Should You Have To Opt In for Internet Porn?

dcLast week, UK prime minister David Cameron announced the introduction of an opt-in filter for online pornography on all British Internet providers. Currently the UK has an opt-out system, meaning that people must make an active effort to install a filter on their Internet to block pornographic content in their households. With the new system, the process is reversed.

Predictably, this has sparked much debate across the pond, which, considering the fact that 99.9 percent of British men have viewed online pornography, is probably a conversation that we ought to be having. One concern is that David Cameron is one blocked website away from full-on censorship. There are rumors that Chinese telecom company Huawei will be involved in the ISP filtering, conjuring up images of draconian oppression and fear of Chinese government involvement.

But, of course, the ban on Internet pornography is not a proposal for censorship. It’s a chance to choose what you view rather than having it forced upon you in the way that Page 3 of the Sun and lads’ mags are stoically displayed in the UK. It’s also a chance for people to take responsibility for their consumption.

Censorship fears aside, another concern is that filtering online content is simply not going to work. Internet blocks are easy dealings for today’s tech-savvy teens, and are potentially harder to control on mobile devices. A lot of pornography exists in the dark depths of the Internet, in places that Google and TalkTalk cannot reach. A general pornographic content filter has the potential of blocking sites that provide educational sexual information, or promote insightful discussions on the topic of pornography. Feminist blog Another angry woman has already faced blocking difficulties on content that merely discussed Cameron’s proposal.

David Cameron may have been optimistic to think that he could be a wizard of the Internet, but neither is he the Lord Voldemort of free expression. He has opened a much-needed debate about pornography’s role in contemporary society. Maybe Cameron can’t block the “sick” people searching for child porn and such, and hopefully the filters won’t be programmed to block out educational information, but he can make us reconsider imagery that has become so normalized in our society. And that is no bad thing.

Photo of David Cameron by The Prime Minister’s Office under license from Creative Commons 2.0

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About

Natasha Turner is a freelance journalist and editor based in London and a former Ms. editorial intern.