February 18, 2017

The Case for Naming EBSCO Information Services to the 2017 Dirty Dozen List

UPDATE 2/22/17: EBSCO executives contacted NCOSE last night and have shared that they are concerned about the explicit and pornographic content accessible via their database and that they are actively working to develop new algorithms and better filtering systems. While EBSCO remains on the Dirty Dozen List until these improvements have been implemented system-wide and verified, NCOSE is encouraged by EBSCO’s response and will collaborate with the company in their process to better protect school children using their products.

Screenshot from EBSCO’s website explaining who they are:

 

EBSCO Information Services claims to have the user’s needs right at the center of their business model, yet they have routinely misled parents, schools, and libraries regarding the services they provide to users in grades K-12. EBSCO markets their elementary, middle school, and high school online library products as age-appropriate and as having content cultivated for these age groups, yet their technology relies on Lexile measurements to determine how to filter content.

What is Lexile?
Lexile is a scale that helps to evaluate the reading level of material by using quantitative methods based on individual words and sentence lengths, rather than a qualitative analysis reflecting factors such as multiple levels of meaning or maturity of themes. Lower Lexile scores reflect easier readability for books and lower reading ability for readers. (More here.)

 

Back to the Problem:

A major problem with EBSCO’s way of filtering for it’s younger readers is that pornography is full of low Lexile words! As a result, EBSCO products especially geared for elementary and middle school users, are full of sexually explicit content. One of their customer service reps even joked on the phone that the elementary products definitely have explicit material for this reason. The most simple, innocent searches (we tried “7th grade biology” and “6th grade respiration”) are yielding dozens of explicit, even unrelated, articles as the most relevant and first suggestions.

 

How are they getting away with this?

NCOSE didn’t even believe that this was true when we first heard about it! It seemed unbelievable that a company priding itself on providing content to children and creating strong user experiences with customizable services would be so irresponsible and that schools would allow it. Yet, for years, this has seemed to go unnoticed, becoming progressively worse. Also, most parents have no idea that this is happening! #1) They aren’t used to using these kinds of databases themselves. #2) They assume that these are age-appropriate just as EBSCO and the schools are suggesting. #3) Many schools are actually telling parents not to use their child’s logins to the system. The parent logins don’t contain all of this material.

 

What about the schools?

We hope that the schools themselves would be open to fixing this problem! The goal of this campaign is to help educate our school officials and empower them to also demand change.

 

However, NCOSE has heard of teachers in Colorado bringing these issues to the attention of school administrators. These teachers’ concerns and suggestions to at least alert the parents have been routinely dismissed. One school district in Colorado, Cherry Creek School District, is defending much of the content brought to their attention, even though it is promoting behaviors such as public, group, and torture sex and includes direct live links to hardcore pornography websites. The school administrators are also arguing that they are not responsible since it is coming from a third party provider, EBSCO, even though the schools are the ones promoting these resources to their students.

 

More about EBSCO:

EBSCO Information Services is a division of EBSCO Industries, with annual sales in 2013 of nearly $2 billion. EBSCO offers library resources to customers in academic, medical, K–12, public library, law, corporate, and government markets. They have created the following products supposedly just for these age groups: Primary Search for Elementary Schools, Middle Search Plus for Middle Schools, and MAS Ultra for High Schools.  EBSCO also recommends the following products for K-12 ages through their website and many K-12 schools subscribe to these services as well: Explora, NoveList, Science Reference Center, Consumer Health Reports, Poetry and Short Story Reference Center, among others. EBSCO is providing the educational material to some

 

From what NCOSE has been able to determine, school districts are either contracting directly with EBSCO for these products or they are getting them through an agreement with their state or county library systems.

 

With the help of concerned parents around the U.S. and Canada, NCOSE has ascertained that each of these specially designed products are categorically filled with soft pornography, links to hardcore pornography, sexually explicit written descriptions, and advice and tutorials normalizing and glamorizing risky sexual behaviors. Themes of BDSM, or torture sex, seem to flood all of the products and we found articles glamorizing sexual relationships between students and teachers; eroticizing sexual violence and rape; and encouraging children to view pornography in order to learn more about sex.

 

What about school filters?

While most schools have filters on the school’s computers or wifi (although often not good enough or installed correctly), such filters are not enough to solve this problem. School filters may stop the access of the hardcore pornography websites linked to from within the EBSCO database because they open up in a regular browser. This would only apply if the user were using the database while at school. We hear that students are often assigned homework using material in these databases and so are likely not always using filtered Internet. Additionally, even if not going directly to the porn website, the students are still seeing the URL within EBSCO and bombarded with the explicit language around those lists of porn websites.

