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Filtering Out Online Porn Is a Dumb Idea

Some Conservative MP over in Winnipeg named Joy Smith—a woman with approximately zero understanding of how the internet works—is proposing that the Canadian government install a massive filter to block out pornography unless a user “opts in” to see...
July 25, 2013, 3:50pm

An eccentric gentleman using his right to free speech to dress up as internet porn itself. via WikiCommons.

Some Conservative MP over in Winnipeg named Joy Smith—a woman with approximately zero understanding of how the internet works—is proposing that the Canadian government install a massive filter to block out pornography unless a user “opts in” to see boobies and dicks flashing all over their MacBook. While this may seem like a good idea to four or five people out there, who truly believe that the internet can be regulated in such a way, this kind of proposal is indicative of a widespread misunderstanding of the internet and, worse still, a deep-seated desire to censor it dramatically.

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Joy needs to use her powers of determination to Google the results of David Cameron’s so called “war on internet porn” over there in the UK. One would imagine that David sat down with a team of advisors and internet security experts who told him, “What are you talking about?” “How would we do that?” and “No.” While David came out against internet porn in a dramatic fashion, saying that it was “corroding childhood,” the idea that porn at large could be censored out is a dizzyingly absurd idea.

In short, it’s kinda too late to start pulling the porn out of our interweb tubes. It’s been estimated that as little as 4% and as much as 37% of the internet is made up of porn. And this, of course, presents some tricky semantic issues. Is erotic fiction porn? Is an animated GIF of a butt, porn? David Cameron also ran into trouble from people who suggested that sexual health sites would get caught up in his massive porn filter.

Plus, if we start collecting the names of everyone who wants to opt-in to porn viewing, we are allowing the government to have a database of everyone who wants to watch a little bit of sex on their computer screen. What could possibly go wrong there? If the Conservative government is going to attack Justin Trudeau for being a drama teacher, what would they do if someone “leaked” information that he also enjoyed a little bit of Spankwire and LobsterTube after his hippie-dippie yoga session? And vice-versa. What would a Liberal or NDP candidate do with the information that Stephen Harper willingly checked out some titty-flicks in his spare time? It’s madness. David Cameron also admitted that by installing such a policy in his nation’s lawbooks, husbands and wives would have to disclose to their spouses (if they were keeping it a secret in the first place) that they were porn watchers.

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I would like to think that David Cameron and Joy Smith have their hearts in the right place. Child exploitation is an incredibly serious issue and the way it is policed online certainly has room for improvement. On top of that, I certainly do not believe the internet should be fully unregulated. There are a lot of terrible things happening online right now, and those terrible things need to be policed. In December of last year, I reported on a network of men blackmailing young women to death on the internet. And that still exists. The suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons earlier this year reminded us how a horribly traumatic sexual assault can be exponentially amplified by online harassment. In response, the government of Nova Scotia is setting up an investigative cyberbullying task force that will hopefully prevent and properly prosecute future harassment crimes that live online. Likewise, Twitter is introducing a Microsoft-built (uh oh) technology called PhotoDNA that will help identify when child abuse pictures are posted. That’s a great thing, and these are the kinds of precise, strategic actions our governments should be taking.

Legal porn, on the other hand, is a chaotic force that we should not be wasting our time trying to contain. The first time I saw internet porn was because of the 90s children’s show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? In the episode that introduced me to porn, the host of the game show asked what the website of the president was, during the Bill Clinton era. Given that the internet was a flashy new invention at the time, a question like this was actually somewhat difficult for a child to answer. The options included the correct answer (whitehouse.gov) and a fake one (bubba.com). Bubba was, of course, the codename for the president of the time. Even though the answer was obviously not bubba.com, as a curious nine or ten year old with an internet connection, I wanted to see what was on Bubba anyway. As the site loaded through my painfully slow dial-up connection, I remember seeing boobs. Very clearly. Even then, I was shocked that PBS had officially shown me my first porn site—but I wasn’t necessarily mad about it. Likewise, there were the Playboy magazines that would always appear in the garbage cans at my elementary school, or the one kid in my class who found his dad’s favourite porn VHS, taped under the pool table in his basement. Porn is part of society, and for a lot of kids, it’s part of growing up. Even if they’re not searching it out. That may not be something to be proud of, but it’s also not necessarily something we need to spend mass amounts of public resources trying to contain.

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The internet is a massively confusing and scary place for a lot of people. It’s growing up faster than most would have expected, and it is certainly providing new avenues for sexual predators to act out on their sick impulses. But, to create a governmental registry of porn watchers is a poor, blanket approach to a very specific problem. People should be concerned anytime the government proposes a massive infrastructure change to the internet, because we know from SOPA and all the other iterations of it that they don’t really know what they’re talking about. We already know the internet is being completely surveilled by our governments, so what more do they want? Hopefully, instead of these catch-all proposals for internet censorship, we will see more focused attempts to weed out the child abusers and sexual predators online. That’s what the internet needs right now. Not more moralistic politicians trying to remove all the consenting adult cocks and butts from the interweb.

Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patrickmcguire

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