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Blocking porn by default

David Cameron, who clearly does not have enough to do, has pledged to consult on campaigners’ proposals to force internet service providers to block porn by default. I am against the proposals because of the force. I also agree with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group that non-porn will get blocked by mistake. There will likely be other technical problems. And it will make the perceived problem it is trying to solve worse because parents will have a false sense of security while savvy children figure out how to work around the filters. And I am not convinced that porn harms children.

But mostly I want the government to stop messing with my internet.

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36 comments to Blocking porn by default

  • Isn’t blocking porn from the internet a bit like blocking cars with four wheels from using the motorway?

  • Rich Rostrom

    ISTM with the availability of the .XXX domain, this problem should become trivial. Virtually all pron providers want to be identified as such – they will happily self-segregate into .XXX space, which is easily and cleanly blocked.

  • thefrollickingmole

    Im paraphrasing an old Dilbert comic, but if its the whole resources of the leviathan state Vs 10million horny teenage boys I know who will win that one..

    That said a straight .xxx designation would be sensible anyway.

  • mdc

    What is the major downside of children watching porn? As far as I can see it is only that parents find it embarrassing.

    Also, why is this Reg Bailey fellow being given so much influence? He is the head of a Christian Fundamentalist organisation that is mainly based in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. Is Cameron a Fundie himself or was he conned?

  • mdc: They could pick up some weird ideas about sex, but I see it as parents’ job to counter that, which some will find embarrassing. So yes, I think you’re right. As for Cameron, he just thinks it will win votes. He might even be right.

  • As for the .xxx domain, maybe, but changing an established website address is troublesome. Much easier is to put rating information in the page that web browsers can use. This problem should already be solved.

  • Andrew

    Changing wouldn’t be an issue, they’d just set the old site to redirect to the new. If .xxx was blocked, it would still be blocked.

    I’m doubtful .xxx will work though – why would sites voluntarily give up pageviews? Maybe not a problem for subscription sites, but advertising funded ones won’t be so keen.

  • George

    The example below is only anecdotal but there seems to be a growing body evidence that viewing pornography can be deeply damaging to children.

    “He began writing things like ‘I hate myself’, or ‘Charlie is s***’ on scraps of paper, newspapers, books, even his bedroom furniture and walls. He drew obscene cartoons with speech bubbles filled with the filthiest words in the dictionary. ”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2132342/How-internet-porn-turned-beautiful-boy-hollow-self-hating-shell.html

  • Oooh, look — a moral panic!

    Next thing you know the kids will be trying to get their alcohol fix by soaking tampons in vodka and shoving the tampons into various bodily orifices.

  • Dave Walker

    “Freedom from censorship” and “protection of children” are opposite sides of the same coin when it comes to the Internet and its content (pornographic or otherwise), so advocating both, from a technical perspective, is sheer doublethink.

    Casting the net wider, it is readily apparent that there has been considerable confusion among various UK organisations relating to issues of majority, minority and sexuality for a very long time; why, for example, does the BBFC categorise films such that people are prohibited until the age of 18, from seeing footage of others doing what they themselves are allowed to do at 16?

    Getting back to the topic involved, the simple fact is that the Internet does not fall within the sphere of control of British legislation, so any attempt to exert legislative control upon it from a purely British perspective, is futile.

    The only approach which actually works – that of gaining control of origin sites and their replicas, replacing their content and waiting for caches, proxies and archives to expire the original material – has been used successfully by SIS, but the legality of such an approach remains “interesting” at best. The initiatives being examined will, as mentioned, most probably result in unwarranted censorship of non-porn, and will also simply result in telco employees being occupied forever in updating blacklists and whitelists in a manner which becomes increasingly untimely and ineffective.

    It would be helpful if the House and the Govenment were to realise that attempting to legislate that which is technically infeasible to implement, will only serve to decrease respect for them among the technical community…

  • Simon Jester

    The example below is only anecdotal but there seems to be a growing body evidence that viewing pornography can be deeply damaging to children.

