Internet censorship: Friend or Foe?

censored

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may have already heard about the new legislation introduced by David Cameron, which will require all broadband providers to block adult content and install parental filters as standard. Proposed to be in action by 2014, these filters will block pornographic material. With the murder of young Tia Sharp still fresh in our minds, this is a welcome move by many.

There are rumours that the filters will block more than just pornography. For example, Wired.co.uk states that users may also be automatically opted in to filters which block violent material, eating disorder websites, suicide related websites and extremist related content. They also go so far as to say that searches for alcohol and smoking related content may be blocked.

Rather than aiming to block this content completely, the new legislation will require users to opt out of having the filters on their internet. The aim apparently being that many users will not want to, or may feel its easier not to, request to opt out and therefore will not be able to access this type of material. Those that do opt out are making themselves known – although at the moment it is not clear whether opting out will be anonymous or whether this information will be recorded in some form… you would suspect that it may be.

This all sounds well and good. I’m sure most of us welcome anything that can help tackle the viewing and sharing of illegal and disturbing content, e.g., the child pornography viewed by Stuart Hazell prior to sexually assaulting and murdering Tia Sharp. Likewise, most will agree that preventing underage users viewing hardcore porn and other extreme content, e.g., self harm, suicide, pro-anorexia sites etc. sounds like a good move. However, Cameron’s proposal has not been without criticism, in fact it is proving to be a very controversial topic.

Let me explain why…

Some believe that the censorship mechanisms will not be accurate enough to function correctly without interfering with our use of the internet. Olly Lennard writing for the Huffington Post gives the example of a computer programmed to detect and block anything that contains a naked person – how would this differentiate between a porn video and a naked person in an art installation or medical textbook?

Comparisons are already being made between our new proposed legislation and the great firewall of China. China is notorious for limiting the content allowed on the country’s internet, this includes the prohibition of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google. Now this is the point in the debate where many people start to think that the censorship may have a downside. However, it is worth noting that we should not get too carried away by the controversy at this stage. The UK legislation is not intending to ban sites completely but rather to remove the chance of accidental stumbling across extreme material (or at least removing that excuse for perpetrators).

Only time will tell what effects the censorship will have upon general internet use. I, as much as the next person, would hate my internet use to be functionally limited by over-enthusiastic filters, nor would I like to have to opt out just to be able to access my social media accounts etc (which I assure you do not contain any extreme material!). However, I am happy to withhold judgement and give the filters a chance, until I hear anything to really cause alarm, as I am happy to support anything which could help to prevent child abuse and material that fuels a pedophiles ‘desires’. Of course, those that are intent on viewing and sharing such material will find alternative methods – such as turning to the darknet (refer to yesterday’s blog entry!) but at least these filters may help to deter the less technical-minded or determined person hoping to find such material.

At the moment I could not even begin to guess at the affect these filters will have. Will they be a positive change or will they backfire, forcing perpetrators to take more extreme, perhaps less traceable actions? I don’t know. What are your thoughts?

As I said before, I guess time will tell. Anything until then is merely speculation…

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6 responses to “Internet censorship: Friend or Foe?

  1. I live in the U.S., so this won’t be affecting me, but I’m getting a weird feeling about. When I first heard that China blocks certain websites, I was appalled. What happened to freedom? Blocking non-violent and non-pornographic websites like Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Youtube makes no sense to me. What exactly is this accomplishing?

    Now the story of Tia Sharp is tragic, and I understand the want to fight back somehow, but I don’t see how blocking certain sites will solve this problem? In the U.S., when alcohol was banned, people were still drinking it all across the country. We have certain drugs banned now, and still people are able to find them and use them.

    I don’t care for censorship. I am curious how it will it go once it’s in place.

  2. this is a really tricky problem. I agree 100% with the basic idea of controlling pornography etc. I see the appalling effect that has on youngsters by sexualising everything. But I have read that this control will include esoteric sites. So anything other than what our society or the government sees as acceptable in religious/spiritual terms may be included. That is quite a slippery slope.

    OK so we can opt out but many people are not very computer savvy so how easy will it be to opt out? If they are doing a general search for something esoteric and nothing shows, will they know they have been blocked or assume nothing is there?

    This is a potential minefield.

  3. My problem with it is where will it end? Is Cameron going to come in to our homes and decide what books we read, what magazines, what we listen too? The internet is a world wide thing, it can’t be controlled. Perverts and peadophiles will find a way of getting and spreading these images, David Cameron being top dog in a Nanny state will hardly stop it.

    I don’t like the idea at all.

  4. Your article about censorship is balanced and well-thought out, I believe. It’s been said that the Internet of today is like the “wild west” of the past, in that it’s largely uncontrolled.

    I’m not sure that censorship is the best solution. I don’t think it would stop the “bad guys” – they would just find another way to propagate their vileness. I’m not sure what the solution is, except to each one, individually, guard their own families and their own lives.

    To me, the wall of protection begins at home.

  5. I live in the US and censorship, as far as I know, has not yet begun legally. I imagine that it is not to distant in our future either.

    I think this is a fine line. I understand making it difficult for the “BAD” sites and what they promote but generally giving the govt., any govt, MORE POWER to control has never worked well for citizens as evidenced through-out history. And the govt always screws it up and then it might not work anyway but will prob cause other probs for regular folks.

    Yeah lol just my 2 cents 🙂

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