Ever since the web has been available to the masses there has been pornography of some form available to users within a few clicks – whether that be photographs on old 56k modems to the streaming 720p video of today. Pornography is one of those cases in which the more conservative believe it should be censored, whilst the more libertarian appreciate the free speech, free publication rules surrounding the issue as anyone who has watched The People vs Larry Flynt can attest. The web remains somewhat of a wild west to authorities wishing to stop file-sharing and “protect” children from the easily available hardcore material.
The Daily Mail, a paper that toes the xenophobic and fear-mongering line as a newspaper but specialises in celebrity bikini and nipslip pics in its very successful online form, is leading the charge against the availability of pornography online. They continue to run stories about the horrors of porn and how it is ruining the nation’s children, but in line with their more traditional anti-foreigner witch-hunts all their “evidence” is anecdotal. But they are far from alone in wanting to clean up the web’s seedy underbelly.
I am not against parents installing web filters by any means, and I think porn websites should do a better job at tagging themselves as such so that these filters can be a little more informed. The filters on offer today still vary little from those available when I was at school, with keyword matching their main line of defence – but this means that not only is some pornography is blocked (and I stress some, because most is missed), but many legitimate health and educational sites are blocked as well. Growing up is a time when children and young people are trying their best to educate themselves about life and sex – with much of that information now coming from the web – it is not a time to block information about sexual health by accident or otherwise. The more information available to those curious about STIs and contraception the better – but these are the sites that will end up being blocked by any auto-filters.
It is not The Daily Mail alone that is pushing to censor the web, however, with the government currently also believing that they have the ability to do so with Prime Minister David Cameron being a standard bearer of just such action. I have always found it bizarre that whilst graphic acts of violence find their way into mainstream entertainment = just look at CSI, Silent Witness, and just about any Hollywood action blockbuster – but sex and nudity are frowned upon. How is it that watching people beat and kill each other is OK for our kids to watch, but two consenting adults having sex is not? These are puritanical Christian ideas which have pushed shame onto a natural biological function, and praised those who die in battle – and they are ideas that have little place in today’s modern society.
Technologically these filters universally do not work. China spends a great deal of time and money on its “Great Firewall”, but activists still manage to break through the communication barriers. Australia implemented a censorship list and the filters were broken by a teenager within a week. Even with vast expense, none of these measures are actually secure and no-one should underestimate the hormonal desire of teenage boys to see breasts. And if these technological measures won’t work, then why should the country spend its cash on developing them at a time of austerity. Surely David Cameron’s time and money would be spent more wisely trying to drag the UK economy out of recession rather than worrying what 15-year olds are watching on the internet?
Yes parents should be able to add filters to their online connections to try and limit the amount of pornography their children watch – it is their connection and they are free to censor it however they see fit. Such censorship, however, is not a national issue, should not benefit from public funds, and certainly should never be “opt-out” as some are pushing for. We mock repressive regimes like China and Saudi Arabia for censoring the internet of their citizens over political hot-button issues – and yet some feel it is appropriate to censor our citizens’ access to legal sexual content between consenting adults. Religion is the moral basis for these issues, and maybe it is access to religious content that is the more dangerous to our children.