God wants an opt-in porn filter

I’ve just been reading through Clare Perry’s ‘Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection‘ which, of course, recommends the introduction of opt-in porn filters on internet connections in the UK, and its fair to say that I’ve spotted one or two problems with the report that need to be flagged up.

Problem number 1 can be found in the title of the report and the use of the words ‘Independent’ and ‘Parliamentary Inquiry’.

‘Independent’, in this case, translates into the following branding on the back page of the report.

For the avoidance of all doubt, Safer Media’s charitable objects read as follows:

The protection of good mental and physical health, in particular of children and young people, by working in accordance with Christian values to minimise the availability of potentially harmful media content displaying violence, pornography and explicit sex, bad language and anti-social behaviour and the portrayal of drugs, and with a view to the reduction of crime by;

A) raising awareness and increasing understanding of the impact of harmful media content among policy makers, service providers and the public.
B) educating the public and providing guidance and support to enable parents and carers to better protect children and young people.
C) monitoring media content for compliance with established national guidelines and standards required by the law and seeking strengthening of these guidelines and standards as necessary in the light of academic research.
D) commissioning and conducting research and disseminating the useful results thereof.

So that’s ‘independent’ as in ‘biased as fuck’.

As for ‘Parliamentary Inquiry’, this should really state ‘Ad-hoc group of MPs operating entirely outside any formal parliamentary structures and with no formal Parliamentary status’.

This ‘inquiry’ is apparently supported by more than sixty MPs and Peers with a ‘core team’ which made up the ‘inquiry panel’ the member’s of which are listed in the report as having been:

Claire Perry, Conservative (Chair)
Peter Aldous, Conservative
Harriett Baldwin, Conservative
Julian Brazier, Conservative
Annette Brooke, Liberal Democrat
Fiona Bruce, Conservative
David Burrowes, Conservative
Mark Garnier, Conservative
Helen Goodman, Labour
Baroness Howe, Cross Bencher
Andrea Leadsom, Conservative
Denis MacShane, Labour
Fiona Mactaggart, Labour
Mark Pawsey, Conservative
David Rutley, Conservative
Andrew Selous, Conservative
Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat

More observant regulars might well note rather a surfeit of known god-botherers there. David Burrowes and Fiona Bruce were both directly involved in the recent ‘Clearing the Ground‘ report of the Christians in Parliament All Party Group, which also masqueraded as an ‘independent parlismetary inquiry’ but which actually amounted to nothing more than extended whinge about non-existent persecution and teh gayerz being treated as equal citizens – that report was sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance.

As for being an inquiry, I can find nothing yet to indicate that an open call for submissions or evidence was ever issued and the sum total of the written evidence considered by the panel appears to consist of;

– An ONS report on internet access,

– An Ofcom report on parent’s and children’s media use and attitudes,

– An EU Kids Online report from the LSE containing very little empirical evidence,

– A report on the ‘Social Cost of Pornography‘ by the Witherspoon Institute, which I’d certainly read if they wren’t charging $30 for it but which, just from its website, contains some dubious looking elements, i.e.:

Pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects, hyperactivates the appetitive system. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. Just as our muscles become impatient for exercise if we’ve been sitting all day, so too do our senses hunger to be stimulated.

Norman Doidge, M.D., Columbia University

Having read some of Doidge’s stuff in the past, my own impression of him is that his enthusiasm for neuro-plasticityleads him to exaggerate its significance and this particular quote is entirely consistent with this tendency.

We’ve also got a YouGov Sex Education survey from 2008 and a survey/article from Psychologies magazine, the less said about which the better –  let’s just say that as a source of reliable evidence, Psychologies is somewhere on a par with HuffPo.

Finally we have this…

Overuse of pornographic material has been shown to desensitise children and young people to violent or sexually aggressive acts, diminish sympathy for victims of sexual assault and reduce children’s own inhibitions, making them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Moreover, a vicious circle of behaviour can develop where exposure to porn leads to early sexual involvement and an increased consumption of sexual media. [10.]

Unfortunately, reference 10 turns out to be an unpublished submission to the ‘inquiry’ by the NSPCC, an organisation that has sadly acquired a reputation for exaggeration and fearmongering in recent years.

In short, there’s precious little evidence on display and what little there is has been chosen is a very selective manner in order to support the reports primary ‘methodology’, ‘proof by anecdote’.

However, the most striking thing about this report is exemplified by the following quotation from the text of one of its oral evidence sessions:

Claire Perry: Harriett did you have a..? I’m so sorry, Jacqui….

Jacqui Smith: The Sex Education Board told me that they thought there should be more sex education for younger people to deal with the impact of online pornography.

Harriett Baldwin: Thank you. Just very quickly really on the technology question because all of this is about online pornography and many teenagers these days will have access to the internet through their mobile phone. I just wondered if you have a view in terms of what likely patterns there are? Are we finding that more and more children have access to that through 3G technology?

During one of the sessions, the importance of sex education was raised – at some length – by Julia Bentley (FPA), Will Gardner (Childnet International) and by Jacqui Smith, and the brush off that Smith got at this point is pretty much illustrative of the ‘inquiry panel’s’ general attitude to the points raised about sex education throughout this sesssion. To say that they were disinterested would be to exaggerate the amount of interest they showed on this point.

Needless to say the report recommends the introduction of opt-in porn filtering but what’s evn more worrying is the panel’s final recommendation:

8. Finally, the Government should consider the merits of a new regulatory structure for online content, with one regulator given a lead role in the oversight and monitoring of internet content and in improving the dissemination of existing internet safety education materials and resources such as ParentPort.

Lest we forget, Safe Media’s stating objectives don;t stop at just pornography…

to minimise the availability of potentially harmful media content displaying violence, pornography and explicit sex, bad language and anti-social behaviour and the portrayal of drugs

These bastards want to censor the internet outright.