There’s no ‘silver bullet’ for porn….

Werewolf attack jumpI was lucky enough to be on Radio 4’s ‘The Media Show’ yesterday, to talk about Cameron’s porn-blocking plans: I think I was invited as a result of my blog post from Monday, asking 10 questions about the plan. I didn’t have much time – and I’m still very much an amateur on the radio – and though I think I managed to get across some of what I wanted to say, I didn’t get close to persuading the other person talking about the subject – Eleanor Mills, of the Sunday Times. I think I know why: she’s in many ways correctly identified the monster that she wants to slay, and she thinks that she’s found the silver bullet. The problem is, for porn, there IS no silver bullet. It’s not that simple.

The solution that she suggested – and she said that ‘the man from Google’ told her it was possible – was a simple ‘switch’ to turn a ‘porn filter’ on or off. If you wanted to see ‘restricted’ material for some justified reason (e.g. to look at material for sex education purposes) you could turn it on, and you’d be asked a question in a pop-up, something like ‘Do you want to look at this for research purposes?’. You’d click OK, look at the stuff, then turn the filter back on. Simple. Why not do it?

It doesn’t really take a technical expert to see the flaws in that plan even if it was possible to create such a switch – how it wouldn’t stop viewing stuff for bad reasons (who’s going to be honest when asked why you want?), how it avoids the fundamental question of how you define ‘porn’, and all the other crucial issues that I mentioned in my other blog. That’s not to mention the technical difficulties, the problem of over-censorship and under-censorship, of the way that the really bad stuff will avoid the filters anyway – let alone the even more fundamental issues of free speech and the need to be able to access information free of fetters or limitations…. There are so many flaws in the plan that it’s hard to know where to start – but it’s easy to see the attraction of the solution.

We all want to find easy solutions – and computerised, technical solutions often promise those kinds of easy solutions. Porn, however, is not amenable to easy solutions. It’s a complex subject – and sadly for those looking for silver bullets, it needs complex, multifaceted solutions that take time, effort and attention.

We do, however, know what a lot of those solutions are – but they’re not really politically acceptable at the moment, it seems. We know, for example, that really good sex and relationships education helps – but the government recently voted down a bill that would make that kind of education compulsory in schools. The ‘traditional’ education favoured by Michael Gove and the Daily Mail has no truck with new-fangled trendy things like that, and the puritanical religious approach still claims, despite all the evidence, that ignorance of sexual matters is bliss. It isn’t. Better education is the key starting point to helping kids to find their way with sex and relationships – and to make the ‘poisonous’ influence of ‘bad’ porn (which, it must be remembered, is generally NOT illegal) the kind of thing that Eleanor Mills justifiably wants to deal with. If she really wants to help, she should be fighting the government on that, not pushing technical, magical solutions that really won’t work.

The next stage is putting more resources – and yes, that means money – into the solutions that we know work well. The IWF in dealing with child abuse images. CEOP in dealing with sex-offenders online activities. Work on a targeted, intelligent level. The experts know it works – but it’s hard work, it’s not headline-grabbing, and it’s not ‘instant’. What’s more, it’s not cheap.

The other part of the jigsaw for me, is to start having a more intelligent, more mature and more honest debate about this. If the politicians didn’t go for soundbite solutions without talking to experts, but actually listened to what people said, this might be possible. Sadly, with the current lot of politicians on pretty much every side, that seems impossible. This isn’t a party-politcal issue: Labour are every bit as bad as the Tories on this, with Helen Goodman a notable offender. It’s an issue of politicians being unwilling to admit they don’t understand, and unwilling to take advice that doesn’t fit with their ‘world view’. It’s an issue of the corrosive influence of hypocritical and puritanical newspapers like the Daily Mail on the one hand calling for internet porn bans and on the other parading their ‘sidebar of shame’ complete with images and stories that objectify women and girls to an extreme.

The one saving grace here is that the solution they suggest simply won’t work – and eventually they’ll realise that. In Australia, a similarly facile solution was tried, only to be ignominiously abandoned a few years later. If only that lesson was the one from Australia that Lynton Crosby managed to get across to David Cameron….

12 thoughts on “There’s no ‘silver bullet’ for porn….

  1. Only thing I would question is whether the police need to be given loads more money because the underlying principal there is that you can prevent crime purely through enforcement.

    But that’s proved ludicrous in the ‘drugs war’ and has become the same in this area too. You need that education stuff but you also need therapy and preventative strategies so that people do not actually want to view this stuff in the first place.

    It is almost as if Society has decided there will ‘always’ be demand for this kind of material. Now, who decided that and on what scientific basis?

    • Who are you to say that people should not be able to view or read adult material Newsfox? I find it odd that lots of fairly normal people I know have read and enjoyed The Shades of Grey books but it isn’t up to me to make moral judgements about them. Similarly, lots of law abiding men and women who live normal lives watch visual pornography. Since the adult entertainment industry is bigger than all of Hollywood and Bollywood combined there must be a lot of them. As for the evidence that there will always be a demand- just go to a museum. A few years ago in Greece I saw a museum with rows and rows of vases which were over 2000 years ago which depicted all sorts of perverted (and I mean extremely perverted) acts which would have been on display in people’s homes- and ancient Rome and Egypt are just the same. Even contemporary cultures which are on the face of it very conservative and strictly religious have back street suppliers of pornography.

  2. Personally I would like people to first ask why we need to block porn at all. Kiddy porn n shit like that is already illegal so no need to use that strawman as an excuse. So why if it is between concenting adults do the state feel the need to tell us what we can and cannot watch?
    At least most porn is up front and honest about what it is. I am much more concerned with the whole MTV culture that is promoting sexuality as a “normal” choice for children that is based on pure mysogyny. Surely it is this sneaky subvervsing of our youth that is of more concern than adult stuff for adults.

    • I do agree – as I’ve said before, I think even if this did work (which it won’t) and even if it didn’t have pretty serious side effects (which it would), it’s largely missing the point, and a distraction from much more serious things. The normalisation of misogyny present from MTV to the Daily Mail is a much more important issue, but one that they don’t dare face up to.

      • Yes – can we talk about that instead of impossible censorship (whether we should be censoring stuff or not it isn’t realistically possible, and we shouldn’t be doing it anyway)

  3. – On Media show the woman states she THINKS “it does works on Talk Talk now and it does at my school”
    OK here’s why her idea of Full Internet vs China like CleanNet it won’t work
    1. Full Internet : Right you send me a child porn pic in the email I post it, first person that sees it reports it, I get arrested
    2. CleanNet : an 18 year old publishes a pic of her breasts etc. 500 kids upload it to 500 different sites, you phone the police and they say “It’s not illegal there is nothing we can do”, so you report it to CleanNet Admin and they run around trying to kick out 500 sites that were clean yesterday and today are “dirty”. And they have the dilemma do they close down the whole site each time ? cos the remaining 10,000 pages on those sites might have perfectly safe useful pages. (e.g. if that site is yahoo.com)
    – There is a further complication cos normally on the internet you have the right to your privacy, so can remain anonymous. Would we have that on CleanNet ? if kids couldn’t be anonymous wouldn’t that make them more vulnerable ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s