I have already bloged about the British government’s decision to introduce compulsory internet blocking in the UK, at source. In order to view websites that contain references to drugs, sex, rape, domestic violence, murder and suicide, householders will have to consciously ‘turn off’ the blocking. The same goes for terrorism and bomb making. The purpose of this is to protect children in the home from having access to potentially harmful websites, especially pornography and some of the sites that have encouraged eating disorders in children and adolescents.
I argued before that this will only protect the children who are already protected. Responsible parents could always apply parental controls and take steps to supervise children’s access to the internet. Children who are already in households where they are vulnerable to neglect and abuse are more likely to experience parenting where there is less or no supervision of internet access, and whose parents are just as likely to turn off the blocking features that would protect their children from accessing harmful material. These are the same households where children may well find pornographic videos readily available on the shelf next to the TV/DVD.
And of course there is still the risk children from ‘protected’ households will be friends with children from vulnerable households and access these sites unsupervised.
This is what seems to be the case in a recent report of a 12 year old boy who sexually assaulted his younger sister after watching hard-core porn on an Xbox with a group of friends at the house of one of the friends. At home his internet use was monitored. When his parents had discovered he had accessed porn using his phone during a sleepover at a friend’s house they had confiscated his phone. They were not aware at the time of the abuse that was happening with their daughter. Everything in the reporting of this case suggests that this boy came from a ‘protected’ home but had friends whose parents were less vigilant.
The case is tragic and underlines the association between viewing pornography and sexual abuse.
But it doesn’t change my mind on the reasons against automatic blocking:
- as tragic as this case is, the boy was clearly able to access inappropriate pornography at a friend’s house – that won’t change
- vulnerable people, victims of domestic violence or other forms of abuse may find it harder to access websites where they can get help and advice – the internet is increasingly a source of information in these situations, especially where the victim is unwilling to risk approaching the authorities (common) – and it is unlikely that public internet providers, such as libraries, will ‘risk’ turning off any blocking on their systems
- genuine research by social and health care professionals and university students will require the lifting of many of the automatic blocking – employers and universities are likely to be cautious about turning off internet blocking
- and finally, this is a removal of individual responsibility and accountability in society – an attack on freedoms and liberty (in my previous blog I mentioned concerns that have been raised regarding the sub-conscious pressure on self-censorship and worries about official interference and spying as ‘opting-out’ will be recorded by internet providers)