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Britain Considers ISP Filters To Save The Children: Flawed Logic

Fellow ZDNet blogger, iGeneration's Zack Whittaker had a few things to say about Conservative British MP Claire Perry's interest in forcing UK Internet Service Providers filter pornography – to save the children, of course.I agree with him; except when I don't.
Written by Violet Blue on

Fellow ZDNet blogger, iGeneration's Zack Whittaker had a few things to say about Conservative British MP Claire Perry's interest in forcing UK Internet Service Providers filter pornography – to save the children, of course.

I agree with him; except when I don't.

The logic behind such a filter is as seamless, or as flawed, as its data.

Making sure people of all ages encounter age-appropriate material – especially porn – when it is indeed appropriate for them to encounter, is a great idea.

I'm sure MP Claire Perry is full of fabulous ideas. So I dug into the BBC article about her interest to save the children from the evils of the horrifying new TV-cum-typewriter box of uncontrollable programming that all the kids are looking at these days. And those little things that are like car phones but without the cord.

BBC tells us,

Claire Perry wants age-checks to be attached to all such material to reduce exposure to it.

The mother-of-three, who has prompted a Commons debate on the issue, said Internet firms should "share the responsibility" of protecting children.

At this point, I am glued to the screen. This is my favorite kind of horror movie: you think the kids are going to be saved from the Porn Monster, but in the end it just keeps coming back! (Spoiler alert: only the virgins survive.)

By age checks attached, Perry means that she thinks it should be the responsibility of ISP's to be regulated like film ratings. But these things happen, and the uninformed stay... even more uninformed. So not only is your internet filtered (and you may not even know it), but like NC-17 is the "kiss of death" to films here in America, a website or business penalized by being filtered in the UK would get the "kiss of FAIL."

Surely Perry must be extremely well informed to take such a grandstanding position on a topic that could backfire in such a serious way, potentially jeopardizing the free exchange of ideas and information on the open Internet. BBC explains,

Ms Perry, who represents Devizes, in Wiltshire, said: "As a mother with three children I know how difficult it is to keep children from seeing inappropriate material on the Internet.

Ah, okay. She is a mother: she must be a specialist on inappropriate material. And children, because Perry can make them from scratch. We can be sure she is definitely not too clueless about parenting in the digital age not to invest in filters like Bumpercar or Cybersitter -- lazily hoping the nanny state will do the hard and truly important parts of raising her children for her. Such as rearing them with her own ethics about pornography, and not everyone else's kids.

Perry's idea might also be really great – if anyone, in any free Western country could agree on a universal definition of "pornography."

But fear-based censorship campaigns that use sexuality to push legislation always make me want to get out the popcorn and beer, and so I read on. What got Perry all obsessed with Internet porn and kids? BBC tells us,

Four in every five children aged 14 to 16 admitted regularly accessing explicit photographs and footage on their home computers, according to Psychologies magazine.

Wow – how did they get those precise statistics? One thing I can tell you from researching and writing about pornography and technology for ten years is that stats like those are incredibly hard to come by.

They are, in fact, impossible to come by at this point in time.

To obtain data on porn viewing to come anywhere close to being reliable you would need a proper institutional study: sample sets, unbiased data collection under controlled conditions, and mechanisms to ensure the subjects were self-reporting accurately and not under duress or the like. That's a very general description, but you get the picture.

So far, true, accurate studies on pornography use and consumption are only about adults, and happen during blue moons because no one can get funding due to the controversial nature of the topic in conservative climes. That's why we have a huge culture of bottom-feeding Internet scum who make up pornography statistics to sell internet filtering software, and sometimes to attempt to change laws with the intent of filtering the internet to suit their conservative beliefs about sex, women, and, well, everything.

That would never happen in Britain. You can tell by their accents that they are smarter than that.

So, surely since The House of Commons is spilling their tea over these very precise numbers, Psychologies Magazine must be a media source of high integrity and the study itself worthy of publication in a respectable, credentialed journal.

They might as well have pulled their numbers out of their, er, bum. No one linked, but it wasn't hard to find the "Put Porn In Its Place" campaign launched by Psychologies Magazine in May, 2010. (After the jealousy article but before the dieting article.) As it happens, Psychologies has been crusading against porn, and evil things it is associated with (like bum sex), for quite some time. Proudly, they tell us that News of the World covered their "study" results, along with the Mirror, whom I adore.

On Psychologies we find out that at least more than one teen was asked by someone, something about seeing porn at home involving a computer, at least once during the lifespan of the magazine's publication:

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.

• Almost one-third first looked at sexual images online when they were aged 10 or younger.

• 81 per cent look at online porn while they are at home.

• 75 per cent say their parents have never discussed online porn with them.

I'm surprised, too. Mostly that Psychologies Magazine now states this erroneous information as flat-out fact for all UK children. I'm equally shocked that this might be how laws get passed over there. Data be damned! How very American of you. Almost.

I was much less surprised to see that Psychologies recommends ISP Aspire Internet, who shares the same business address as Christian Broadband – they both also share a server, along with cleanweb.co.uk.

Clean Web is, of course, the filtering software sold by Aspire. They are completely neutral on the whole topic, naturally. Just like Psychologies Magazine and Ms. Perry, everyone here is unbiased, and surely their businesses are not reliant on increasing the threat.

Because if you did suggest something like that, then you might have to pull back the curtain and actually, honestly talk to kids about Internet porn the minute they're old enough to ask.

Don’t go in the basement, whatever you do.

Image via Psychologies Magazine.

Talk back in the comments and tell me: do you think it's right for governments to make the Internet G-rated by default?

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