AOL Watch ("The AOL List"): Naughty or Nice

David Cassel (
Tue, 9 Dec 1997 13:36:01 -0800 (PST)

		       N a u g h t y   o r   N i c e


Santa's Home Page on AOL offers a bulletin board for Christmas questions. 

"Did Marilyn Manson really take out two ribs to blow himself," one poster
asked December 1. 

The question has lingered on-line for over a week, and received 11
responses.  "Marilyn Manson really did take out two ribs to blow himself,"
one Santa's Home Page visitor responded. 

Six days later, another poster asked the obvious question.  "What does
marilyn manson have to do with santa?" 

"I can't believe what I saw, sitting with my children and looking at
this," another angry subscriber posted.  "This is a site for kids."  But
AOL has apparently abandoned the children's area.  Another Santa's Home
Page thread:  drugs.  "Are all drugs bad for us?  Why isn't marijuana

That thread is also in its second week, with nine responses.  "Marijuana
is illegal becauses it changes the brain's chemistry," Heather answers. 
"It produces a dopamine which makes your brain feel tired."

"Marijuana is actually good for you," another Santa's Home Page visitor
posts, "if you smoke it through a bong, and in moderate amounts." 

The holiday cheer keeps flowing.  "To keep America from being wasted all
the time they made it for medicinal uses only.  It prevents some cancers,
gets rid of migrane headaches, helps relieve menstrual cramps and can ease
the pain of glucoma just to list a few examples." 

The obvious question -- "what do drugs have to do Christmas?" -- received
an answer. "With a family like mine they may help you to get through the
holiday season!!"

AOL warns users that "vulgar and hostile language is forbidden in the
Santa's Homepage chat room and message boards" -- but it's apparently not
enforced.  Parents might feel the Santa area would be safe -- but AOL
knows better.  "Santa already knows knows everything about you, including
whether you have been naughty or nice - so be careful of what you tell
strangers in the Santa's Homepage chat room." 

"Santa's Home Page" is available only to AOL subscribers, not to children
on the web.  But maybe it's just as well.  Religious parents might be
offended to find their children reading the 14 posts in the nine-day
thread "is God Real." 

"We will -- and should -- be judged by how well we create an environment
that is both enriching and safe for our children" Steve Case wrote Friday
in his Community Update -- then pointed users to the profanity-infested
area where "Children and their parents can write to Santa Claus."  But
they couldn't.  Within 24 hours, Santa's e-mail had crashed.  It went down
Saturday night, remained down all of Sunday, and didn't return until

"Have a question about Christmas...?"  the bulletin board asks.  

"writing to santa doesn't work how come??" one poster asked.  ("BEATS ME!" 
another posted added.  "It wouldn't address for me either!") 

One angry user tried to send Santa some expletives -- but to no avail. 
( ) 

Inexplicably, that user appeared on Santa's "Nice" list, where children
are asked "I'm an Electra woman.  Are you?" 
( )  The ad for AOL's new adult area
leads children to an article about Julia Sweeney's struggle with cervical
cancer, as well as an article about "sexy sheer" clothing by Veronica
Webb.  ("Move Over Victoria's Secret.  UnderGirl is here!")  The feature
-- about a line of underwear inspired by tribal tattoos -- includes
other links about "slit skirts" and "Changing your underwear". 

Ironically, Steve Case's monthly update touted AOL's commitment to the
"Think, then Link" campaign to promote safety and "access to appropriate
online material." 

"I keep reading here that it is for children," one bemused Santa's Home
Page poster wrote, "but no where do I see that AOL has designated this for

"AOL wants to have its cake and eat it, too," a technology correspondent
noted in 1995.  "It wants a family system that appeals to kids. It also
wants to keep making money off the hot-chat crowd."