Other than blocking the content linked to outside of EBSCO, the school filters do not block within EBSCO on their own as the whole system, EBSCO, has been given a green light to not be filtered. So, the hundreds of pornographic and explicit articles, books, magazines, and photographs housed within the EBSCO database are fully available to K-12 users. It appears to NCOSE, based on asking questions which quickly led administrators to stop speaking to us, that the schools have some ability to block out some content through the EBSCO system, however, they have to go in and do so one-by-one and essentially are doing very little of this.

 

What are the harms?

NCOSE is especially concerned that young children are exposed to such material through irresponsible business and filtering practices. At a time when many are recognizing the public health impacts of pornography, especially to the developing brain and adolescent psychological, physical, and social development, we must not rely on parents alone to fix all of this.

The harms of pornography are well documented. For instance, a growing body of neuroscience reveals that adults are developing addictions to pornography as pornography hijacks the brain’s reward center in a way similar to drug addiction.[1] A nationally representative online survey of 3,000 people reveals that nearly half of young people (ages 13-24) actively seek out pornography weekly or more often.[2] This is especially troubling given that research shows that adolescents are more susceptible to forming addictions than adults because the dopamine neurons in their nucleus accumbens (i.e. the brain’s pleasure center) are much more active and have an exaggerated plasticity in response to addictive stimulus.[3] Thus, it can be said that a propensity for addiction is more strongly “hardwired” into the adolescent brain.[4]

A recent survey found that 27% of young adults report first viewing pornography before puberty.[5] This is alarming given that Internet pornography consumption by adolescents is associated with risky sexual behavior (that can have profoundly adverse effects), such as anal and group sex, hookups, multiple sexual partners, and substance use during sex.[6] (Articles via the EBSCO databases  to middle schoolers glamorized all such behaviors)

Such outcomes are not surprising in light of how the human brain develops. Research shows that adolescents are not as readily able as adults to access their frontal lobes—the portion of the brain that controls impulses and allows for rapid, smart decision making.[7] Moreover, multiple neurological studies contribute to the view that pornography use interferes with “working memory” performance, thus inhibiting the judgment and decision making functions of the prefrontal cortex.[8]

Moreover, pornography is linked to sexual violence among adolescents and adults. A nationally representative survey of pornography use among youth aged 9–17 found that those with increased exposure to Internet pornography were significantly more likely to report physical and sexual victimization.[9] A separate study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who watched pornographic videos were at significantly greater likelihood of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.[10] A study of 804 Italian males and females aged 14 to 19, found that males who viewed pornography were significantly more likely to report having sexually harassed a peer or forcing someone to have sex.[11]

Building on the link between pornography-abuse and sexual violence, a recent meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries provides clear evidence confirming that pornography exposure is significantly associated with sexual aggression.[12] As the authors state, “the accumulated data leave little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression than individuals who do not consume pornography or who consume pornography less frequently.”[13]

Further, older adolescents who use pornography are more likely to be attracted to 13- or 14-year olds,[14] and the earlier college men were exposed to pornography the more likely they are to have engaged in nonconsensual sex.[15] Fraternity men who consumed mainstream pornography expressed a greater intent to commit rape if they knew they would not be caught than those who did not consume pornography. Those who consumed sadomasochistic pornography expressed significantly less willingness to intervene in situations of sexual violence, greater beliefs in rape myths, and greater intent to commit rape. In addition, among those who consumed rape-themed pornography, the researchers described “serious effects” including less bystander willingness to intervene, greater belief in rape myth, and greater intent to commit rape.[16] In other words, there was no type of pornography that did not result in a greater intent to commit rape by a user if they knew they would not be caught.

Today, pornography is pervasive and it is damaging countless lives. Its role in shaping the attitudes and behaviors that fuel the crisis of sexual assault on college campuses, sexting scandals, revenge pornography, sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, compulsive pornography consumption, and more is clear.

 

The Plan:

It is by far beyond an individual or a family’s capacity to protect against these concerns alone. We must call on businesses to assist in decreasing the harms to our children and certainly to stop facilitating such exploitation. EBSCO Information Services must fix their system and if they can’t get the technology right, then they need to get out of the technology business. We must also call on schools and educators to address these issues too. They can’t dismiss the concerns or excuse the problems. They cannot hide behind the argument that they are not responsible; or that they have “appropriate technology use” policies in place and so it’s on the student to not click on the recommended porn links; or that it’s a failing of filters; or even that we must be all-inclusive and share controversial material with students of all ages (all are excuses the Cherry Creek School District officials have made here and here). We are way beyond those excuses now.

