Affidavit of Christopher O'Connell Ransohoff in ACLU, et al v. Reno

March 7, 1996

AFFIDAVIT


IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

ACLU et al. v. RENO
(No. 96-963) 

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AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION et al v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
(No. 96-1458) 

 

I, Christopher O'Connell Ransohoff, of Rindge, New Hampshire, do hereby depose and swear: 

1. My name is Christopher O'Connell Ransohoff, but I am known as Kit O'Connell. I live at 316­1 Main Street in Rindge, New Hampshire. I will turn 18 on April 29th, 1996. On the Internet I am known as Vulpine or Tod T. Fox and my e­mail address is vulpine@gold.mv.net. 

2. I have been participating in online communities for about seven years. During the first two of those years I was an active member of several Computer Bulletin Board Systems. The remaining five years were spent on America Online and the Internet. The last three years I have been on the Internet only. 

3. I am an active participant in many e­mail discussion groups, or online mailing lists, including a list for Arthurian scholars, a film critique list, and a list for the discussion of the works of the award­winning author Mark Helprin. I am also an active member of several lists that discuss various aspects of religion and theology. In addition to online mailing lists, I read and participate in several Usenet Newsgroups about a wide variety of topics. I read groups on music, religion, gardening and herbs, human psychology, domestic and wild animals, news and world events, mythology, and literature. I also follow several groups that discuss the Internet itself. These online mailing lists and newsgroups are interactive; that is, I can read and reply to messages posted by other participants, and I can post my own messages. The number of online users who participate in these lists varies; some lists include as many as 500 participants. Some participants use their real names, and others use pseudonyms. Participants do not normally reveal their age, and there is no way for any participant to determine the age or other characteristics of the other participants. 

4. I am also involved in what are known as "furry.MUCKs." A MUCK is an online environment or game where each user adopts a character and uses that character to socially interact with the other users. A person's character may or may not be like its "real world" user. The MUCKs are entirely text­based, each section, or "room," is described much as the setting of a scene in a novel would be. The actual playing of the games has more in common with theatre and acting than with computer or Dungeons & Dragons type games. 

5. Each MUCK forms its own community and is dependant on this community for its atmosphere and appearance. Unlike much of the Internet, a MUCK's users can actually create and add new sections to a MUCK using their writing skills and some simple programming commands. These areas are in turn used and added to by the other users. It is all done on a volunteer basis; no one involved, not even the administration who run the MUCK is ever paid for their work. 

6. On Furry.MUCKs, each user's character is a "furry," an anthropomorphized animal. These animals walk and talk like humans but retain animal characteristics in appearance and personality. Examples of furry "worlds" in literature would be Watership Down, The Wind in the Willows, or the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis (there are, in fact, several MUCKs based in the "world" of Narnia). 

7. I have played an important role in the upkeep and improvement of one of the largest furry.MUCKs, FurToonia. On FurToonia, I have created and programmed several sections, including a forest and a spaceport, that are actively used by many other participants. I have also contributed to the creation of many other areas. 

8. I have also been an active and important member of the FurToonia "helpstaff." The helpstaff are assistant administrators. We help the administrators (known as "wizzes" or "wizards") run the MUCK by answering technical and other questions, handling minor problems, and assisting new users and visitors. Again, helpstaff are unpaid. I have participated on FurToonia since shortly after it was opened, and I feel that I have played an integral role in shaping its appearance and atmosphere. 

9. I am also an active member of the largest and original furry.MUCK, FurryMUCK. I served on its helpstaff and participate in many of its events. I am member of the staff for a similar online environment known as Urban Legends. Urban Legends is a "game" in which players interact within a fantasy environment based on the works of Charles de Lint, John Crowley, and Mark Helprin. 

10. Being online has been a wonderful and valuable experience for me. It has improved my creativity and writing skills. "Building" a section of a MUCK is a complex but very rewarding process. First I have to come up with the idea for the "area," then I have to design its layout and appearance, and finally actually program it and write the description of each section. Various programs are used to make areas seem more "real" and lifelike by adding background "noises" (the chirping of birds, cars driving by, etc.) or similar things. For instance, on FurToonia I am currently "building" a sun temple in the style of a ziggurat, and many aspects of it change depending on the season of the year and the time of day. Throughout the process, I have to be conscious of how the people will actually use the area. In the above example, I have to decide whether my ziggurat will have stairs up to its top, and if so, how will furry characters that fly, crawl, or slither navigate these steps? It is a lot of work but it is one of the most fun parts of the MUCK experience. It is always very exciting to unveil a new "area" for people to explore. 

11. I am considering being a writer or a computer programmer, and MUCKs have given me considerable writing and programming experience. I have also improved my ability to work with other people. I believe that these skills will help me in college and my future career. 

