THE BLOG

Blanket Censorship Will Lull Parents Into a False Sense of Security

12/12/2013 17:40 GMT | Updated 11/02/2014 10:59 GMT

This week I was invited, by the UK's Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), to address conference members on the topic of protecting children from online pornography. While united with fellow speakers and attendees in an absolute commitment to child welfare I am concerned; blanket censorship - such as the proposed ISP blocking in the name of child protection - is not the answer. In fact blanket censorship will lull parents into a false sense of security and lead children to greater risks online.

Representing the adult entertainment industry you could be forgiven for asking - What do I know? You may be surprised to learn that the adult content industry is committed to protecting children. In the last 17 years it has launched initiatives to combat the spread of child pornography as well as protect minors from age-inappropriate content. These include the world's first Internet CP Reporting Hotline and the award-winning Restricted to Adult (RTA) label to help parents manage filtering controls.

But yes, as the UK government's paper so aptly calls it 'Basically... Porn is Everywhere'. Pornography is about sex and nudity which, whether you like it or not, is a fundamental part of our being. It is also regulated and legal in the UK (that's another issue). So when it comes to protecting our children's welfare we need to address the issue of pornography in an adult way.

Does pornography actually deprave and corrupt? The Children's Commissioner's hastily pulled together report (note that 'Basically, Porn is Everywhere' was not research carried out on its own, nor even a full literature review or systematic review - but a question-led Rapid Evidence Assessment carried out over just three months) clearly states more work needs to be done.

Yet somehow the media, and some narrow pressure groups, have managed to whip up a moral panic by exaggerating and generalising localised problems, while misattributing the causes.

There is another danger un-addressed in either this report or the government's proposed 'Online Safety Bill' - the possibility of overprotection.

The LSE EU Kids Online Report asserts "it is inherent to childhood and especially adolescence to take risks, push the boundaries and avoid adult scrutiny - this is how children gain resilience." Of course they say that children should be protected from real risk.

The proposed blocking of adult content at network level by ISPs does not protect children from risk. It will not identify online sex offenders. It will not identify victims of abuse. And it will definitely not prevent online sex offenders from accessing images or prevent online grooming (child protection specialists have been very vocal about this).

On the other hand, there are real risks resulting from the unintended consequences of at-source blocking of suspicious search terms, including health related sites or safe places for teens to talk about sexual issues and education, such as the great Scarleteen.com. Do we really want to go this far when there are a number of parental control safety filters already available that will do the job better?

And what of parents? Blanket censorship lulls parents in to a false sense of security while removing their right - and for some the awareness that they need - to be involved in their children's use of digital technologies.

Online safety needs to be part of everyone's daily routine. There is no 'silver bullet' technology solution. We urge the UK government to launch a public educational campaign, partner with adult content providers (who are ready and willing to facilitate age-appropriate filtering), and provide practical, and evidence based, educational classes to parents.

Otherwise they may as well attempt to put trousers on the Cerne Abbas giant for all the child protection it offers.