Eradicating child abuse images is tough; protecting children from seeing pornography is even more complex
The Daily Mail’s preening claim to have “won” the battle against internet pornography had an appropriate sidebar beside it online, showing multiple celebrities wearing teeny bikinis and flaunting their curves. Such is the contradiction of David Cameron‘s “war” on porn on the web.
Cameron’s crusade conflates two things. First are the child abuse images, which anyone sensible wants removed: they are records of exploitation of children who could not consent, who are being abused, and show criminal acts whose viewing criminalises others.
Plenty of work goes into wiping out child abuse images, and making it impossible to access, through schemes such as BT’s Cleanfeed, Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, and Google’s own photo-hashing service. But eradicating child abuse images would really involve controlling peer-to-peer technology or password-protected forums.
Second is the much more complex area of pornography that isn’t illegal, but to which the easy access afforded by the internet causes concern for any parent – and anyone interested in the sort of society children are growing up in.
An article in the Times Educational Supplement by Chloe Combi provides a sober perspective, describing how easily accessible pornography is making secondary school pupils think pubic hair is ugly on women, sexting is normal and that porn film narratives and scenarios depict a version of real life to be aspired to.
Move on from the Mail Online or Page 3 and you arrive at American websites, which see a sexual continuum between the ages of 13 (when you’re allowed to create profiles on Facebook, Twitter and so on, to meet US legislation – though in fact many children ignore that – and 18, when viewing “porn” suddenly becomes legal. Yet any parent knows that things change enormously between those ages.
If Cameron really wanted to stop online pornography he could ask ISPs to ban YouTube, Blogger and Tumblr. The latter, recently acquired by Yahoo, is trying to tamp down the visibility of porn on its network – which is reckoned to extend to millions of blogs.
Blogger was recently the target of a crackdown by Google, which didn’t want the “adult” “blogs” on there to be selling adverts for off-site adult services. Because it’s fine to be an adult blog (behind nothing more difficult to evade than a confirm-your-age button) and use Google adverts.
It’s tempting to consider blocking YouTube at home, because it simply has no boundaries, and boundaries matter when you’re a parent. There is no easy way of preventing an eight-year-old, alone with a tablet and browsing YouTube for games videos from landing on some of the very adult-themed videos that are often linked to them – and it isn’t possible to supervise a child all the time.
For the internet service providers, meanwhile, Cameron’s crusade is guaranteed bad news. You could start a sweepstake now for the first article saying “Internet Porn Filter FAILURE!” – pointing the finger at an ISP for failing to be filter comprehensively enough. And then after that there will be another child killer who has somehow managed to “evade” the filters, because the only way to stop someone really determined to access peer-to-peer systems or well-hidden sites is to cut off the internet.
It’s been 18 months since Cameron last hassled the internet industry over this, and it’s sure to happen again, because new internet signups – who will now have to actively disable filters for pornography – happen slowly. In the meantime, we’re left with software filters, which are expensive, and hard to make work on newer devices such as tablets and smartphones. Or parental intervention, which is difficult and time-consuming. Monday marked an important day in the battle – but not a game-changing one.
source: The Guardian, UK