As sexual violence, sex trafficking & prostitution, and child exploitation are at historic levels in the United States and around the world, we must begin to address the issues of curbing sexual exploitation at these young ages, not promote it and entice children into those lifestyles through our public schools.

NCOSE welcomes an open dialogue with EBSCO Information Services and is pleased that they are taking measures to improve their products. NCOSE calls on parents, school officials, and the media to help apply pressure not only support EBSCO’s initial steps forward, but to also pressure other online database resources to follow suit. Please see suggested actions and more information here.

 

 

Special Thank you

NCOSE wants to thank Robin and Drew Paterson for their unwavering courage and commitment to providing a safe space for their child and all school-aged children. These concerned parents exposed this problem of EBSCO providing access to hardcore pornography, softcore pornography and glamorizing risky sexual behavior to students as young as elementary school. They first alerted school officials in their local district, but when that was met with the complete dismissal of their concerns, they started trying to raise awareness much broader. They researched other school districts and found the same material there; contacted EBSCO directly who admitted to this problem but said not much could be done; and then started reaching out to the media and advocacy groups.

NCOSE also recognizes and thanks Mass Resistance for giving the Paterson’s a platform to expose EBSCO’s practices. They were the catalyst for many concerned groups and activists to join together in addressing this problem.

 

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[1] Simone Kühn and Jürgen Gallinat, “Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated with Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn,” JAMA Psychiatry 71, no. 7 (2014): 827-834. Ji-Woo Seok and Jin-Hun Sohn, “Neural Substrates of Sexual Desire in Individuals with Problematic Hypersexual Behavior,” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, (November 30, 2015). Porn Study Critiques, “Current List of Brain Studies on Porn Users, (September 29, 2015) http://pornstudycritiques.com/current-list-of-brain-studies-on-porn-users/ (accessed February 4, 2017).

[2] Barna Group, “The Porn Phenomenon: A Comprehensive New Survey on Americans, the Church, and Pornography,” (2016).

[3] Frances E. Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guild to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, (New York: Harper Collins, 2015).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Barna Group, “News Conference on Barna’s New Study: ‘The Porn Phenomenon,’” (January 15, 2016) https://www.barna.org/blog/culture-media/barna-group/porn-press-conference#.VrS9OrSJndl, (accessed Febraury 4, 2017).

[6] Debra Braun-Courville and Mary Rojas, “Exposure to Sexually Explicit Web Site and Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors 45 (2009): 156-162.

[7] Frances E. Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guild to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, (New York: Harper Collins, 2015).

[8] C. Laier, F.P. Schulte, and M. Brand, “Pornographic Picture Processing Interferes with Working Memory Performance,” Journal of Sex Research 50, no. 7 (2013): 642–652; C. Laier, M. Pawlikowski, and M. Brand, “Sexual Picture Processing Interferes with Decision-Making under Ambiguity,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 43, no. 3 (2014): 473–483.

[9] Michele L. Ybarra and Kimberly Mitchell, “Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: A National Survey,” CyberPsychology & Behavior 8, no. 5 (2005): 473–486.

[10] Silvia Bonino, Silvia Ciairano, Emanuela Rabagliette, and Elena Cattelino, “Use of Pornography and Self-Reported Engagement in Sexual Violence among Adolescents,” European Journal of Developmental Psychology 3, no. 3 (2006):265-288.

[11] Silvia Bonino, Silvia Ciairano, Emanuela Rabagliette, and Elena Cattelino, “Use of Pornography and Self-Reported Engagement in Sexual Violence among Adolescents,” European Journal of Developmental Psychology 3, no. 3 (2006):265-288.

[12] Paul J. Wright, Robert S. Tokunaga, and Ashley Kraus. “A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies.” Journal of Communication, (December 29, 2015): 1-23.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Kristinn Henga, Svein Mossige, and Lars Wichstrom, “Older Adolescents’ Positive Attitudes toward Younger Adolescents as Sexual Partners,” Adolescence 39, no. 156, (2004): 627-651.

[15] Mary Anne Layden, unpublished data, 2015.

[16] John Foubert, Matt Brosi, and R. Bannon, “Pornography Viewing among Fraternity Men: Effects on Bystander Intervention, Rape Myth Acceptance & Behavioral Intent to Commit Sexual Assault, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 18, no. 4 (2011): 212-231.

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, National Center on Sexual Exploitation is the leading national organization opposing pornography by highlighting the links to sex trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, addiction and more. The organization changed its name from Morality In Media to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation early in 2015 to better describe the organization’s scope and mission, which is to expose the seamless connection between all forms of sexual exploitation.

Further Reading