The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “internet”

The arguments for and against internet blocking

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)




Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower

There was a time when the JobCentre was there to help people find jobs. When I went into my local JobCentre in the summer of 2012 to inquire about work opportunities I was pointed towards a computer terminal and told to get on with it. It was made clear this was normal practice, no additional help normally available.

The blog from Beastrabban\’s Weblog below shows comments on a Guardian report from 2011 about the practices of JobCentres. My experience from 2012 and since suggests not a lot has changed.

In my recent voluntary work in the autumn of 2013 I worked with people who are terrified of being sanctioned because they have not met JobCentre demands to apply online for a specified number of jobs every day or every week. Some of these applications often have to be made online via a specific website the JobCentre can access to track claimants’ activity. The website is cumbersome to use and prone to faults. It doesn’t matter if the claimant has never used a computer before, or even if they know how to turn a computer on let alone access the internet, let alone cope with clunky inadequate jobsearch websites. It doesn’t matter that many online applications can take an hour to complete for even the most competent computer user. They still have to achieve the target of job applications using a system with which they are either unfamiliar or not confident. There is no support or sympathy from the JobCentre. Instead the claimants are expected to enlist the help of friends or family who are more familiar with computers and the internet if that’s possible, or find their way to public internet cafes (where these still exist and can become quite expensive); or the alternative option of using UK Online Centres which are usually most easily found in libraries where they are over-subscribed and time limited to an hour (not enough to fill in a job application with ASDA which takes an hour and a half for someone experienced at using the internet – I tried it) and with only the minimum of help and advice available. In larger towns the voluntary sector is filling in the gap with UK Online provisions but funding is poor and dependent on volunteers, many of whom themselves are there because they need the work experience to keep the JobCentre happy.

Meanwhile a whole industry has been created out of this situation. Private agencies who are publicly funded provide work related training, the better ones having offices where clients can access the internet for job searches.

But the greatest damage is in the stress caused by fear of sanctions. In some people their stress levels have become so high it has blocked their capacity to learn even the simplest of things.

Stress can do that. It can block the ability to learn. I’ve been there myself, in a particularly stressful work situation where I was conscious of the fact that while I could continue to function on a day to day basis I was completely incapable of learning from new experiences or even make the best use of ‘reflective’ learning.

I’ve also seen the effect in others when I worked with refugees from war torn countries: intelligent men (and sometimes women) whose terrible memories and experiences were so overpowering they struggled to learn new skills that would help them settle in their new environment (this effect was well known at the time but I will have to find the links to any further evidence and add it here later – in the meantime there is reference to the effect of stress on learning at

Targets and sanctions are the tools of the neoliberal, capitalist, managerialist, society and work environment that has been created over the last couple of decades. But it’s not effective. The weakest and more vulnerable, the already disempowered, are the victims of this society we have created. And it’s time we spoke up about the effect this is having.

Beastrabban\'s Weblog

This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown off Jobseekers’ Allowance. These revelations are made by a whistleblower, whose face is naturally shadowed and voice disguised. He states that there is competition between departments and offices to have the most people thrown off benefits. According to the Jobcentre employee, the staff have two option available for getting someone off benefits: either find them a job, ‘which is really difficult’, or have them thrown off benefits ‘which is really easy’. He states that the DWP deliberately targets the young, because of their lack of maturity and experience, the under-educated, and those with problems reading and writing, such as sufferers from dyslexia. They will not try to remove the tough and experienced from the benefits system.

Mike over at Vox Political has described Atos and the Coalition…

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Will social work sites be burned up by the UK firewall?

Is the UK government’s proposal of an opt-out ‘parental firewall’ a matter for social work?  After all it is being promoted as ‘parental’: helping parents protect their children from exposure to pornography, the promotion of suicide and anorexia, to name just a few of the ills and evils faced by modern society.

Does it matter that, in a drive to protect children, this move would have huge implications for free speech in restricting public access to the internet?

Sure, there is to be an opt-out button, but what effect will that have?

On Social Work

As one UK blogger has succinctly put it, “Coverage of important issues like pornography, child abuse, LGBT, eating disorders, depression, suicide, domestic violence, drug use and sexual health advice will be forced out of mainstream coverage, and made virtually inaccessible to anyone whose family has enabled web censorship in their home.”  No more access to BASW online, or SCIE reports for social workers then!  I can hardly imagine local authorities and private employers lifting access on work based internet access so no more work based online research for social workers, especially on sensitive subjects such as ritualistic abuse (‘esoteric’ sites are also likely to be subject to barring) – more work to be done at home!

