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January 8, 2011

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Pornographic computer icon craze concerns local parents

LOCAL parents are concerned that their children have become obsessed with collecting and sending pornographic icons via popular online chatting tools.

More innocent icons, such as smiling or crying faces used to reflect a user's current mood on e-communication services such as MSN and QQ, have been replaced by sexual images.

Often animated, many of these feature naked women, famous cartoon characters - such as Garfield, Popeye and Superman - and even animals.

A local mother surnamed Shi said she noticed her 17-year-old son was behaving strangely, staying in his room and chatting online with other students into the early hours of the morning.

When she investigated one day, Shi discovered a pornographic icon on the desktop of his computer.

"These icons are having a destructive impact on children and have damaged the image of classic cartoon characters," said Shi.

A Shanghai Daily investigation has discovered that many of the icons can be downloaded free at the country's biggest search engine,, simply by typing the Chinese words for "phonographic icons."

A search result returned about 15,200 icons available for download free via Baidu.

Many are gif format files, which are very small and easy to distribute. Some icons contain several gifs, creating a simple animation.

These have become extremely popular among high school students fed up with regular icons.

Targeting that group, some icons are sold on some e-commerce platforms. These may fetch between one and 20 yuan (US$0.15 and 3) at small online shops.

Once downloaded, they can be installed on chatting tools and sent to other users. This means that a popular pornographic icon can spread extremely quickly, as young people forward it to friends.

A local lawyer, Wu Dong, said that people involved in developing these icons and selling them online are violating the country's laws on spreading pornographic content.

Icon vendors selling big volumes may face prison sentences, according to Wu.

He warned young people sending these icons to others that they may be violating the same regulations and could be fined or jailed.

However, the law doesn't ban people from sending these icons to friends. Wu believed that this legal loophole made the icons popular.


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