LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Carissa Lawson of WLKA.com in Louisville has penned an article that recalls a 2008 “study”—a term we use very loosely—that named the horse-racing mecca the number-one city in America for internet searches of “obscene” material.
The study, such as it was, was conducted by Silicon Alley Insider, and resulted in a top-ten list of porn-searching cities that surprisingly included some socially conservative parts of the country—or so they assumed.
1. Louisville, KY
2. Rochester, NY
3. Philadelphia, PA
4. Newark, NJ
5. Los Angeles, CA
6. Irvine, CA
7. Pittsburgh, PA
8. Las Vegas, NV
9. Albany, NY
10. Orlando, FL
The motivation for this exercise in futility actually had a relatively serious origin. The Insider had noticed an interesting trend by federal prosecutors whereby they would charge a purveyor of internet porn with obscenity in a conservative township with conservative “community standards,” which is one of the three prongs that must be proven to reach a guilty verdict.
To counter that trend, a “novel defense” was being tried in a Pensacola, Fla., obscenity case by industry attorney Larry Walters, who used Google Trends to try to convince the court that the town's "community standards" were more prurient than prosecutors were willing to concede.
The idea, said the Insider, was simple. “If Google proves that local residents search for "sex" more than they do for, well, anything else, then the defense can argue that Internet pornographers are just satisfying a local need, not corrupting innocent minds. We like this idea, though we're dubious that the courts are going to go for it.” In the final analysis, the court did not go for it, but the Insider article and “study” remained, to be resurrected by WLKA a year later.
The methodology employed to reach the above results also was simple.
“We used George Carlin's (R.I.P.) "Seven Dirty Words" as obscenity proxies, and looked up each of them on Google Trends,” wrote Eric Krangel. “We restricted the results to the Unites States, and noted the top 10 cities querying each of the seven words. Top scores went to cities that showed up on multiple lists; to break ties, we assigned weight values depending on a city's rank on individual lists. Note that Google weights its own results to account for population: The cities listed above showed the greatest percentage of searchers looking for dirty words, not the greatest number of people.”
Lawson interviewed Bryan Wickens, president of Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana, for his reaction to the findings. He was, not surprisingly, troubled.
"If you live in a community where you're number one in obscene searches then the argument would be you have a low community standard and it's going to be harder to convict anybody for distribution of obscenity," he said.
Of course, the seven so-called dirty words used as search terms to assess the above rankings—namely, shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits—are not by themselves legally obscene; only a jury can make that determination. For the purposes of the WLKA article, however, no distinction was made between the seven words, any porn sites the search terms might have turned up and the accusation of obscenity.
Indeed, as resolutely as Lawson spun the article in order to create the perception that Louisville is a city in denial about its sexual crisis, the mayor’s office declined to comment, saying it questioned the credibility of the study, and a marriage and family counselor agreed that drawing large-scale conclusions from it was dangerous.
"It's only one study and it always worries me when I only see one study at one point in time," she said. "I would want a study that was more stringent, that really had some scientific reliability and validation, before I'd say Louisville ranks as the most obscene city."
Lawson said the site plugged in the same “obscene” words Thursday, “and Louisville is still No. 1 using one of the search words, and in the top 10 cities with only two of the other six words, which, again, we can't post on the Internet.”
Actually, Lawson could have posted them on the internet, with no adverse consequences other than expected negative fallout from their readers, which, frankly, is reason enough not to do it. But local news outlets such as WLKA also owe their readers, listeners and viewers accurate information rather than hyped-up fear-mongering that incorrectly labels certain speech obscene—and therefore prosecutable—when it might actually only rise to the level of the rude, inappropriate or even outrageous.