Monday, 27 December 2010

Censoring Pornography on the Internet

This is actually a bit of an old story (well, only a week or two old, but that's a while in internet terms), but I had other crap to write about at the time. This story mostly being the reaction of ISPs to the government's proposal to censor pornography on the internet in the UK, which is that it's totally unfeasible.

The reaction to this in the USA has pissed me off a bit, mostly for their whole "UK government is totalitarian big brother and this is what happens when you don't have a constitution". If nothing else, it annoys me because this is grossly hypocritical as the US government has been trying to impose what is a pretty similar thing.


Regardless of thoughts from over the pond, the idea is still fucking stupid in my opinion. Above all, as the ISPs have pointed out, it's grossly impractical to actually implement something like this. It's as if politicians really don't have any idea how the internet works whatsoever, both on a technical and social level. It's like they imagine there's a ton of pipes going into ISP servers, some labelled "news", some labelled "youtube", some labelled "pornography", and it's just a matter of sticking a huge valve on the pornography one.

I mean, the first stage that would be a pain in the ass would be deciding which sites are and are not pornographic. In a general sense you can take a fair bit out, but there's absolutely no way to make a perfect filter. You will either let some porn sites through, or you will block legitimate sites. There is no middle ground there. And what about sites that aren't dedicated to pornography, but still have indecent images/downloads/etc. Should you carpet ban sites like Isohunt, RapidShare, etc, because it's possible to get porn on those, even if plenty of the time people are using them for non-pornographic means. What about Google Images? If you turn safe search off then you quite often get some sort of porn pretty much regardless of what you search for. Would they ban all of Google, or would they somehow go to the incredible lengths to make something that only catches the porn? It'd be a complete nightmare, and if there's one thing I've learned from high school internet filters, it's that if they are not perfect people will find the chinks in the armour and they will exploit the shit out of them until they get found and sealed by the operators.

The second problem is that the system in place will allow people to opt-out of the filter (as it fucking should, to be fair). This would add a whole shitload of logistical nightmares for ISPs to maintain and operate this list of people opting out of the filter. Plus it's a complete ball-ache for people to have to ring up their ISPs just to be able to view porn. Especially for late-teens who, I would strongly argue, (almost) have a basic human right to be able to view porn, yet won't be the people who pay the bills and will therefore either have to ask their parents if they can please have porn, or go without. At the very least it should be an opt-in system and not an opt-out one.

But still, ultimately it should be up to parents to monitor what their kids do on the internet. It's not like there aren't already tons of tools at their disposal to do so if they so wish. Internet Service Providers do nothing other than provide the service, and it's really not up to them, in my opinion, to control or monitor what we do with it. Should United Utilities monitor what I do with the water they provide me, lest I use it to drown kittens? Do Shell have an obligation to make sure the petrol they sell me is being used for my cars, and not for petrol bombs? If I buy a knife from John Lewis, should they send someone to tail me to make sure I use it for slicing vegetables and not people? These might be ridiculous situations, but really the fundamental principle isn't that different. If parents don't want their kids watching porn, then they are the ones responsible for denying them access to it. After all, isn't that what parenting is all about?

Plus, it's not like the internet is the only way to watch porn. When I was from the ages of 12-15 I didn't really have a constant internet supply. We had dial-up that had to be plugged in and charged per minute, and my dad was stingy and didn't like us using it much. That didn't stop me. I still had a VHS tape which I'd recorded various late-night shows to watch, and there was plenty of nudity in those (plus Tarrant on TV was awesome anyway). Maybe not hardcore sex, but meh, I was only 14 and didn't know any better. If you're going to censor it on the internet, there's still other ways for kids to get stuff, because teenage boys do have a knack for that sort of thing.


Which leads me onto the whole other side to this argument: is it really that bad a thing for kids to be watching pornography? Personally, I don't think it's a huge deal whatsoever. I'd use the "I watched/saw porn on the internet/TV when I was pretty young and it didn't screw me up" argument, but that'd just leave me open to personal attacks and examples of "yes it fucking did". My first argument would that it's actually not that easy to accidentally stumble across porn of the internet unless you've got safe-search off, which you won't unless your parents have turned it off. Yes, there is a fuckload of porn on the internet, but you're only really going to find porn as a kid when you're old enough to look for it yourself, and I'd argue that kids who are old enough to search for porn are old enough to see it.

You can't get pregnant from watching porn (or get someone else pregnant), you can't get any diseases or infections from it - as sexual exploration goes it's about as safe and harmless as you can get. I can sort of see the argument that maybe it will warp our kids into sexual deviants and rapists, but firstly I don't see that happening just from watching porn from an early age, and secondly if you're worried about stuff on the internet fucking your kids up, there's far, far more disturbing shit out there. I'd happily let my kids browse xhamster and 8tube all day if it kept them off the likes of ED and 4chan. Hardcore pornography doesn't have anything on some of the fucked-up shit that's out there on the internet (lets name 2girls1cup, goatse and lemonparty as just a well-known examples), and I can say this confidently as someone who is well-experienced in both.

I appreciate that the psychology is complex, and that I have pretty much zero knowledge of psychological development in children, but I feel fairly sure from self-experience that it's more likely to desensitise kids more than anything else.

I think half the issue comes from associating anything involving children and pornography to child pornography, which is really an entirely separate issue (and one I definitely would be arguing against, not for). Not denying kids access to view pornographic material is an entirely different kettle of fish to sexual child abuse. There's a whole world of separation between not censoring internet and actively making a child watch pornography, let alone any actual physical sexual abuse. I really don't think that they're even connected.

The fact is that kids are going to be curious about that sort of thing, they're going to experiment sexually, and they're almost certainly going to get their hands on porn regardless of any internet censorship. And, in my opinion, their ability to view porn is not a particularly bad thing, and certainly isn't worth the ludicrous amount of effort it would take to crack down on it. Just because a child isn't old enough to have sex does not mean that they shouldn't be old enough to experiment and learn for themselves - so long as there's not a predatory creepy old man involved. It's just part of growing up, and it should remain a part of growing up. Either way, if parents feel it necessary to sexually frustrate their kids until they're old enough to leave home and pay for their own internet, then that should be up to them as a parent, not the government or ISP companies.

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