Why Britain blocking Pornography is a bad thing…

…and not just because of freedom of speech.

Although not my standard discussion, I want to quickly discuss this topic that’s being floated around Britain at the moment.

Several people in the country, including MP’s, are discussing the idea of forcing ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) to block internet pornography in the UK.  Another option is for pornography and related adult websites to be available to only those that request such access on purchase of their internet connection (undoubtedly for a fee).

There are so many problems with this that it seems laughable that people would even consider going along with it. Yet the ideas have large amount of support, from leading politicians, to some toe rag in the Evening Standard (Richard Godwin, claiming that pornography is “traumatic” to men watching it). ISP’s have laughed at the idea of being able to police such a famously uncontrollable force, but you can bet that if this idea even gets within spitting distance of being made law, you can tell exactly what side they’ll be rooting for, and not just because of the money involved.

See, currently ISPs have little control of the internet. They slow speed down over certain things, like large (probably illegal) downloads, as well as over peak times. This “herding” is done for several reasons, but it’s mostly harmless to the user. However, give them laws to restrict or control the content of the internet, and suddenly they have a huge monopoly on their hands. Rather like television, they could sell access to sites in “packages”. Not unlike a sports television package, ISP’s could (and almost certainly would) package together sites of a similar nature, charging for access. Social network sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter would almost certainly become a premium package (as the market is huge), while user defined content sites, such as Wikipedia, would fall into other categories, etc. These sets, and more, would be available for an additional charge, and here’s the real bitch-none of that money would go to the creators of the original content. Wikipedia doesn’t make money as it is, because it is a not for profit organisation. By charging for selective access to this, youtube, and more, you are taking away freedom, and profiting from other sources intellectual property.  Ironic, considering the backlash that there has been against illegal downloading.

There are other issues as well. The definition of “pornography” is pretty vague, and has changed dramatically over time. Instead of a pornography restriction, an “offensive content” restriction may take its place, and that would be catastrophic for all forums celebrating free speech, religious and/or atheist websites, lgbt websites, as well as many forms of subculture, especially sexual sites, such as the Bizarre Magazine or Torture Gardens website. These are already the victims of prejudice on social networking platforms, but in effectively removing them from easy access on the internet, you drive these subcultures underground again, where seeking information can be hard, and potentially dangerous. The lack of education about said subcultures is also a dangerous possibility, with the internet being a rich source of information for interested or ignorant people.

The internet isn’t like a book. In a book you can edit out unnecessary words or paragraphs, without noticeably changing the storyline. Rather, it is more like a library, and when you start removing books and whole categories from the library, it becomes limited, specialist and useless to many people. As one of our finest tools, one of our greatest technological advances in communication, it should not be restricted in such a way. We don’t restrict the information given in a phone call, or in a letter, regardless of what people may think of the content. While the information on the internet could be deemed “harmful” (and I would argue that point) that’s what parental controls were created for, which brings me to my final bugbear about the whole thing.

Restrictions for “harmful” websites already exist. Parental Controls, while already very good, are constantly improving and reinventing themselves to be as absolute as possible. And why not, it’s a valuable market, one which is profited upon by software developers, and not ISPs. Many homes that experience children being exposed to pornography and suchlike either do not possess Parental Controls, or they don’t use them properly. If ignorance is not an excuse for accidently breaking the law, then it certainly isn’t for bad parenting. If parents want to learn more about these controls, they can type their questions directly into google to find a result. They’d better do so soon, however, otherwise the page with the desired information may only be available under the “home and lifestyle” package.

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