It's a sad testament to the growth and popularity of the Internet – and the forces of the Conspiracy that seek to control it – that you may not know about Usenet and the thousands of newsgroups that have existed online since the 1990s (and even earlier, in some cases). Newsgroups are among the last great untamed frontiers of the online world, and this is why some conspiracy theorists feel that the Powers That Be are moving to wipe them out of existence. The actual truth to this is somewhat more mundane, but just as disheartening.
Rather than bore you with an explanation of "what is a newsgroup?", I'll refer you to Wikipedia's articles on Usenet and newsgroups. The newsgroups were in existence long before the advent of the Web, Web-based message boards, and blogs. However, the popularity of the Web and the blogs has far eclipsed that of the newsgroups, which is why the newsgroups are largely unknown to many Net users. This is one advantage Net-savvy SubGenii have over Pink n00bs, because we know that amidst the roaring floods of chaos overwhelming the newsgroups, there are many gems of Slack to be had. Among those gems is alt.slack – the Sacred Newsgroup of the Church of the SubGenius!
The chaotic nature of the newsgroups makes them difficult to navigate; though news readers such as Forte Agent have made them much more user-friendly. But the newsgroups have one great advantage over the Web-based message boards and blogs: they are nearly impossible to censor.
If you force a blog or a Web site to remove a message from a Web-based message board, then that message is gone unless someone happened to make a copy of it. But the great advantage of the newsgroups is in the way they are set up to resist censorship. Every message posted to a newsgroup is immediately distributed and copied among the thousands of news servers worldwide that carry that newsgroup, and this makes that message impossible to remove or censor. The United States government found this out in 1992, when PGP was posted to the newsgroup sci.crypt, and immediately distributed worldwide. The Church of Scientology found this out in 1994 and 1995, when their secret Operating Thetan and New Era Dianetics documents were posted to the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, and they have never been able to wipe them off the Internet since. And the music, movie, porn, and software industries know that thousands of movies, music tracks, and software programs are being posted to the alt.binaries.* newsgroups every day, along with tons and tons of porn and spam that are impossible to stop. In addition to this, there are some illegal activities taking place on some of the newsgroups…including, unfortunately, child pornography, with pictures and videos appearing on a very small number of newsgroups.
The Internet companies haven't really cared about the lack of censorship and rampant copyright violations taking place on the newsgroups. But, Usenet has been a huge obstacle for them because they use an enormous amount of bandwidth – especially the alt.binaries.* newsgroups – and they are the cause of a lot of trouble, as companies try to stop the flow of porn, copyrighted material, critical discussions, and flame wars constantly appearing on the newsgroups. More importantly, the ISPs aren't making money from the newsgroups. There is no intrinsic way to insert advertising into the newsgroups or newsgroup reading programs out there. Furthermore, Usenet's ability to resist censorship has placed the ISPs in the unfortunate and uncomfortable position of having to defend the newsgroups on free speech grounds. (The vast majority of newsgroups there are legitimate places for text-based messages and discussions, with millions of messages being posted per day. But who cares about that, other than the actual people posting to the newsgroups?)
In the late spring of 2008, an opportunity came for the major ISPs to finally dump the newsgroups…despite the fact that Usenet is still enormously popular. The Attorney General for the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo, began making agreements with the larger Internet companies to block access to child pornography on the Internet. His office provided evidence of kiddie porn on the Net by pointing out "88 newsgroups" that had actual child porn posted to them (or so they claimed). The Internet companies agreed to block their users' access to kiddie porn on the Internet…and in the course of one month, many of them blocked access to vast areas of Usenet. In response to the claim of kiddie porn being on 88 newsgroups:
The conspiracy theorists claim that New York and the ISPs are terminating the newsgroups because of Usenet's ability to provide a censor-free worldwide audience for anyone to speak out…something they don't want you to have. Closer to the truth would be the suggestion that the ISPs are using "child pornography" as an excuse to get rid of the newsgroups, and rid themselves of something on the Internet that has caused them a lot of headaches and made very little money. The Golden Rule rules all, especially in the world of the Conspiracy.
So…what can you do to keep the newsgroups?
Fortunately, there are still services out there that offer full access to Usenet. Some of these are free newsgroup servers, while others are pay services that charge a small fee. Naturally, the pay services are more reliable and provide greater newsgroup access to their users.