Women, and men, suffering from domestic violence, patients with mental health or addictions problems, children who are being abused and want to find help, may all find themselves with reduced options for seeking information and help.  It’s not enough to say that these victims should contact their doctor, social worker, the police, teacher or any other of a number of people and organisations who can offer support and help.  As social workers we know those are options, but we also know that people take a long time to find the courage to make those contacts.  In the meantime they seek information from wherever they can find it, including the internet.  Even, in one case, a 7 year old child apparently contacting a Facebook moderator because she was being abused by her uncle and was too scared to ask elsewhere for help.  On occasion I have successfully encouraged vulnerable clients to use media such as television and the internet to reinforce messages I have been trying to promote – perhaps no more.

On vulnerable children

What about the children? Children who are already protected by their parents will continued to be protected.  The very ones the government seeks to protect, and especially the most vulnerable among them, the abused and neglected, will continue to be at risk.  As social workers we know that the homes where the most vulnerable children live are the same homes where the opt-out button is most likely to be applied.  The same homes where pornography, dirty needles, drugs and neglect are already physical daily hazards to be navigated.

I’m not alone in my concerns.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation have pointed out that “…if you wish to defend your nation’s children from abuse, when such abuse is frequently from within the family then locking children away from external but “adult” advice and giving the key to those who control the rest of their lives, is the worst possible strategy. That’s why youth advice charities and abuse survivors have come out against these filters.

On Education

How will the firewall affect further and higher education?  How will universities and colleges respond to the opt-out button?

I don’t particularly want to view pornography but who will draw the line, who will define what is or is not acceptable.  Several years ago there was a humorous news reporting of Daily Star journalists being unable to access their own newspaper’s website because it violated the company’s firewall access policy*.  What if a teacher of senior school pupils or college students wants to set an exercise comparing the quality of news reporting in different publications, does that mean The Sun (famous in the UK for its Page 3 pictures) will not be accessible for comparison online even though paper copies can be bought in every High Street and beyond in the country?  Would that exercise be possible when there is the chance that not all students would have access to the necessary information at home, and almost certainly not able to access it in the library or possibly even in school or college or university?  Would the teacher be castigated for including The Sun in the first place, when probably half their students  can see the same newspaper at home?

On society

Common among bloggers and commentators (way to many for me to cite here) is the view that the opt-out button will have a sub-conscious self-censoring effect on us all.  We will have to make a decision to declare what we want access to.  We will think twice before we opt to be able to access (but not necessarily actually view) anything that might be related to violence, terrorism or pornography.  We might want to be able to access some aspects, low key elements, of these areas for our work, particularly if we are involved in social work, policing, education or even journalism, but we would have to think twice before we clicked that button, lest government agents learn of our choices and label us subversive.

Following on from the recent revelations in the US about the extent to which governments can obtain access to our personal information, e-correspondence and activities, also common among bloggers and commentators is the view that the extent of the firewall proposals, as revealed by the Open Rights Group, is a backdoor method of UK government increasing their control of the British public.

The Spectator online considers the risk that these attempts to tackle online pornography from a British perspective will only push pornography further ‘underground’ where the most dangerous porn can already be accessed, making it less traceable and more dangerous.  Contrary to the government position this will endanger rather than protect the abused and vulnerable.

The government proposals show a naivete in understanding the perversity of human nature and how quickly those who want to will subvert any restrictions, as this Yahoo! News report suggests the possibility of blocking all non-porn sites!

There is no doubt still much to be revealed about the government’s plans but these proposals, due to take effect later this year, are pernicious and dangerous and do little to protect the vulnerable but rather take away some of their resources.  As social workers we should concern ourselves with the effect not only on our own lives but on those we strive to serve, the vulnerable.

* This was at least 4-5 years ago and I have not been able to find confirmation of this report online.  If anyone remembers this and can confirm the story, or provide a link, that would be much appreciated.

Just a few of the many blogs and commentaries on this subject not already cited above – in no particular order

BBC News Report of David Cameron’s speech
Boing BoingNational Review Online
Right Thinking
Huffington Post
The Economist
(on how China censors the Internet)
Open Rights Group

The World is Ruled by Fear

Dictatorship or democracy – who has the power?

Who and what keeps the people ‘under control’.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the West was fearful of Russia and communism.  After the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet Union broke up these fears lost their power.

In the 80’s and 90’s public fears changed from communism to global warming and the end of the world’s resources – coal, water, gas.  We may yet run out of these resources but they are taking longer to come about than was suggested at the time and these fears have lost their power.

Although the promotion of the fear of global warming has continued the new millennium has seen it give way in the fear stakes to the “War on Terror” – fear of attacks on the West and the US from Muslim forces in particular, opening the doors to the proliferation of CCTV and oppressive security measures such as the recently exposed news of the US government’s official internet snooping of the world’s population.

What next?

It doesn’t matter.  Keep the people in fear of something and you keep them distracted from what the rulers and politicians are up to.

Whatever our personal opinions, whatever our politics, we need to be aware of what influences us and be prepared to take an independent viewpoint if we are to protect the vulnerable and weak in society.

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