12. Being part of an online community is a unique experience. I meet people of all different backgrounds, ages, and occupations, from countries all over the world. I know musicians, writers, programmers, ministers, and CEO's of corporations through thes e-communities. I have close friends in Italy, Sweden, Canada, and England. In these communities, I am treated as an equal and my thoughts, ideas, and writing are judged purely on their merit. In June of last year I flew to a science­fiction convention in Chicago to meet many of these friends face to face. I saved my own money and worked at a part­time job to fund this trip. I was nervous about being away from home and meeting these friends in "real life" for the first time, but as I stepped off the plane they were all waiting there to pick me up. It was a wonderful experience, we had a lot of fun and got even closer as friends. Though some of them did not know my age, because they had met me as a person online, they were very supportive. 

13. Participating in online communities has also helped me through some rough periods of my life. During the time after my parents' divorce, my online friends offered a lot of support and companionship. Because many of them are older than I am, they were able to give me better advice than many of my peers. The therapist that I was seeing supported my online activities. 

14. I have been ill for the past few months and was recently diagnosed as having FibroMyalgia, a condition related to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I have been unable to attend school for most of that time. I am working with a tutor and I am slowly recovering. My condition has reduced my interaction in my geographic community, and my online communities have helped fill the need for social interaction. Even on days when I am too tired or too achy to be very active in "real life," I can still hang out and chat with my online friends. 

15. The Communications Decency Act has already had a devastating impact on some of my online communities. Shortly after the CDA was signed into law, FurToonia imposed new policies that attempt to restrict minors' access. I registered my complaint about this, pointing out that FurryMUCK had not adopted any similar policy. I was informed that FurryMUCK was just taking more time and that the policy they were planning would be much worse. This turned out to true. 

16. FurryMUCK's new policy requires *all* participants to send e­mail to the chief administrator with their real name, date of birth, and the state or country they live in. Users who refuse to send this information are automatically designated as minors. Creators of various rooms in the MUCK can program their rooms permanently to exclude minors. The creator may also temporarily banish minors. Additionally, it allows any user to check any other user to see whether they are an adult or a minor. 

17. This policy is ineffective at actually keeping minors from the rooms because anyone can simply lie about their age and therefore be registered by the administrator as an adult. It is also ineffective because the creator of a particular room is only present in the room a small percentage of the time. If the creator isn't present, no one else has the technical ability to "banish" minors from the room if "adult" conversations begin. 

18. While ineffective, the policy greatly inhibits both minors and adults from participating in speech on MUCK's. The "indecency" standard is very vague. I don't understand what it means, and I believe that others on the MUCK will have the same problem in determining what is "indecent" and what is not. Because they are afraid of prosecution, they are likely to ban minors from a lot of speech that is actually not "indecent." Also, the policy provides no way of distinguishing for the different ages and levels of maturity of different minors. While some speech might not be appropriate for a 6­year­old, I am 17 and I believe that I can handle most "adult" speech. I will be an "adult" in a little over a month, and I don't think that will suddenly change my ability to deal with potentially explicit speech. 

19. The policy also prevents anonymous access to the MUCK's by adults and minors. Adults are faced with the choice of abandoning their anonymity or getting treated like a minor. Many users, minors and adults, have left in protest of this abridgement of their rights. Ironically, though the sponsors of this law wanted to protect kids, the inability for minors to interact online anonymously might actually put them at greater risk of harassment because now other online users will know they are minors. 

20. Before this law was enacted, participants in FurryMUCK were judged solely on their ideas, creations, and interactions with others. If someone acted or said something inappropriate or harassing, whether they were an adult or a minor, the community itself would deal with the problem. If the participant didn't change his or her behavior, he would be kicked off the MUCK. The new policy overrides our own community standards and requires participants to "banish" other users if they use potentially "indecent" speech. The vagueness of the "indecency" standard, and the automatic ability to exclude minors from any discussion, has already greatly inhibited the speech of both minors and adults in this community. 

21. When faced with the new policy on FurryMUCK, I had to make a difficult decision. I could either comply with the new policy and be precluded from participating in a community that I myself helped to build, or I could lie about my age. I thought very carefully about the morally right thing to do, and I discussed it with my mother. She supported my decision to lie about my age. She felt that it was her right as a parent to continue to give me permission to participate in a community that is very important to me. In protest of the policy and the infringement of my rights as well the rights of other users, I also resigned my post as "helpstaff" on both FurryMUCK and FurToonia. This was a very difficult move for me to make, but I did not want to be a part of an administration that was responsible for infringing upon the free speech rights of others. 

22. I am afraid of the repercussions that the Communications Decency Act will have in other parts of the Internet that I am involved in, especially if it is enforced. As stated above, I am a member of an e­mail discussion list on Arthurian literature. Parts of the King Arthur stories involve depictions of rape and incest, and these are often explicitly discussed on the Arthur list. Should the CDA be allowed to stand, they would be forced to either adopt some sort of restrictions on minors accessing the list or potentially face several years in prison. Such restrictions would not be easily created and might make running such a list too time consuming for the woman who runs it, who is also a university professor. 

23. My mother, who is also active on the Internet, discusses my online activities with me at length. She respects my judgment, and does not feel the need to watch over my shoulder constantly to prevent my exposure to "harmful" materials. She also believes that the CDA will infringe upon the free speech rights of both adults and minors, and she supported my decision to file an affidavit in this case. 

I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. 

Executed on March __, 1996.___________________________Christopher O'Connell Ransohoff
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