    Then link to the “body evidence”, not the anecdote. Oh, you can’t do that? How surprising…

  • George

    Simon Jester: “Then link to the “body evidence”, not the anecdote. Oh, you can’t do that? How surprising…”

    “Since ASAM released its statement, and shortly before its release, additional new studies have come out on Internet addiction (which include Internet pornography use). They reveal the same fundamental brain changes seen in other addicts.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography_addiction

  • Eric Tavenner

    Simon Jester: “Then link to the “body evidence”, not the anecdote. Oh, you can’t do that? How surprising…”

    “Since ASAM released its statement, and shortly before its release, additional new studies have come out on Internet addiction (which include Internet pornography use). They reveal the same fundamental brain changes seen in other addicts.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography_addiction

    First, and addictive personality can become addicted to anything!
    Second wikipedia is not usually considered a reliable source, as anyone can put anything they want into an article. Thus even if the original author is actually an authority on a subject, any passing moonbat can replace it with a huge steaming pile of crap.

  • Simon Jester

    Wikipedia isn’t even considered a reliable source by Wikipedia. Not only that, but even on the page cited, the passage in question comes under the heading “Controversy about whether pornography addiction exists” and is immediately followed by an “improper synthesis” tag.

  • George

    The wikipedia page does provide links to the studies that

    ” reveal the same fundamental brain changes seen in other addicts”

    Seems to me you guys are falling into the same trap that people often do when a behaviour they enjoy is threatened with some form of restriction.

    That is you start arguing that the behaviour is never going to be harmful for anyone who engages in it.

  • Agammamon

    “ISTM with the availability of the .XXX domain, this problem should become trivial. Virtually all pron providers want to be identified as such – they will happily self-segregate into .XXX space, which is easily and cleanly blocked.”

    One problem with this is that anti-porn crusaders are against pretty much any pictures of naked people, with or without sex involved.

    You can be a nudist and post pictures of your latest holiday and not consider them porn, but someone else will and .xxx won’t ever fix that.

    On another note – despite the ubiquity of pornography on the internet, I’ve *never* found any unless I was specifically looking for it – contrary to what the anti-porn people complain about, it doesn’t hunt you down so I don’t see why a solution is needed to something that isn’t a problem.

  • The difficulty, of course, is finding porn that is both good and free.

  • manuel II paleologos

    They could pick up some weird ideas about sex

    Whereas having no access to it will mean they will have normal ideas about sex, or won’t have any at all? That wasn’t really my experience of an entirely porn-free childhood.

  • George writes:

    Seems to me you guys are falling into the same trap that people often do when a behaviour they enjoy is threatened with some form of restriction.

    That is you start arguing that the behaviour is never going to be harmful for anyone who engages in it.

    I don’t think that’s it because our argument doesn’t depend on the harmlessness of porn. At least mine doesn’t; I’m just applying the non-aggression principle. Making porn available is not aggressive, whether or not it is harmful. It is for parents to keep their children from harm.

    manuel: good point, though there is some *really* weird porn out there. A sensible parent who notices his teenage son taking an interest might do well to make available appropriate porn – but I think the state takes a dim view even of that.

  • Mendicant

    To paraphrase what Ridley Scott said, the little bastards will see these things anyway.

    The MPAA and BBFC are a bunch of ninnying prudes who spoil everyone else’s fun and are of no worth whatsoever. The vile MPAA especially are a joke.

    Seeing porn does not harm children. What does real harm is insulating children from the reality of human existence, this leads to huge trauma in transitioning to adulthood, as mum and dad have prevented them from easing into it naturally.
    Its notable that overbearing parents, the people who have created over a million NEETS in the UK, and who produce all the social cripples you see, seem to get a free pass to be as incompetent as they like.

    Parents, especially mothers, it must be said, “protect” their children for largely selfish reasons; for many parents, keeping their offspring dependent and weak is seen as advantageous as its a huge power-trip for them.

