On Monday 7th February the Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey will be meeting with Internet Service Providers to discuss blocking pornographic sites at source to protect children from viewing them. Any adults wishing access such sites would have to specifically ‘opt in’.
Pornography has a profound and negative effect on children shaping attitudes and values that contribute to the objectification of women, increased sexual risk taking and the relaxation of boundaries of sexual violence.
We know that an increasing number of children in this county are being referred to addiction clinics with pornography related issues and yet at no point in history has it been easier or cheaper for children to access a ready supply of pornography. The bottom line is that we are raising a generation of children growing up with easy and unimpeded access to the entire panoply of human perversion and sexual deviation and we can only guess at the impact of such free access on the society of the future.
This ready access to pornography by children is not always sought out; research has found that children experience unwanted exposure to sexual material from activities including innocent word searching, clicking on a link in another site, misspelling a URL or via a pop up.
Although the managers of websites featuring adult content have a legal responsibility to indicate clearly on their front pages that their sites are unsuitable for children under 18, in practice this offers little protection and is likely to incite a curious child to investigate further. The online gambling industry has introduced workable age-verification restrictions but no such protections exist to prevent children from accessing harmful pornography.
It is anomalous in the extreme that whilst, quite rightly, regulations exist to protect children from inappropriate television broadcasts, cinema films, advertising and newsagents’ displays no such protections exist online. Even the mobile phone industry has produced a model restricting access to adult material subject to age verification.
It is time to recognise that the internet is a mature medium and it is no longer appropriate that it should be seen as some kind of ‘wild west’ where anything goes. The internet has reached the age of majority; it is time it grew up.
There is a suggestion that it is entirely the responsibility of parents to safeguard their children from harmful imagery and yet many parents say that they are not confident in their ability to install a filter. As a society we owe a duty of care to children whose parents cannot or will not protect them.
The six largest ISPs in the country control in excess of 90% of the market. With revenues of more than £3 billion annually these companies must share the responsibility for protecting children online. We support the proposal for an ‘opt-in’ system to block adult sites at source unless specifically requested.
We understand that it is unlikely that any system proposed could be 100% effective but we submit that filters must be as comprehensive as possible. Any level of protection is better than the current voluntary system on offer.