By now, you’ll have heard the uproar over David Cameron’s call for a pornography opt-in from UK ISPs . Of course you have. It’s the internet, and the moment anyone calls for any form of censorship the keywords of “tyranny” and “liberties” light up immediately. It’s caused uproar over suppression and internet access. After the death of Tia Sharp, Maria Miller called for a crack-down on online pornography, linking it to the savage attack. It’s a plan that has been on the cards a long time, though. So, if these regulations do come into effect, are they genuinely going to make a difference?
The answer is a complicated one. If the government’s true aim is to stop child abuse by blocking violent pornography and only allowing ‘regular’ pornographic content by opt-in, then probably not. By attempting to stop child pornography through conventional online access points, they are targeting precisely the wrong area. Most illegal pornography is not found via Google searches and usual online means – instead via password-protected forums and even more regularly via the deep web, an area outside of the regular web and only accessible through specific browsers, full of illegal and immoral activities – drug dealing, abusive and illegal pornography, wild animal trading, even the ability to hire hitmen. If the government really want to target the sharing and growth of child pornography, then they are going about it the wrong way. There is even an argument that by restricting search terms at surface level web access, it could make it harder to find and convict paedophiles. Cameron’s proposals also correlate violent adult pornography with violent attacks against children. Is there any genuinely link or causation between violent fetishes and these kinds of attacks?
The success of Cameron’s plans rests on two things: shame and fear. Shame from adults unwilling to opt in to allowing porn access on their own networks, unwilling to announce themselves to an ISP as a pervert. Fear from parents, worried about their children coming across material entirely unsuitable for them – or even material unsuitable for anyone. But in the case of concerned parents, surely this is a moot point; parental guidance locks already exist, allowing mothers and fathers to regulate what sites a computer can access. And if a child can get around these, they can get around any ISP block.
Of course, one of the worrying things about these measures is the precedents they set. We’ve already learned that pornography is not the end, that there are other long-term goals. The government will be restricting access to something they consider unsavoury, so what else can they, or future governments, deem not suitable for public access without a conscious opt-in? Violent film and television? One thing that has always astounded me, personally, is that sex is seen as a more adult taboo than seeing a man blown apart in a 12A or 15-certificate film. Fans of video games have a right to be concerned, too, given previous Conservative Party leanings on the subject. Subversive and extreme material could already come under the opt-in, for instance the hilarious yet pornographic webcomic Oglaf. Or, speaking more high-brow, documentaries such as Graphic Sexual Horror, an intelligent piece of cinema looking at the role of violent pornography – both positive and negative – yet containing examples of pornography within it.
Some, too, have issue with the hypocrisy of this move. The measure is meant to try and stop the access of pornographic material from everyday society, out of the eyes of those who shouldn’t see it. Yet, the government have laughed off Page 3 protests, dismissing the objections of Caroline Lucas. Surely if the end goal was one of respect and a limit on negative sexualisation, these arguments – and those who mention the negative body image and gender roles given in publications such as the Daily Mail (not to mention the Daily Mail’s dubious content about female teenagers) – would be taken more seriously?
This brings me on to something else. Could these plans have some merit? Stepping away, objectively, from concerns over future censorship over other areas, could this opt-in actually have a positive societal change in relation to sex and pornography? Because pornography is, well, nasty. Violent porn is a fetish (or, indeed, a group of fetishes) in itself, but even with ‘vanilla’ porn there is often violence, violent imagery, or subjugation, as if it has become a sexual norm in the industry. A horrendously exploitative industry at that, equating human beings to objects to be discarded after use. The shelf life of a female porn star is tiny, with odds stacked against having a safe, ‘normal’ life afterwards and awful working conditions. If the woman is not a star, it is even worse, but with equal amounts of the collective stigma. And worse again for the male porn star or male pornographic actor – less pay on average and an even shorter career. The industry itself is oftentimes rotten, and the imagery that it creates – particularly in terms of normal sexual practices and the treatment of women within sexual relationships – could be dangerous if gleaned as gospel by young, impressionable minds.
Pornography itself, as a concept, is not sexist. It’s not immoral. It is a form for creating the sexual gratification of others. But certain aspects of pornographic content, even mainstream, could have a genuine, negative effect on society. But, is this opt-in block going to change what the true issues of the industry are? Will restrictions on forms of pornography actually help curb these tendencies and help create more well-rounded content for those who want it? We will have to see. But I, personally, am dubious as to whether any kind of block will help with the end-goal of the campaign – to stop horrendous attacks against the most vulnerable. Surely the time, money and effort could be spent in other ways – education and rehabilitation, helping to develop a mutual respect within relationships and within society. Instead of open eyes to the seedy underbelly of our society, of misogyny, a minority with a lack of sexual respect and violent tendencies, it seems as though the government have decided that the best strategy is to draw the curtains on the matter entirely.