Restricting Internet Porn

‘There’s no point in closing the stable door after the horse has bolted!’  I hear some of you shout incredulously. Well let me put it another way for you in a form of a question:

Would you let your 12 year old child sit down in the living room and let them watch hardcore porn on your TV?

‘No of course not!’ I hear you shout indignantly. Welcome to 2012, where your child can access adult material via any device connected to the internet. Shocked?… Well then, we need to find some way of getting that horse back into the stable or at the very least in the controlled environment of the paddock.

I’m not going to discuss if porn itself should be banned, that’s for another time. I’m going to discuss the access to porn on the internet by the under 18s. Only a complete imbecile would say that a child viewing porn at an early age would not have a detrimental effect on their behaviour and actions. It obviously does and so we will take that as a given. The question is how do we protect them from it?

Some sites have a pathetic ‘confirm you are over 18’ confirmation click in order to view any form of content considered over 18. The majority of sites don’t even bother to have this. I’m sure you know this is completely ineffective and just the website owners covering themselves legally. A pretty weak legally required responsibility don’t you think?

Today, the majority of children are far more tech savvy than their parents and can run rings around them, so it is quite easy for them to access adult material if they want to. A recent Ofcom study showed that 91% of children live in a house with access to the internet. That’s fine I hear you say, the parent would be able to control them. The survey goes on to say that only half of parents of children aged 5-15 supervised the child’s internet use.  They, perhaps quite understandably do not see the danger, as when they were younger they had a computer. Me too, it was an Acorn Electron and if you got it to play Snakes you were doing well. It didn’t even display anything near a photo. Relying on parents to control a child’s internet access is flawed. Even the best parent in the world would struggle. Three million 8-15 year old have a Smartphone, which also gives access to the internet, so unless that child lives in a Mormon household, there’s the opportunity and curiosity for them to easily view adult material.

It’s normal for most young children to have access to a computer, their own computer or a phone  which has access to the internet. Fifteen to twenty years ago this was unthinkable and reported on programmes like Tomorrows World. (Yes I remember it, I am that old) but it’s completely natural and normal in today’s society to access information anywhere, anytime.  Just as years ago there was a debate whether children should have a TV in their bedroom, so the debate is with PC’s today. However this is not the same argument. A TV gives access to many channels, SKY etc  which not only a parent can control by ‘parental control’ functions on the freeview box,  but also these channels are regulated so that adult content is shown only after the watershed or PIN protected. As long as a parent activates these controls, the child is protected from this passive form of media. With the internet however, things are very different. There are millions of ‘channels’ available with no watershed or parental controls.

Firstly, I have to say that I think  that the internet is perhaps one of the best inventions of the 21st century, revolutionising civilisation. It gives you access to the entire world’s history, information and connection to many people, all from the comfort of your armchair. That is miraculous and amazing.

The downside is it gives you access to the whole world’s entire history, information and connection to many people, all from the comfort of your armchair without a filter. Just as the internet holds a repository of the very best of human civilisation, society and achievement, it also holds the very very worst, which we’ve all seen reported in the press all too frequently, relating to content such as paedophiles, suicide sites and a new breed of internet user the ‘troll’ who comments on social network sites. So what do we do to stop this?

The exponential growth of the internet caught governments and organisations by surprise. Times changed very quickly and the very core in the way in which we view information changed forever. Now each country has been quickly trying to play catch up to implement new laws to control this ever since with triage plasters and duct tape law.  The police recently raided the homes of a huge paedophile ring. It won’t shock anyone that the internet and technology played a big part in this group’s activities.  The police are doing the best they can but are fire fighting at the moment, similar to the governments frantic introduction of new laws. We need proper all encompassing laws relating directly the internet. There should be no objection to putting a form of control on the internet to protect young children, not just from pornography but all the dimly lit parts of the internet.

The more liberal among you might say that the internet should remain completely free of control or censorship. Some of the ISP’s and search engines back this argument perhaps because any change would involve a hefty cost for them to implement and affect their bottom line. (Do they tell you how much they make in advertising revenue from this content?) But this isn’t a ‘freedom for the individual issue’ It is about protecting the young and vulnerable. I think protection of children trumps the usual rolled out blanket ‘freedom’ argument. If an adult wants to view adult material on the internet, as long as they are over 18 and the content is legal then its their choice. That access would not change. There might be additional controls and settings that need to be selected  but they won’t be stopped viewing it.

Let nobody be in any doubt, it is completely possible to restrict and control the content of the internet to prevent children viewing pornographic content. The internet in its basic form is 1’s and 0s,  computer code and that code can be changed, added to and re-written.

There are many different methods of putting these controls into place. I won’t go into them in any detail, as I do not want to be the cause of you slipping into a deep sleep or coma but these controls/filters can be implemented at many points in the internet machine :

By ISP’s at the source; by search engines and their displayed results; by browsers restricting the webpages they display; by  additional control programs installed on the PC and mobile, an OPT-IN process with proof of age on websites with adult content…to name but a few methods. It could be that the solution will be a combination of all of them.

It is entirely possible to do this and it can be done, it just depends on the will of the people to get it done. Continuing my stable door analogy at the beginning, we must bring that horse back willingly to the stable, if possible but forcefully back if necessary.

Is it going to be a simple process? No. Is it going to be a difficult, lengthy (meaning government consultation) costly process for all parties involved. Yes it is. But if done right it will protect children from the dangers of the internet while still allowing them access to its immense wealth of knowledge. So even if it is a costly process, isn’t it a price worth paying? They are only children at the moment but if they are subjected to the dark side of the internet at an early age, what kind of adults will they grow up to be and what kind of society will that create?

Image reproduced from markgarnier.co.uk

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About Chris Pickard

After gaining a degree in Business Studies and IT, Chris Pickard started work for a large organisation, in the areas of web development and E-Commerce. A few years later he moved into Business Consultancy, working across the organisation in a variety of roles from project management to departmental reviews. Outside of work at this time he gained an MBA qualification from Kent Business School. After gaining further promotions to senior project management in charge of several E-Commerce teams, he resigned to take a career break. He spent a year travelling the world – including China, Egypt, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, USA and Australia – and funded his travel through personal trading and investing. After having many life changing experiences, he decided not to return to the company and now he’s in the process of setting up his own company – My Guru – to explore a multitude of business ideas.

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