Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Porn Blocks and Other Nonsense

Yesterday, MP Joy Smith popped up suggesting that Canada should follow the UK in creating a general block on internet pornography.

Per se, this isn't a new or interesting move.  In the greater picture of things, it appears to be far more likely that it is in fact an attempt to distract Canadians from Harper's failings which have become increasingly apparent of late.

On the other side of the coin, it is also a piece of red meat being thrown to his base.  Just as they desperately want to regulate women's sexuality, these same groups also tend to be opposed to pornography.  

Blanket blocks on pornography on the internet is like using a sieve to repair a hole in a dam.  

First, just what is the definition of the content that would be filtered out?  It's easy to imagine what material is pornography, but it's much more difficult to turn that into something that can be filtered by an automated system.

Let us assume that we have a computer system available to us which can identify nudity in images.  How do we differentiate between the nudity of a great piece of classical artwork and a playboy centerfold type of picture?  Is there in fact a difference?  What a commercial sites that sell sex toys?  Are they to be deemed "pornographic"?  

Or, come to that, how does one differentiate between a novel with a sex scene and a pornographic story?  Where does the line exist between "legitimate" art (as the anti-pornographers see it) and porn lie?  ... and is there any meaningful way to differentiate that a blocking system could identify?

Then there is always the old standby of keyword blocks.  The problem with this is that such models tend to end up cutting off access to legitimate sites simply because they have certain keywords in their site.  This is a particularly significant concern for those who publish content for the LGBT community to access.  All too often the decision makers who set such things up include a lot of keywords that are related to LGBT people simply because of the intersection of those topics with sexuality - regardless of whether the content is in fact pornographic or not.

Come to that, would this blog itself be blocked because the subjects of gender and sexuality are regularly discussed here and would show up as keywords in a walk of the site's archives?  

The argument that people like Ms. Smith make is often one rooted in the notion of protecting children.  My feeling is that protecting children is a parental responsibility.  It is up to parents to make sure that their children are consuming age-appropriate content - plain and simple.  Even if it were possible to block pornography (and I believe that to be something of a fool's errand), there is much more content on the internet which is far, far worse than pornography.  Considering that rumour has it that there are videos out there of russian roulette being played - with the inevitable consequences of it, I would be far more concerned about children seeing that than I would a few nude pictures.  

Does the state have the right to limit the content I can access on the internet?  Arguably, they do have such a right - especially where the content can be identified as being harmful to others.  Examples that come to mind include hate propaganda, child pornography and material which involves non-consensual exploitation of others in its creation.  We already have laws related to these issues, and frankly if there is a problem today it is the complexity of enforcing them.  I have no problem with law enforcement having reasonable access to the facilities which would enable them to catch the criminals who make that content, and I see little to be gained from sweeping blocks of "inappropriate" material.  

One other point, the notion of "decent" and "indecent" content changes over time.  There is content on TV today that never would have gotten the nod when I was a child, and yet few people blink at that material today.  The humour on shows like Southpark or Drawn Together is, to say the least, ribald.  Sometimes even downright crude.  Yet, the fact that nobody really gets bent out of shape by it today is a sign as to how much things have changed in a short time.  The lines of what content should be blocked will change over time as well.

As an adult, what I consume content-wise is my own business (as long as it doesn't break the law), and further it is my responsibility to filter out content that I consider inappropriate.  Installing automated blocking solutions as has been proposed seems both impractical, but also ultimately an unreasonable limitation on legitimate rights and freedoms.

As a taxpayer, I consider such blocks a waste of money.  I do not believe that the cost of such a program is going to be justified by whatever unmeasurable benefit it might produce.

[Update 26/7/13]
Go, read:

http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/mercedes-allen/2013/07/porn-opt-ins-soft-censorship-and-buttbuttinating-personal-resp
[/Update]

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