In new adventures AOL composed for Santa's elves, their schizophrenic
personality appears. In Sunday's episode an elf discusses a popularity
contest held by Santa's reindeer.  "He showed me a scratch on his chest
where Blitzen had stabbed him with a campaign button.  'Does it look
infected?' "  According to the narrator, Santa's reindeer act more like
violent thugs.  ("I thought about the lumps, scratches, broken teeth,
bruised ear drums and ink splotches that the other reindeer had managed to
deliver to the elves while trying to get their votes.")  Now AOL is
promoting a television special with similar themes.  A missing Blitzen is
discovered when an elf reports "some kid just lost his allowance shooting
craps with a reindeer under the Brooklyn bridge..." 

In the scary claymation program, the elf "attempts to upgrade Christmas." 
So far he's failing.  He suggested the creation of the buggy home page,
and assumes responsibility for the e-mail delivery.  (Though he hasn't yet
volunteered an opinion about Marilyn Manson.)

Controversial topics aren't limited to Santa's Home Page.  Last night
attackers inserted an essay decrying AOL's "NetNoir" on the area's main
screen.  "We were hacked," David Ellington, President and CEO of NetNoir,
told "AOL Watch".  ( ) Noting that
an AP story reported Yahoo was attacked the same night, he joked "I
guess the hackers were out and about last night.  That's part of this

The essay criticizing the African-American site drew mixed reviews. 
"Actually, I found it to be quite insightful, even though it came from a
vandal," one AOL Watch reader commented.  "It was very libertarian," 
Ellington conceded.  "Definitely a hacker."

"I'm sorry this had to take place," he adds.  "If we had an area dedicated
to French culture -- wine cheese, Monaco, Paris, the beret, Normandy -- I
don't think we'd have any problems.  But the fact that we want to create
an area that celebrates our culture -- suddenly people feel very
uncomfortable. I think it's very normal and very human for people who
share the same values and interests to be able to connect and get together
-- and that's all we do."  

Ironically, NetNoir illustrates a trend for AOL content:  25% of NetNoir's
traffic now comes from their web site (, they
recently told C|Net. ( 
The experience on AOL isn't always as satisfying. Back on "Santa's Home
Page", visitors are offered games -- but for some AOLers, their favorite
game is spam-watching.  "We've gotten to the point where we keep score of
how many duplicate mails reach our box in a certain period of time," one
AOL Watch reader complained.  They play the game with a friend.  "I'll go
to his house and he'll say 'yea, I was just filtering my spambox.' I'll
say 'You get the one saying 'FREE 5 MINUTES' yet?' He replies, 'No, but I
got the ones that say 'PORN, PORN, SUPER PORN' and 'Trim your weight by 5
pounds in a week'."

Unfortunately, U.K. users found they were unable to complain.  "Sorry, we
are unable to send mail to the Internet," AOL's warning message announced
yesterday.  "Please try again later."  "I spoke with a pleasant young lady
from Ireland," one U.K. subscriber told AOL Watch.  "Yes, AOL e-mail is
down.  No, she doesn't know when it will come back."  She recommended that
for reliable service, they establish an account with HotMail.  
( ) 

"It's that 'Few minutes' crap that really angers me," they complained.  As
the Flash Sessions stated the obvious... 

  	Sending message 'AOL is down again'... (16:25:54)  
	Sorry, we are temporarily unable to send mail.  Please try again 
		in a few minutes.  (16:26:19)

...they received the same message for over two hours.

But it could be worse.  "We are in contact with AOL," reads an e-mail sent
to Gorilla.Net customers, "which depending on who you talk with, either
don't know what the problem is or are telling our customers that and its customer's have been excluded from sending anyone at
AOL e-mail because someone i.e. a customer or customer's from Gorilla have
been spamming their users."  One technician told AOL Watch the problem had
lasted for a week.  Like the Microsoft Network, FlexNet,,,
and, the ISP found AOL had arbitrarily stopped delivering
their e-mail. "To make a long story short we have told AOL effective today
they have 48 hours to stop this process or Thursday morning we will be
filing a cease and desist order as well as a lawsuit in Federal Court." 

Those elves are never around when you need them.....


Doing a search for "Santa's Home Page" using AOL's NetFind produces ten

Unfortunately, they're all about Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, or Santa Barbara. 

 David Cassel
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