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Internet ‘filtering’ was always the thin edge of the wedge (part 2)

Tues. 14 Apr. 2015

In “part 1” of my writing on the latest developments in the march towards UK internet censorship I implied that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Children (NSPCC) was in reality a lobby group. Whether the NSPCC has often acted in the manner of a lobby group I wouldn’t know, but they certainly have on this occasion; they have at least acted as an apparently very willing accessory to government policy PR – which could actually be worse than just being a lobby group that struck lucky.

Of course I’m not the only one to “smell a rat in the house”, as I put it: Jerry Barnett of the Sex & Censorship campaign, in conjunction with freelance journalist Frankie Mullin and Clarissa Smith, professor of sexual cultures at Sunderland University, has once again taken the lead on this with an open letter to the NSPCC’s CEO, signed by well over 30 academics, psychologists, journalists, educators and others and released on the Sex & Censorship website last Saturday evening. I urge you to read it: Open letter to NSPCC “porn addiction” study.

This document rightly achieved mainstream news coverage, notably by The Independent (see NSPCC accused of risking its reputation and ‘whipping up moral panic’ with study into porn addiction among children). Ian Dunt of Politics.co.uk joined the fray, adding further context to what rightly should become a national scandal: How the NSPCC lost its way. (I would, by the way, recommend Politics.co.uk as a viable alternative to the BBC and other more mainstream media as a source of news and information on current affairs.) Then of course there is Frankie Mullin, who first called the NSPCC “survey”, or whatever they want to call it, to account, following up her original whistleblowing article for VICE with Children addicted to porn? Don’t believe everything the surveys say for the Guardian. And if you haven’t already read it, my “part 1” of this saga also provides context, at least for some of my comments in this present piece, and further links (including to Ms Mullins’ VICE article).

Now, I’m not sure this is entirely relevant, but it does undeniably add some extra colour to the NSPCC’s history that goes beyond commissioning a dodgy online poll that more resembles a plank in a political marketing campaign: Jimmy Savile sought Margaret Thatcher Stoke Mandeville help (hint: it’s in the photo).

Whether censoring the internet helps “protect” children or not is a hotly debated topic; regardless of the “think of the children” argument (Mr Savile was certainly thinking of the children, wasn’t he), the whole “filtering” exercise casts a shadow of repression over sexuality as a whole, and reinforces centuries of ingrained psychological guilt over sexual expression. The message is this: “You want to access pornography? You are at risk – or dirty, and at worst are a threat to society.” This message applies whether it is, in fact, pornography that is desired, or whether what is desired is internet access unimpeded by arbitrary and dangerously flawed censorship imposed by moral lobbyists and grandstanding politicians looking at populist election platforms and greater overall control over what a population is able to access. Which brings us back to the point that internet “filtering” is not, and was never intended to be, solely about porn: it is “an objectionable content” filter (see Cameron’s internet filter goes far beyond porn - and that was always the plan).

If internet censorship ends up being enforced, I don’t think anyone knows yet where the line will be drawn. Perhaps even those who are no doubt already planning censorship measures don’t know yet. Will it only be “hardcore” online video that will be targeted, or will it extend to hardcore still images as well? If it will include still images, where will the censorship line there be drawn? In the long run it won’t matter: once this process works up to full steam, the categories of banned material will just grow and grow, and imagery that escapes the initial round of banning will progressively be brought into the censored net. Will it even stop at imagery (which already includes some categories of cartoons, manga and anime)? Could it eventually be extended to the written word, something which has, since 1960 or so in the UK, basically found itself protected? (See my News item No, arguing the case for quality is not elitist!).

In line with the “objectionable content” filter that is already operating and that blocks access to much more than sex-related material, including political and even social content, enforced internet censorship will gradually expand to include all sorts of material. And unlike the present situation where over-blocking can be dubiously excused by ISPs as technical faults or whatever (i.e. basically unintentional), the new censorship will be deliberate, state-sanctioned policy.

Are such eventualities impossible? Certainly not. Unfortunately, they are far from impossible, to the point – at this depressing stage – to even be likely. For example, even before these latest, scandalous NSPCC–Tory-led moves towards censoring the internet, Reporters Without Borders, cited by Wikipedia, has the UK as of 2014 “listed among the ‘Enemies of the Internet’...a category of countries with the highest level of internet censorship and surveillance that ‘mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users’. Other major economies listed in this category include China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.” Links to the original Reporters Without Borders reports are contained in the Wikipedia article: Internet censorship in the United Kingdom.

Is this really the UK domestic crisis of the decade, as I previously claimed? I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself – but please don’t take my word for it: look into it, and do more than scratch the surface in doing so.

Mistress Geo