    There’s strong evidence that children “neglected” by mum and dad do better than those who are “mother-smothered”. Its telling that many successful people are orphans. How many successful people had overbearing prudes as parents? None, pretty much.

    The biggest failures are the ones with overbearing parents.

  • Alisa

    A sensible parent who notices his teenage son taking an interest might do well to make available appropriate porn – but I think the state takes a dim view even of that.

    Ha, shows what you know! A sensible parent might do quite the opposite, i.e. provide the weirdest porn possible – as that would be the surest way for their teenage offspring to take an interest in the polarly opposite:-)

  • Yet another idea that the nanny state of Australia is already implementing with the government internet filter.
    BTW you Poms can have the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy back. We’ll even pay the fare.

  • Sceptical Antagonist

    Many years ago I did some reading into criminal psychology, and there IS proof that pr0n is one of the steps a slightly imbalanced person will often go through on the way to becoming a rapist, or worse.

    Pr0n isn’t the cause but it doesn’t help either.

    I agree with Mendicant, in that it is usually the socially repressed that make this step, and wholesome families are less likely to see a member go in this direction, but that doesn’t mean ‘normal’ kids won’t be affected.

    On the other hand, I spent a few years in Saudi Arabia where they are firewalled by the government, and the rules of society try to keep the sexes apart as much as they can, and as a race (the men at least) have to be the most sex crazed people I have met.

    I think the old ‘everything in moderation’ cliche applies here, but I don’t know how it would be managed in practice. I for one am not in favour of internet censorship.

  • Hmm

    I swear we are experiencing the first crop of male(ish) Stepford Wives: Our current batch of World “Leaders”.

    You can just imagine them: “Oh! What a wonderful morning, just right for half-baking some new laws. Then I should do some cleaning. I think it’s time I cleaned out that little old internet of mine. I’ll have it sparkling in no time; won’t that be nice! Baking and Cleaning: I Love it! This is going to be a really good day. If I do it right away I might even have time to go and clean out the banks too! Wont that be nice! A good Premier is a good cleaner – that ‘s what I always say… I am so good at cleaning, this is going to be a good day!”

  • Laird

    Personally, I don’t think it matters* that a few individuals will be adversely affected by exposure to p0rn. That doesn’t justify denying the 99% unsusceptible (i.e., healthy) people access to it if they wish. It’s the typical nannying overreaction of statist busybodies with nothing meaningful to do, too much time on their hands, and an overdeveloped (and undeserved) sense of their own intelligence and the value of what passes for “thought” in their heads.

    * Assuming, of course, that it’s even true, which is far from proven. I put little faith in the studies and opinions of soi disant “experts”, many (most?) of whom are simply trying to yet again expand the definition of “disease” in order to either (depending upon their spot in the system) get on the gravy train for more government payments or expand our infantilism by further watering down the notion of personal responsibility. But I’m a cynic when it comes to these “studies”, as they rarely contain even a semblance of intellectual honesty or scientific rigor.

  • Alisa

    Laird, you can type ‘porn’ – the bot does not mind that.

  • Laird

    One can’t be too careful, Alisa. I’m running low on poems!

  • Alisa

    Oh, in that case, sure:-)

  • Sceptical Antagonist

    @Laird:

    Assuming, of course, that it’s even true, which is far from proven. I put little faith in the studies and opinions of soi disant “experts”, many (most?) of whom are simply trying to yet again expand the definition of “disease” in order to either (depending upon their spot in the system) get on the gravy train for more government payments or expand our infantilism by further watering down the notion of personal responsibility. But I’m a cynic when it comes to these “studies”, as they rarely contain even a semblance of intellectual honesty or scientific rigor.

    The problem here is that there are proponents of both sides of the argument. Violent video game manufacturers would have us believe that dehumanization doesn’t happen, similarly the porn industry. To chastise an opponent of these studies as someone working for gain is hardly fair!

    To have balanced cynicism in this case you would have to stand in favour of neither side. If you have a bias in this case, it is a personal one.

    Which of these makes more sense:

    1) There is a possibility that an item MAY be harmful or dangerous. We choose to treat the item with caution until we have more evidence the item is harmless.

