Internet Censorship – Porn

You may have noticed BBC broadcasters, politicians and several pressure groups roving the airways frothing at the mouth, stridently complaining that the internet is damaging their children or facilitating crime and calling for blocks to all sorts of content.  I think this is the signal that the internet has finally ‘made it’. Congratulations internet! You are now firmly ensconced in the minds of the entire population of the UK as an essential utility.

Now everyone feels they have a right to make demands on ‘the internet’  to shape how it works and what it can do. Unfortunately most of these newly empowered armchair activists seem to want to destroy this evil thing that they don’t understand.  Many of the pitchfork wielding mob seem to equate the internet with television. To them it is a broadcast medium and somewhere there is a cabal of oligarchs deciding what gets piped into their homes.  Ironically if their hysterical screams are effective that may well be what it becomes.

To add to the confusion some broadcasters (John Humphries in particular)  seem unable to discuss copyright infringement issues without accusing ‘the internet’ of feeding pornography to children (Radio 4 Today programme – May 1st 2012). Why are they incapable of separating the medium over which information is transported from the information itself?  As soon as ‘the internet’ enters the discussion all analytic abilities seem to wither and die.

Pornography Filter

The idea being proposed is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) block out all access to pornography unless the consumer actively requests the filter be disabled.  Ironically some of our biggest peddlars of salacious filth are some of the most vocal (and possibly influential) supporters of this woeful solution to a problem that has never been clearly proven to be a problem in the first place. Those fine upstanding examples of the british press, The Sun and The Daily Mail have been busy poking their readers into a frenzied, indignant mob shrieking in unison “Think of the Children!”

For publications which make their money by scaring the shit out of the closeted middle Englanders it is not surprising that they should choose to spew hyperbole over such an emotive subject, but there are two issues to be discussed here and you can’t lump them into a single issue.

  • Is pornography bad?
  • Is the internet bad?

Pornography

Let’s face it this issue has been debated since the invention of the printing press and as far as I can tell no one is any nearer to an answer.  The fact that it (porn) reflects the full gamut of human desires from criminal acts to pictures of shoes makes it very difficult to discuss at an objective level. Pornography is in the eye of the beholder, one person’s porn is another persons clothing catalog.

There is at least one thing we should all be able to agree on, sexuality is a fundamental aspect of humanity. Without sex none of us would be here to consider these questions.  Pornography is an expression of human sexuality and I think it is fair to say there has always been a demand throughout human history.

I’m not in any way suggesting that children should be exposed to pornography, but I think it is equally damaging to pretend that sex doesn’t exist.  However I doubt we’ll ever, as a society, be able to discuss a subject which evokes so much discomfort and has always been surrounded by hypocrisy.

So for now let’s just call it pornography and sweep those issues under the carpet (as usual) because to my mind it is a secondary issue anyway.

The internet filter

The first problem here is that these crusaders have absolutely no idea at all about how it works, even at the most basic level.  This means they don’t even know if such an opt in filter is possible, and if someone were to tell them that it isn’t possible (at least not in an effective manner) they simply don’t believe it.

Of course it is not impossible as such, however to be effective. We would need to construct at huge expense, a national firewall as the Chinese have done (and even that is not leak proof). This would of course have a massively detrimental effect on international commerce, democracy, freedom and international relations.

To make this easier let’s enumerate the problems.

1) Your children know more about the internet than you do.
Without building the great firewall of Britain any content filter is utterly trivial to circumvent. It is unlikey however that you as a parent have a clue how to do this. If you wanted to circumvent it the most likely place to get assistance would be to ask your children.

2) No matter how hard you try – your children will ALWAYS know more about the internet than you do.
Your kids have been brought up with this technology. When they don’t know how to do something, they know how to go and find out how to do something.

3) Children have their own networks
As a society we pile all the kids together in schools, and then colleges and then universities. So even without the internet your children are already part of a huge ad-hoc social network of children.  With mobile phone messaging and internet communications and they are a formidable information transmission network. It only takes one child to circumvent the filter and the rest can follow.

4) There are far worse things than pictures on the internet.
Whatever your views on looking at nudey pictures or people having sex, any potential harm is insignificant compared to what might happen if your child gets ‘groomed’ by a peaodophile, indoctrinated into a cult, gets into hacking commercial systems etc… etc…  In the real, non-virtual, world people warn their children to “not talk to strangers”  and yet these crusaders are quite happy to sign their children up for facebook accounts and let them use instant messenger and all the other forms of communication available on the internet.

In summary, the internet is not and has never been a place that is safe for children.  It never will be because it is a global communication network stuffed with the full spectrum of human ideas from the despicable to the divine.

It doesn’t matter that there is porn on the internet  what matters is that by allowing your child unsupervised access to the internet you are introducing them to billions of strangers from all over the world and we all know, not everyone is nice.

 

 

 

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