The New Porn Laws?

The New Porn Laws?

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An extract from a draft of my book, in relation to all the content in the press re David Cameron and the new ‘porn laws’ (and see this excellent piece from @Crimperman)

The media has focused heavily upon the ‘dangers of porn’ online for children, to the extent that many parents feel entirely disempowered to do anything about it. Sonia Livingstone undertook a content analysis of newspapers across the countries surveyed for EU Online in 2010, which demonstrated this, although only 6000 of the 25000 children surveyed had encountered even a single sexual image online. She highlights (p166) that debate about this area can be difficult, as the media tends to mix up child sexuality, child pornography, child abuse, grooming and pornography into one big scare story.

The search for adult materials of a sexual nature has been common for many years, in many ways a ‘rite of passage’. The core difference is that it took some effort to access printed pornographic material, whereas huge amounts circulate freely online, much of it more hard-core and violent in nature than before. Those who deliberately seek this material out online, tend to know how to delete their Internet history and cookies, so parents may not be aware, or may think that their child surely couldn’t be the one into such things. The EU Kids Online survey demonstrated that because it’s easily available online, many think that its OK, feel invisible and sure that they won’t get caught.

The EU Kids Online survey also demonstrated that boys were more likely to seek out pornographic content, or to be sent links to it, whilst girls appears to feel more upset by what they saw, and in particular, became concerned about sexual expectations for their own future. In the 2012 Vodafone Digital Parenting magazine, Dr Heather Wood from an NHS Clinic for compulsive sexual behaviours noted that for young people, there are particular dangers association with looking at Internet pornography.

For example, while it is appropriate for a 15-year old boy to be sexually interested in someone of his own age, a sexual image of a 15-year-old is illegal, and it is a criminal act to download or distribute such an image in the UK.

For teenage boys, many are likely not to be interested in “older women”, so face a higher risk of prosecution if accessing images of those of their own age.

We talk fairly openly about pornography and gambling and the negative effect they can have on our lives, and about how much better it is to be someone who encourages and supports others rather than abusing their power, and putting people down.  I join several lobby groups who try to make adult content a ‘sign-in’ feature for adults only to make it harder to access and download, and to help prevent ‘accidental exposure’ to pornographic images for young children. (Parent, 16 to 18, 19 or over)

In 2010, a Home Office report warned that the “drip-drip” exposure to sexual imagery – including pornography, “lads’ mags” and sexual imagery in advertising – was distorting young people’s perceptions of themselves, “encouraging boys to become fixated on being macho and dominant, and girls to present themselves as sexually available and permissive.”[1] Dr Heather Wood warns also that too much emphasis in porn on ‘the perfect body’ is leaving young people unhappy that their own body doesn’t match up.[2] Livingstone (p174) however, highlights that children often challenged the representations seen online, and ‘Belle de Jour’ would argue that to “help them understand pornography as entertainment, as opposed to how sex should be, we need to stop skipping the subject of real sex and real relationships when talking to young people.” [3] As Livingstone’s research demonstrates pornography doesn’t exist in a social vacuum: in cultures where men and women are treated as social equals, and assault and harassment are seen as wrong, citizens of all ages are likely to refuse denigrating pornography as a given.

I strongly feel it is essential for the government to support parents in this by making ISPs responsible for setting pornographic and other harmful sites (e.g. extreme violence etc.) as opt in only sites. This would be extremely helpful. (Carer, 13-15)

In the early 2000s, as worries about youth accessing pornography rose, filtering software was highlighted as the solution, arguments that continue to this day:

If car manufacturers had no responsibility for safety measures – i.e. car seats for children, airbags, seatbelts – and it was entirely up to parents if they chose to use these, there would be an outcry. So what is the difference with social networking sites? We know the dangers; we know there are negligent parents. We have to protect the children whose parents can’t or won’t.[4]

Shariff (p6) refers to Tom Wood who broke into Australia’s $84mil Internet porn filter in less than 30 minutes. Wood recommended the focus for child Internet safety be elsewhere: educating children how to protect themselves and their privacy. Across the writers who concur with this perspective, there’s an agreement that  filtering software is valuable for younger children, but we have to expect that older children will try to get around the protection, so it cannot stand alone. MP Tim Loughton:

There is no silver bullet to solve this. No filter can ever be 100% foolproof. There can never be any substitute for parents taking responsibility for how, when and where their children use the Internet. The answer lies in finding ways to combine technical solutions with better education, information and, if necessary regulation further down the line.[5]

As Sally Peck wrote in the Telegraph:

No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to police your child’s exposure to everything vile until he is 30.[6]

This is all part of an ongoing debate as to whether the default setting for the Internet should be ‘opt-in’ for porn, rather than ‘opt-out’, something that Mumsnet has moved away from after feedback from their more technologically savvy users.[7] In 2012, an automatic block on porn was rejected, alongside a campaign to encourage parents to be more aware about what they can do.[8]

I think the digital tools that kids have available now are fantastic tools if used sensibly and in conjunction with parental instruction and supervision.  The dangers can be addressed, especially in younger children, if parents take the time to acquaint themselves with what their children are using.  Like anything, however, if you leave them to their own devices, they can get into trouble with these things and it is up to us as parents to make them aware of the dangers and equip them to operate in an online environment safely. (Parent, 3 to 5, 6 to 9, 13 to 15)

As the NAS Report Youth, Pornography and the Internet (2002, p4) wrote:

Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All of these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one’s children is to teach them to swim.[9]

Byron used a similar analogy in 2008: so many adults can only dabble in the shallow end if in at all, and despite the fact kids are very capable, they are constantly warned that it is dangerous, and kept away from the pool that is the Internet.

See the book for pre-order on Lion Hudson or Amazon (and it will be available on Kindle later).

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drbexl

Life Explorer, HE/learning, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing (Manchester Metropolitan University),  Christian, cultural history, WW2 posters: Keep Calm & Carry On, digital world, coach, ENFP, @digitalfprint, @ww2poster #digitalparenting

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