Pornography, social media, and censorship

For the first time we can watch Big Brother and there is little he can do about it - we must fight to keep it that way

Who is to decide what you can and can't see?
David Atherton
On 19 November 2012 11:01

In the Sesame Street inspired musical Avenue Q, two of the characters, Kate and Trekki Monster, sing a duet. Kate sings,“the Internet is for…” – before Trekki Monster interjects – “for porn.” His lyrics go on to implore you “To grab your dick and double click, the internet is for porn.”

I was reminded of this sage advice when recently searching for the excellent freedom campaigning group Big Brother Watch (BBW). Having searched for “BBW” via Google, Nick Pickles, the Director of BBW, was nowhere to be seen; but instead some rather large ladies in various states of undress appeared. It does seem there is a lot of it about.

In fact this paper has some remarkable findings. In America 70 percent of 18 to 24 year old men visit pornographic sites in a typical month and 66 percent of men in their 20s and 30s are regular punters. Perhaps more surprisingly, the paper also found that “34 percent of churchgoing women said they have intentionally visited porn websites online.” And ladies, how many of you have succumbed to the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy?

The point I am making is that pornography seems to be ubiquitous. For the record it is a $10 billion a year industry in the USA alone. And frankly, as long as the viewers and performers are of adult age and freely consenting, plus the acts would not attract another criminal sanction – I am thinking of “snuff’ movies – then it should be left alone.

One man’s smut is another’s erotica but sexual depictions were created from the birth of man. This stone carving of the Venus of Willendorf with her exaggerated sexual organs discovered in Austria, has been dated to 28,000 years ago. Roman villas were often festooned with copulating couples, and blue movies began in 1899 with Eugène Pirou and Albert Kirchner, just four years after the Lumiere brothers showed the first movie.  

However censorship is not new either. Arguably the world’s first ban on pornography was for the novel Fanny Hill by bothers Fenton and Ralph Griffiths, published and banned in 1748 for "corrupting the King's subjects." Lady Chatterley’s lover needs no extra words from me. The UK passed the world’s first defined Obscene Publications Act in 1857. And of course, more recently Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, has spent as much time in court defending himself than he has proof reading his latest edition.

And now David Cameron is invoking “Grandad’s Law” with new proposed legislation which will mean that the minute you install a new computer or internet service provider (ISP) you will be asked whether you have children. If you click yes all manner of filters and permissions boxes will need to be ticked. ISPs will also be encouraged to confirm the age of the installer.

Would it work? Well, from my knowledge of computing, youngsters are far more IT savvy than their parents and will find a way round, should they wish. Also, teenagers are more likely to use file sharing for free downloads of music for example, where I understand some of the unacceptable and grotesque sites are to be found. 

But that is neither here nor there since ultimately it is the responsibility of parents, not the state, to monitor their children’s browsing habits. My own children, for example, were encouraged to do their internet surfing in the lounge as opposed to their bedrooms and I did keep an eye on their history just in case. I’m capable of ensuring my children’s wellbeing and I resent the state telling me how to live my life.

My guess is Cameron will revel in the feel-good factor of something being done for the children. But it will be a waste of time as the internet is largely uncontrollable – and, on balance, I think this is a good thing. For the first time we can watch Big Brother and there is little HE can do about it.

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