prosecution's case fundamentally relies on proving that the material on the site is obscene.

      How exactly is google trends going to clear him of racketeering and prostitution? Just curious.

      You got me curious too, the article linked was light on details, so I googled the guys' name:

      See, all this activity is stemming from things that occurred in the past. We had moved production from Pensacola almost three years ago. We moved to Tampa for a little while and then to Vancouver.

      You were shooting everything in Vancouver?

      One hundred percent. Weâ(TM)ve been up there almost two years. Thatâ(TM)s why they chose racketeering. They couldnâ(TM)t charge us with prostitution, because it has a one-year statute of limitations. They could have charged us with obscenity, but I think as a whole, we have an extremely good chance of beating the obscenity charge. What they do is use the catchall: Any two predicates combined can equal racketeering, so thatâ(TM)s what they charged us with. That looks better on paper. [wordpress.com]

      P.S. the new comment system has character encoding issues... I'll go tell our overlords about that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:19AM (#23916413)

    I'm really tired of the "influential-prissy" inflicting their moral code on us by defining regular adult erotica outside the mainstream. I'm sorry, we the people LIKE erotica. It's in our nature and it's natural. If the prissy side doesn't want to partake, then they are free to refrain, but they shouldn't be able to tell the rest of us what we can and cannot do based on their narrow prejudices. Furthermore, I'm tired of these vague and nebulous laws which specify "community standards," as if we all got a say in the matter (which, evidently, we don't).

    This is suppose to be the land of the FREE, not necessarily just the PRUDES.

    Grump!

  • The pattern for "Apple Pie" is clearly seasonal, but where did the peak for "Orgy" around October 2006 come from?
  • Utah (Score:5, Informative)

    by chill (34294) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @09:38AM (#23916719) Journal

    I seem to remember a case in Utah where a local obscenity ordinance was being used to try an shut down a video rental store. The argument was local values in the town didn't truck with XXX videos.

    The defense got anonymized records from one of the big hotels right across the street from the video rental. It showed that in-room, adult movie rentals were quite popular -- well above the national average. It also showed that the majority of those renting were from the local area, and not out of town perverts.

    The defense showed that the "local values" were, in reality, not in line with the stuffy, Victorian puritanism that was being touted publicly. The defense won the case.

    This Florida case strikes me as very similar.

  • by Khashishi (775369) on Tuesday June 24, 2008 @12:38PM (#23920821) Journal
    If we are enforcing our opinions on obscenity on others, we are little different than the Islamists who are enforcing their belief that women showing any skin are being obscene.

The typical page layout program is nothing more than an electronic light table for cutting and pasting documents.

Working...