Evidence That UK Needs Mandatory Porn Filters? Informal Survey Done At One School
from the serious-policymaking-much? dept
In the UK there is currently a campaign and associated petition from the organization "Safety Net: Protecting Innocence Online", which calls for mandatory Net filtering of pornography -- people would need to opt out of the system if they wanted to view this material. The justification -- of course -- is the usual "won't someone think of the children?" Here's the pitch:
Every day children and young people are accessing mainstream pornography on the internet, including the most hardcore, violent and abusive images. Evidence clearly shows pornography has a detrimental impact on children and young people including premature sexualisation, negative body image and unhealthy notions about relationships. This cannot be allowed to continue.
Nick Pickles from Big Brother Watch looked into what that "evidence" might be, and found something rather interesting:
One of the key statistics relied upon by the campaign is that "1 in 3 10 year olds have seen pornography online". They do recognise it was published in Psychologies Magazine in 2010, but the appearance is given that this is a serious statistic. It’s also used in their 'Key Facts' briefing.
Actually, it's even more ridiculous than that. That "statistic" states "[a]lmost one-third first looked at sexual images online when they were aged 10 or younger." But as is well known, UK newspaper titles like Rupert Murdoch's "The Sun" carry "sexual images" -- pictures of topless women -- every day. Given the large circulation of the those titles, it's far more likely that children will have seen "sexual images" there, rather than online, and that their attitudes to women will have been harmed more by this kind of relentless objectification than by isolated images they come across on the Internet. And yet strangely no one is calling for Rupert Murdoch's newspapers to be censored.
When you dig a little deeper however, that definitely isn't the case. The full section in the magazine reads:
"We've had plenty of letters from concerned readers on this very topic, and when we decided to canvass the views of 14- to 16-year-olds at a north London secondary school, the results took us by surprise.
So, the statistic -- […] at the heart of the petition's press release -- is based on one magazine's anecdotal research at a single school.
Almost one-third first looked at sexual images online when they were aged 10 or younger."
It's a classic demonization of the Internet that ignores the broader context, and is based on the flimsiest of pretexts. Worryingly, the UK government is sending out clear signals that it supports this campaign regardless. It's currently conducting a consultation on "Parental Internet controls", which closes on September 6. It's extremely poorly worded and clearly biased in favour of the idea of making blanket censorship the default.
If such Net blocks are brought in, legitimate sites will inevitably be blocked by mistake, but it's not so clear that the objectives of protecting children will be achieved. With blocks in place, parents may be lulled into a false sense of security, and so fail to supervise their children's online activities adequately, which will leave the latter exposed to greater not lesser risks. Meanwhile, young people will find ways to circumvent the blocks -- or just buy a copy of "The Sun".