Once again, the politicians have decided to enter into the “WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING!” pissing contest over a race to block as much porn as possible in order to… do something involving children. The language of both sets of press quotes seems to conflate a hell of a lot of things with each other, so it’s kind of complicated unpicking exactly why they want to do each of the things they’re planning on doing.
In the blue corner, David Cameron wants ISPs to set up filters which automatically block porn, block certain search terms and have more power to shut down file-sharing networks, as well as banning “porn depicting rape”. In the red corner, Labour want to do kind of exactly the same thing, but vaguely say that the government aren’t going far enough (despite them doing exactly the same as Labour want) and that they “know it works” in reference to porn-filtering.
It’s hard to know where to start with this bollocks, so let’s start with all of the things that are being conflated here. Labour and the Tories alike have hit cross-party consensus in conflating images of child abuse, rape porn (where it sounds like they are throwing in the consensual stuff along with actual images of actual rapes, which are actually illegal anyway) and children seeing porn. These are all very different things, but it’s easy to see why they have lumped all of these things together. Start with the hideous, move on to raising the spectre of something that a lot of people find disgusting, and then finally park in raising concerns over just general, vanilla internet porn, because what if a child sees? It’s a clever way of gaining support for actions which will achieve very little on a social level, while granting politicians a world to win with increased internet controls.
Let’s talk about the specifics of some of the proposals here, and how woefully ineffectual they’re likely to be. Now, I for one am not a fan of letting providers put content locks on the internet. if you’re on O2, might I take this opportunity to say you smell of a dog turd on a hot day and you’re a suppurating dickmelon? It’s OK, I can say that as if you’re on O2, you’re almost certainly not reading this blog because apparently it’s porn and you’d have to pay your mobile provider in order to “verify your age” and get to see what I’ve written. Now, you might notice that my blog is not porn. I’d wager you’d have a hard time cracking one out to this blog, and even if you do, your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK.
Obviously, it’s not all about me, and there’s a lot of stuff which gets blocked by mobile content locks, such as sexual health sites and LGBT sites. In short, things that definitely aren’t porn and information that young people ought to be able to access. A lot of social justice websites also disappear under content locks as many of us are talking about sex and rape and all that stuff which apparently young people ought to be kept completely unaware of, leaving them to learn about sex and sexuality and consent through the medium of terrible fanfiction.
It gets worse when you add in the possibility of blocking certain search terms. Sometimes, any given search term will be used by a survivor in order to make sense of what happened to them, in order to find support from people who have been through similar. By just flat-out blocking these search terms, access to vital support could well be blocked. Yes, David Cameron seems to think this can be safeguarded by blocking results and instead sticking up a helpline number, but sometimes a helpline is not what survivors want. Sometimes it’s a search for a community, sometimes merely an indication that what happened to them was wrong. This move could well prove to be dangerous.
As for throwing in rape porn, I’ve made my views on this matter perfectly clear. A ban isn’t the solution. What could solve these problems is hard, far too hard for a media-friendly quick fix, the appearance of something being done.
With all of this is the pervasive thread of, as the Labour press release said “we know this works”. But do they? Do they really? There is evidence supporting the idea that increased access to porn reduces the incidence of rape, and there is evidence for the other view. It’s not conclusive: pretty much all studies have used internet access as a proxy for looking at porn, and none have tested whether there is any impact of actually blocking porn. Indeed, it looks like what the politicians want is to produce is a major social experiment of this hypothesis, with the added benefit of being able to decrease access to anything else they find unpleasant.
And it is all for the sake of that media-friendly quick fix. The quick fix desire, the obsession with doing something shit with instant results, is pervasive throughout all of the political spectrum. This measure will no doubt garner the support of some feminists, feminists who have lost site of the fact that we need so much more than to push the things we do not want to see out of sight.
Banning and blocking will not stop abuse from happening, it will just drive it underground, making it easier to perpetrate. At all ages, we need better education about consent. And, as I have said before, we need better porn, ingraining consent as a process inherent in sex. We need to be better at looking out for communities, of responding to abuse that happens, rather than hoping it goes on in places we do not look. We need to make sure employment rights of porn performers are protected until capitalist patriarchy falls entirely. We need to destroy rape culture and grind it to dust.
And that all sounds hard, too hard for a lot of feminists who have lost sight of how deep the rot goes, preferring such inadequate quick fixes mediated entirely by a state with a vested interest in restricting internet access.
But it is only the hard work that can ever end rape of people of all ages; only the hard work which will eventually keep all generations safe. I see the appeal of the quick fix clearly, but we must continue to think, criticise and act. It is not better to do something untested with potential harms. It is not safe to trust the state with this task.
It may sound cliched, my repeated demands for a complete revolution across all facets of society, but this is what we need to address the real problem of rape and abuse. Creating a climate where we cannot speak openly about it is dangerous: these are the conversations that need to happen. Unfortunately, silencing these discussions is one likely outcome of the proposed measures, and let us not forget that the this outcome would only benefit those who profit from rape culture.
Is the rape porn cultural harm argument another rape myth? (ObscenityLawyer) Exploration of the evidence base.
Family friendly content filters (Sometimes, it’s just a cigar) Pertinent questions
The proposed UK porn filter is a threat, not a safeguard (Dave I/O) Really detailed techie analysis of why the blocks won’t work, and what might happen.
Porn blocking – a survivor’s perspective (Milena Popova) Why a survivor thinks it’s a horrible idea.
Comment from Wokstation Exploring the technical issues of a porn block.