    2) There is a possibility that an item MAY be harmful or dangerous. We choose to ignore any possibility of harm until there is more evidence either way.

    I would say that if you’re going to be sceptical, make sure it’s in a direction favourable to your survival. It may affect whether or not your kids will paddle in the gene pool!

  • SA: caution, sure. Poorly thought out legislation, not so much. Actually, caution is all well and good for individuals. But collective caution always involves lots of violence, which seems a bit self defeating to say the least.

  • Laird

    SA, Rob Fisher beat me to it. Exercising caution in your personal affairs is prudent. But permitting government to use force in the supposed exercise of caution is an unalloyed evil. I am willing to concede (for the purpose of this argument) that porn may be harmful to a few especially susceptible individuals. That doesn’t justify denying it to the vast majority who aren’t. Some people are violently allergic to nuts. That doesn’t justify forbidding them to everybody. If you have a problem, it’s your responsibility to deal with it, not mine.

    Your analogy is merely an application of the Precautionary Principle, which I reject outright.

  • Sceptical Antagonist

    @Laird:

    I absolutely agree that the government forcing anything upon us is a bad thing. However, I’m sure you’ve met plenty of people who don’t seem capable of thinking for themselves, and would easily remove themselves from Darwin’s equations if let loose to do what they want.
    Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

    I would argue against the fact that the vast majority aren’t affected by porn. This is only an opinion, of course, but the way the western world seems to be going to me is totally against my old fuddy-duddy beliefs. We appear to be devolving (if there is such a word) away from being ‘civilized’ and are returning to more primitive behaviours.

    We should be improving ourselves. What a waste!

  • Alisa

    SA, those people who seem unable to think for themselves are in large part a product of a system that prevented them from thinking since they were children. If left to their own devices, some of them may surprise you for the better, and some will indeed become victims of natural selection.

    As to good old days when there was no porn – or at least no one we knew was looking at it – give me a break?:-)

  • Rational Plan

    Sometimes people get caught up in their own ideologies and so we get to the position where people here are saying causes no harm to children.

    I assume you have watched a lot of porn then. Do you think porn videos show healthy adult sexual relationships?

    Are you perfectly happy with children growing up thinking this is how people normally behave?

    If you really feel there is no problem with porn then at what point do you plan to let your children watch it?

    In fact when do you think you should start giving kids porn videos to watch if you think it causes no harm?

  • RP: I said I was not convinced that porn is harmful to children. But it is not central to my argument. Are you saying that any possibility of harm justifies any legislation? My ideology says not. My ideology says nothing about the harmfulness of things.

    Obviously not all porn shows healthy adult relationships, though all tastes are catered for somewhere. Considering ordinary, low quality porn, of course children should not think that this is how people normally behave. But why would they, any more than they think action movies depict how people normally behave? Parents need to teach them about the real world and the differences between fiction and reality.

    As for letting my children watch it — if they want to they will anyway, whether I let them or not, legislation or not. The trick is to help them understand it.

    Of course if it causes no harm it would not matter when I gave it to them to watch. I didn’t say that, though. Rationally, I assign a low probability of harm, and that probability might change with more information about the type of and amount of porn viewed, parental skills, problems the child has, or whatever. The rational thing for a parent to do in the knowledge that preventing all access to porn is impossible is to attempt to improve all those variables.

  • Dave Walker

    Getting back to first principles, the definition of what constitutes porn is blurred anyway; and it doesn’t necessarily always appear in the form of moving or static bitmap images.

    I’ve not read the new and popular “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but thinking back to a certain famous trial and doing a quick Google, any kid with a Kindle can get their hands on a freely downloadable PDF of “Lady Chatterley”. A further brief search reveals that erotic literature is rather well catered for, when it comes to free PDFs from numerous sources – and the range is broad enough to span “Madame Bovary” and “120 Days of Sodom”. If you want to shift the emphasis of controversy, “Naked Lunch” is there, too.