(I wrote this back in July – it was supposed to be published in The Drum but for reasons best left to them it just sat there, oh well – anyway – it’s still relevant and I’m writing a follow-up so I felt the need to get it out there for the half a dozen folk who read this! This would have been number 16 in the ‘What were they thinking’ series btw.)
I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come… We need to stop Vile images of child abuse on the internet which are illegal
David Cameron July 2013
Our leader, our moral compass, our ‘captain oh captain’ has shown his utter lack of inspiration and absolute desperation in trying to resolve the fundamental problem that he is most likely, in political terms anyway, going down in history’s as a cautionary tale of how destructive a prime minister can actually be. All in the name of our children.
- He had the opportunity to make a name by going after the banks who destroyed our children’s futures.
- He could have been the one who finally got the darker side of the media under control instead of endorsing Page 3 as a consumer choice.
- He could have made sure every kid in the country had a computer, or hell, had milk at lunchtime.
- He could have made a stand to prevent rationing of paediatric units.
- He could have kept a system which provided affordable childcare so people can afford to work.
- He could have fought to keep money in the public school system instead of encouraging Academies.
- He could have made it harder and less attractive for kids to start smoking.
- He could have stopped criminalising youth with Mosquito’s and surveillance, creating the most alienated generation ever.
But No! When it comes to our kids, he weighed up all the options and decided to look after the moral well being of our children, because we are incapable of doing it ourselves.
When your back is against the wall, often the best recourse is to utter the words ‘For the Children’. It’s the safest thing you can possibly say – more often than not you get away with it because it’s unlikely that anybody is going to argue with the sentiment.
What was he thinking?
Back in July ago, whilst conferring with the NSPCC our leader decided to go after the porn. What do you think was going through his head at the time, what was the brief that lead us to this conclusion?
- Given the amount of negative press around GCHQ, Prism, etc. can we find a positive spin on government interference with the web?
- The cause is something which nobody is going to disagree with on principal – low hanging fruit which doesn’t provide too much tax revenue? (Note: The porn industry has shrunk by almost 90% in the last 6 years, and most of the money lives in the US so therefore not a very lucrative target for fund or tax raising.)
- We need to avoid anything which will require significant parliamentary sign-off in case it back fires.
- We can leverage with the bad press the tech industry has had recently around tax avoidance to guilt them into action.
- We don’t actually care whether it’s actually possible – it just needs to sound plausible. In fact the ease which people can circumvent could be turned into a blessing as an argument for stronger regulation, moving the conversation from ‘should we’ to ‘how can we’.
- It needs to sound like we’re doing the public a favour – using language like ‘opt-in’, ‘protect’ and ‘default’.
- We can’t be seen to be taking any responsibility for any collateral damage. Who can we make responsible for ‘black listing’; we can then pass the blame when large chunks of the Internet just disappear by accident.
- We can use such big broad terms like ‘Pornography’ without clear definition allowing us to move the ‘line’ as it suits our purpose.
A winning strategy?
It’s actually a pretty strong strategy from a political point of view but elegantly illustrates how fundamentally dangerous people with lots of power and very little actual knowledge can be. It neatly hides some of the longer term agendas that this would facilitate. For example: If you asked a kid if they had a choice of watching Iron Man 3 / Twilight 6 / w’ever big hollywood flick online or pornography for free what do think the response would be? We all know – but it actually doesn’t matter – that’s the genius of Cameron’s master plan – since both are ‘illegal’ and now we have our filters in place; we can kill two birds with one stone! In fact there are a bunch of things which the moral majority are opposed to so let’s let people opt out of them too – ‘esoteric material’, ‘web forums’, ‘social networks’ for instance. Why stop at porn?
What could he do better?
I’m entirely against censorship but if we just do a ‘what if’ the argument that hiding porn from kids will prevent bad things from happening then surely there are a whole bunch of other factors.
First and foremost, blocking isn’t removing it as the Polish prime minister pointed out, he also rightly said – “We shall not block access to legal content regardless of whether or not it appeases us aesthetically or ethically.”
Where is the strategy to catch the ‘bad actors’ (sorry in this context it’s a great term). You would have to be pretty stupid to allow your illegal porn to be google index-able anyway and surely if you did it then wouldn’t it become trivial for find and prosecute you?
In fact I suspect 99% of what is technically kiddy porn is by the kids, for the kids as the rise of sexting and snap chat show – it’s peer to peer as opposed to pervert to pervert. This is in part an education issue but also a consequence of every teenager having an internet enabled phone in their hands. Finding the real sicko’s requires good detective work to counter rather than the mass criminalisation of youth.
Spending money on education seems to be out of the question. If you don’t know how to ‘use the net’ then frankly you are at a massive disadvantage anyway. Wouldn’t the money be better spent helping people understand how they, themselves, can keep their children safe. For most of these kids online porn isn’t the problem anyway – online bullying is – and this, again does nothing to help that.
One of Cameron’s arguments is that this behaviour is as a result of exposure to negative portrayal of women in Porn. If that’s the case then isn’t mainstream media just as responsible? Showing my age but I remember the first time seeing ‘S-Club Jr’s’ and thinking that the world has officially gone nuts. Pop culture is the definition of the over-sexualisation of youth. But do I think it should be censored? No, of course not.
If there’s a watershed on the TV then why isn’t there one for the internet?
As has been demonstrated dramatically with the blocking of the Pirate Bay – most moves to censor shine a light on the unsavoury and in fact increase traffic to the sites, not the other way round. Streisand will attest to that. Not least the tools like Immunicity to circumvent are already there rendering the whole thing a bit pointless.
And that’s the problem. In one fell swoop he has made the ISPs responsible for the content of the net. – Just look about the current debate around Twitter’s status as a platform or publisher. This is substantially more far reaching than simply just the ability to rapidly report and act on abuse. It set’s the precedent that those who maintain the ‘phone lines’ are responsible for obscene phone callers. The impact of one of the G8 pushing this forward (largely because they couldn’t in the US due to their pesky constitution, will, and already is being felt globally. You can pretty much exclude all user-generated content. Our future becomes the curation of authorised media. Great.
A few months about when we were all discussing ‘the right to be forgotten’ Cameron tried to push through rules in the E.U. saying that each country should have their own policy on how they deal with it. Which is as impractical as this filtering nonsense.
Overly dramatic yes, but illustrates why politicians should stay the hell away at least until they fundamental understanding about how the internet works.
Ultimately he seeks causality in the consumption of something legal and consumed by many with the work of an individual mad mother fracker. One. Not an epidemic, not a patient Zero. One sadly disturbed individual who went out and raped & killed a child the same age as my son. That to me is horrifying but does it make me fear for the safety of my son. Well no, he is still more likely to get knocked over by a bus, by a substantial order of magnitude than he is to be the victim of a sexual predator. At least I hope that is the case, the reality is that nothing Saint David is proposing will make my son any safer than he is right now. Therefore, we will parent and educate to equip our children and ourselves.
David. For our Freedom. For our Future. For Frack Sake. Stop it. For the Children.
Jon Bains is a father of two and partner in business futures practice Atmosphere