Why banning porn won't protect children

21st Dec 2010 | 12:40

Why banning porn won't protect children

The Firewall For Filth is doomed and dangerous

Maybe it's because I'm the father of a wee girl, but my reaction to the government's ISP porn-blocking plans wasn't an immediate cry of "Nanny state! Nanny state!"

There's some awful stuff out there, and I don't think kids should see it any more than I think The Human Centipede should be shown on cBeebies.

I think I'm pretty consistent on this. I don't think seven-year-olds should play Call of Duty: Black Ops, and I don't think Frankie Boyle is the best choice of entertainer for your four-year-old's birthday party.

If reports are correct, the government wants ISPs to adopt a scheme rather like the ones mobile phone networks already have. My mobile phone operator, Orange, has an adult content filter. I didn't know it was there until I tried to access that notorious cradle of filth, Boing Boing. To see the blog post I'd requested, I had to call Orange and ask for the adult content filter to be lifted.

It wasn't a big deal. The girl in the call centre didn't ask why I wanted the bar removed, and if she thought I was calling from inside a bin bag full of ball gags she didn't let on.

So there you go: a porn filter is no biggie.

Maybe that's true on mobile, where you don't generally share your phone and you probably PIN-lock it too. Shared connections are different.

A firewall for filth won't work, and it could easily be a force for ill.

It's all pointless

The first and most obvious problem is that sites will find ways around it, and sites that shouldn't be blocked will be.

The second problem is that it sets a precedent. If ISPs filter legal pornography – they already filter the illegal stuff – then what other legal things can we get them to block? Sites that include bittorrent links? Places where people plan anti-government protests? Places offering advice about drugs, or sex, or anything else tabloids and lobby groups might disapprove of?

And of course, there's the biggest problem of all, the hole in the digital dyke nobody can plug.

Other parents.

As a parent, I'm well aware that it's my responsibility to keep my kids away from filth. The problem is that I can't ensure that you keep your kids away from it.

At the height of the GTA IV controversy, I was on a radio phone-in show when a bloke called in with a Ban This Sick Filth rant. "I think it's terrible that my grandson plays this stuff," the man said. How old was the kid? "Seven." Who'd bought him GTA IV? "Me."

How do you filter idiocy like that?

Research into kids' experiences of online porn find that most of the stuff younger kids see is shown to them, or sent to them, by somebody else – usually other kids. If one parent doesn't filter, if one parent couldn't care less what his or her little darlings do online, then sooner or later those little darlings are going to share what they see; if one child finds a way to get round the filter, that information will spread faster than nits.

I can censor my computer. How do I censor your kids?

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