Not that porn-blocking bollocks again

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.

Further reading

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.


9 responses to “Not that porn-blocking bollocks again

  • Wokstation (@WokStation)

    There’s also the technical issues. From what I have read, the ISP-level filtering is to be done using the ISP’s DNS server (it’s a server that turns a url such as google.com into a machine-friendly IP address). Basically the ISP DNS will refuse to return an IP address, causing the connection to fail.

    But many people don’t use their ISP’s DNS server, but a 3rd party one instead (for example, OpenDNS.). I don’t use mine, because it’s flaky.

    I suppose they could block the IP addresses at the firewall, but that’s not what I understand to be the plan.

    Then there’s the whole matter of Darknet, or simply using a Virtual Private Network to make it appear to the internet that you are somewhere else.

    This proposal in a way amounts to “damage” of the internet, in that it blocks a flow of data. One thing the internet is extremely good at is almost-organically working around such damage; just as if a major Node was brought down, the internet will flow around it, so will it past any such block.

    Don’t believe me? Check out the Great Firewall of China.

  • Jo

    When I read things like:

    “those who profit from rape culture”

    I can’t helping but think of when we all ridiculed Nadine Dorries for banging on about the “those who profit from abortion industry”

    Which is a shame, because final paragraph aside, your post is bang on.

  • James Oliver Bulls (@54_NoG)

    This is dodgy ten ways to Sunday. All issues of victim vs power feminism aside – and the children! Don’t forget about the poor children! – I don’t know how folks in the UK can believe their government when it says they’ll only use this filter for pornography. If you ask me, it sounds like another way for the government to increase the powers of their Big Brother / Nanny state.

    If and when this legislation passes, I’d be very curious what else they include in the bill. If we look at this from a feminist perspective and a woman’s right to participate in pornography, it could be considered part of the larger war against a woman’s right to own her self and her decisions. Just a few weeks ago, North Carolina legislators quietly added anti-abortion legislation to an unrelated motorcycle-safety bill that they pushed through on a Friday afternoon without any discussion. Depending on how you look at things, it paints a larger picture indeed.

  • Alice Leiper

    I agree entirely. It looks like just another example of the government trying to legislate for something they do not understand, without seeking advice and opinions from a broad spectrum of affected groups and individuals, but rather coming up with something that seems like a good idea, asking one or two people who will agree with them, and going ahead with it.

    I also bristle at the nannying – parents aren’t responsible enough to monitor their children properly, apparently (okay, some aren’t, but a better approach would be teaching parents about the internet and how to apply blocks, not applying automatic blocks and leaving people to opt out.) Plus the privacy issues – those of us who will opt out will have our names on a list somewhere, by necessity to manage the system. How long before that comes up in a CRB check?

  • Mel

    Im just starting to look into this and have read some articles on the measure themselfs and your blog here. Was just confused to the feminist aspect you refure to as I haven’t read that part of it anywhere else, please could you clear that up for me. Thank you🙂

  • Nile

    This is a dog-whistle campaign directed at the over-sixties and the Daily Mail readers – core voters, and it’ll make them feel empowered and righteous.

    Darling Dave’s problem is that he doesn’t quite get the bit about ‘dog-whistle’ politics: only the dog is supposed to hear it – ‘it’ being whatever racism or exploitation has been wrapped up in the special words that make core supporters salivate or sit up and beg, and the rest of us don’t notice.

    And the rest of us do consume a lot of porn, and a lot of sites – like your blog – that are censored under the figleaf of shielding children from ‘adult concepts’.

    We just don’t talk about that, and never, ever admit it in opinion polls. And no-one, except the ISPs and the NSA, know how many of us there really are. Let alone how many votes this will cost the Conservatives.

    My advice? Do this, verbally and virally: tell people outside your socialist social bubble tha site X – a site about something they needed to know, like MPs income, or legal aid, or wheelchair repairs, or their boss paying no tax – is censored for ‘being porn’. Give them a figleaf of no-it’s-not-porn-I’m-after and tell them who to vote for, as if there was an opposition party who were quietly doing sometimes to block it.

  • madamedelad

    Reblogged this on Margarita's Message and commented:
    Stavvers speaking on the porn-blocking situation

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