Robert Hampton

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20th May 2012

The Internet is (not just) for Porn

Those fine upstanding moral guardians at the Daily Mail are crusading against internet pornography. Misogynistic, sleazy, and liable to cause harm to children, the Daily Mail has a circulation of almost 2 million.

Porn did not begin with the internet. I remember the breathless excitement among some of my classmates in school when a top-shelf magazine was smuggled in. Ladies! With no clothes on! It was less exciting for me, as there were already early indications that my interests lay… elsewhere. Nevertheless, the explosion (bad choice of words) in sexual content online means that it is more easily accessible than it ever was before.

Now, the Mail has had enough. It wants internet providers to BAN THIS SICK FILTH, by blocking internet pornography. At the moment some ISPs will block sexually explicit web sites, but most will only do so if the customer specifically requests it, the “opt-out” system. The Mail wants it the other way round – porn blocked by default with the user having to specifically opt-in to be able to view it. Despite warnings from experts that the plan is unworkable, the Government has taken up the idea and is due to launch a consultation.

I think a default block is a bad idea. I will explain why, but first of all I will categorically state that no, of course children shouldn’t be viewing porn. I will also state that adults, on the other hand, should have the right to view whatever adult material they like, provided it is legal activity between consenting adults. For me, porn stopped being interesting around the time I started having actual sex. Eastern European men who are dead behind the eyes don’t really do it for me, but if you want to watch it in your hour of loneliness, there will be no judgement from me.

Technology exists to block web sites, as demonstrated by the recent blocking of the Pirate Bay site. However, enterprising computer users can find their way around the Pirate Bay block in minutes – it doesn’t require any technical expertise beyond an ability to use a search engine to find a “how-to” guide. The same would apply with a porn filter; it would do little to protect teens: in fact, it would be worse than the current status quo, as it would give parents a false sense of security.

The “opt-in” nature of the proposed system means that effectively, ISP customers will have to phone up to ask permission to do something which is perfectly legal. It’s not hard to imagine that a certain stigma will be attached to this. Curtain-twitching busybodies across the nation will have a field day — “You know Mr Bloggs from no. 53? I hear he ‘opted in’!”

My main objection, however, is that it places ISPs in the position of moral guardian, and because the ISPs will be worried about accidentally letting an adult site through the net, they will err on the side of caution and block much more than necessary. We’ve had a taste of this already, through the filters which some mobile phone providers apply to their internet service. O2’s web filtering, for example, has in the past mistakenly blocked the web sites of a Sheffield church and a peace advocacy group.

Also, who will decide which web sites to ban? You could argue that it is obvious what constitutes porn (“I know it when I see it”) but what about sites which contain material which is non-pornographic but still “adults-only” — for example, Viz or b3ta? Should Paddy Power’s web site be blocked to prevent under-age gambling? Dad won’t be happy if he wants a quick punt on the 3.15 at Chepstow. Should a 15-year-old be allowed to access a safe-sex advice web site? Some parents would say yes, others would say no – to block or not to block? This sort of decision should not be the ISP’s decision to make – and nor should it be the Government’s, unless we want to have levels of internet censorship similar to those found in China.

Indeed, one could argue that the Daily Mail web site, relying as it does on titillating photos of scantily-clad celebrities, is inappropriate for children to view. Block it! BLOCK IT NOW!

I am also uneasy that, once the filter is in place, it could start being used against other sites. Could Wikileaks, UK Uncut or similar government-embarrassing websites suddenly find themselves classed as adults-only?

In summary, then: children viewing porn should not be allowed, but the best solution is for parents to acquire a basic amount of technical know-how and install filtering software on their PC. There are plenty available, including a free one from Microsoft which will be bundled with Windows 8 and can be downloaded for Vista/7. Like an ISP-level filter, it is not a complete solution. In fact, the best solution would probably be to TAKE AN INTEREST IN WHAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE DOING. Don’t shut them up in their bedroom with a laptop and leave them to it, instead get involved and supervise them. Maybe even have some of that quality time that the Daily Mail is always talking about.

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4 Responses
  1. Comment by Ian
    20th May 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Hmm, I can’t help feeling there’s a sentence somewhere in this blog that contains a little too much information.

    Funny, I just can’t put my finger on it…

  2. Comment by Jamie
    21st May 2012 at 9:11 am

    A piece advocacy group? Who doesn’t like a nice piece now and again?

  3. Comment by Robert
    21st May 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I have corrected the spelling mistake. Nevertheless, my credibility has been shattered into peaces.

  4. Comment by Steve
    6th June 2012 at 3:30 pm

    “Misogynistic, sleazy, and liable to cause harm to children”
    A perfect description of the Daily Fail. 🙂

    I agree with you on the issue of net censorship though. It is not the business of Government or ISPs to be deciding what can be viewed by adults in a supposedly free country.

    Parents must take FULL responsibility for making sure that their progeny cannot access material unsuitable for them to view. Too many use computers and the internet as free child minders and then complain when junior sees something he shouldn’t have.

    If government go ahead with this ill advised plan, I’m sure that the Chinese government would be only too happy to offer guidance on how it can be done thoroughly.