UK porn law good compromise, but deeply flawed

3962254497On the tip of it, the UK internet pornography law seems quite reasonable. Search results will automatically exclude adult content, but households can choose to opt out at their discretion.

It is designed to allow people who want porn opt out of blocking adult websites, while ensuring that parents can prevent their children from accessing it illegally. Some content, such as erotica and sexual therapy won’t be censored at all. Other content, including depictions of rape or child pornography, are censored outright, regardless of opting in or out. While the usual fights between social conservatives and civil liberties groups break out, it’s important to look at the details for guidance.

At the base of the issue, there is a conflict between people’s rights to post and access content freely and the rights of the government to uphold common values in a society. The government is choosing to give parents the tools to make sure their children are not watching porn. They are also giving consenting adults the freedom to access boatloads of porn if they choose to. It seems as if everyone here is happy (other than those in the child porn industry, who are hopefully in prison.)

There are three major concerns which make me tentative in supporting this policy as something the United States should adopt. One is the fact that the censorship involved often extends to more than just pornography. Things ranging from eating disorders, violence, suicide and drugs sites can be censored by default. While none of these things are fantastic for children, there is a lot of merit in things that are related to violence or drugs. One of the best things about the internet is its ability to freely access large and diverse swaths of content, even if it is offensive. It would be a shame to censor anything that doesn’t need to be censored.

The second concern is the lack of transparency regarding who will set the bans. If we don’t know who does the banning it’s very hard to make sure they are no conflicts of interest. If a regulator sits on the board of a media company and a competitor happens to get a ban for content that isn’t all that offensive, there should be consequences. The general things that are being banned are under such broad labels that misconduct could be easily and quietly carried out, denying households and content providers access to each other in ways the law didn’t intend.

Another concern is the ban on porn that shows consenting actors engaging in simulated rape. In principle, so long as the people creating the content are legal consenting adults and the viewers are legal consenting adults, the government has no business getting in the way of it. While some may think that it is gruesome nonconsent/reluctance is a popular fetish, it’s undeniably better to explore and deal with this kind of fetish in front of a computer screen then out in the real world.

Furthermore, there are profound, artistic and meaningful depictions of rape that have artistic merit. Taking the rape out of “Lovely Bones” would be like taking the violence out of “Fight Club.” It would degrade the emotional impact of the story. “Lovely Bones” and things like it should not be censored.

Aside from these issues, the law is taking a step at protecting the innocence of children. While teens should be able to seek out sexual education and deal with the cocktail of hormones that come with puberty, younger children shouldn’t be exposed to it. Laws rarely strike a balance between protecting the autonomy of adults and the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens against social harms. While flawed, this law at least approaches the right idea. It is important to continue to allow adults to penetrate these blocks, and that, at its base, is a solid part of any such law.

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