Cindy's Torment

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"Cindy's Torment", a graphic sex story published in late 1989 or January 1990 on Usenet, led to an early example of Internet censorship. The posting by "Anonymous John", which described repeated BDSM sexual acts, sparked a far-reaching debate on the limits of freedom of expression on Usenet.

The story itself details a corporate relationship where an Asian secretary is forced by financial pressure to accept sexual slavery. Despite being posted in alt.sex.bondage, the graphic nature, racial element, and non-consensual aspect together combined to spur an outcry. While different readers disagreed on which particular features of the story were decisive in defining the story as "beyond the pale", the vociferousness of the objections led an unknown technically adept person to erase all trace of the posting from Usenet.

This attempted act of censorship proved both the illusory nature of unrestrained freedom on the fledgling Internet and the quixotic aspect of trying to decisively control the spread of content within it. While the erasure of the original posting was technically successful, a thing that had previously been considered impossible, the notoriety of the story ensured continued re-postings of (sometimes degraded) versions saved on the mass storage of the newsgroup's readers.

The story also led many institutions such as the University of Waterloo to, for the first time, exclude groups like alt.sex.bondage from their Usenet servers. Soon afterwards, Waterloo excluded the entire alt hierarchy, although there is dissent about whether this was intended as an act of censorship. The post even occasioned mention in major newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle.

Excerpt from the text, as on Totse.com:
"Cindy proceeded to lay the predictable sob story on me. She had noplace else to go, she couldn't go home because her parents wouldn't talk to her since she had once lived with a man. She cried that none of it was her fault, that she desperately wanted to stay, and could I please find someway to help her keep her job. I calmed her down after a while, and then laid it on the line. If she wanted her job, it was going to cost her. Her look became troubled; it got even more troubled when I informed her that she would have to be my obediant sex slave. She seemed to be in shock as I laid out the details: she would always be available to me, and could not complain about anything I did to her. She protested, threatened to talk to the local employee representative and the newspapers. I smiled and informed her that the employee representative shared my tastes, and that if she talked to the newspapers, nobody would believe her and furthermore she wouldn't be able to get a job anywhere ever again. To help her decide, I offered her double salary, and a position in a different department. Eventually, her desire to continue paying rent won out, and she capitulated."

"Cindy's Torment" was followed by even more graphically violent sequels, like "Cindy's Turnabout", in which Cindy took revenge on her masters. Cindy's Turnabout was the specific impetus for MIT to erase an archive of the alt.sex.bondage newsgroups postings from its servers, which raised some questions about selective enforcement, as sex stories in various other newsgroup were retained.


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