The world's media have been all agog with the birth of George, son of Britain's William and Kate. Less noted but perhaps more important to the world's children was Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron's, appeal for new efforts and options to filter obscenity online.
“The Internet is not a sideline to ‘real life’ or an escape from ‘real life’; it is real life,” Cameron said in a short speech. “It has an impact: on the children who view things that harm them, on the vile images of abuse that pollute minds and cause crime, on the very values that underpin our society.
“I have a very clear message for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest. You have a duty to act on this — and it is a moral duty." Huzzah Mr. Prime Minister!
Mountains of data and stories clearly show the damage and life-costs to both the producers and consumers of pornography. Pornography alters the brain and behavior, sours relationships and corrodes the foundations of families. When viewed by children, pornography steals innocence and introduces warped, degrading scenes of human intimacy that afflict minds and hearts that should be focused on developing imagination, not appetites for decadence.
Since his call to action, anti-censorship groups, porn purveyors and permissiveness apologists have predictably banded together to block online interventions. Allow me to take each in turn and show that their arguments against such provisions are as hollow as their craft:
"Not good for parenting." Opponents argue that requiring Internet service providers to offer parents an "opt-out" of automatic porn filtering technology, would disenfranchise parents in the rearing of children.
Response: This argument is just plain silly. Lightning fast search, mobile devices and streaming devices present unprecedented challenges to parents seeking a wholesome environment for their children. Faced with the daunting task of monitoring children, do opponents believe parents seek fewer tools and protections for their children?
Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Google TV give parents "opt-out" controls to govern access to entertainment they deem appropriate in their home. Do opponents to the "opt-out" measure believe these services did so on a whim, without parental demand?
No, such a service puts the power of parenting in the hands of the parents, not those seeking to groom their children as new users of their trade.
"Real bad guys will circumvent filters." Anti-censorship folks also claim it will not get the real bad guys, as they'll find a way around it with peer-to-peer systems and proxy servers.
Response: While that may be true, it doesn't follow that our children are those expert users eager and able to produce and find the filth. The point is not to make it harder for the bad guys to get access to what they want — it is to protect the good in our children.
Furthermore, society regularly chooses to create safety zones in the hopes of protecting children. For example, adult oriented stores and clubs, sex offenders and illegal substances cannot be within a certain radius of children. We also aggressively limit distribution of tobacco and alcohol to minors because they do physical harm.
Knowing the addictive behavior of pornography, the degradation of human intimacy and humanity, and the rise of STDs, protecting the minds and souls of our children should be seen as a hallmark of a civil, just society.
"It's too hard and will be imperfect." Some claim that implementation of filters will be too difficult or imprecise and will penalize legitimate sites.
Response: Of course there will be complications. Google and YouTube constantly go after those who violate their search and advertising policies by blacklisting certain websites from search results and removing YouTube channels signaled as inappropriate. In the era of big data and crowdsourcing this concern is less and less valid.
"This is censorship." Proponents of public permissiveness love to warn about the threats and evils of censorship, claiming that any action to limit free expression introduces the problems of a "slippery slope."
Response: I am no fan of government intervention. But I also find it comical to hear those on the bottom of the moral slope warning others of slipperiness! This is no slippery slope issue but one with plenty of precedence. It is simply an effort to categorize, inform and provide explicit choice about explicit material.
Opponents skulk behind protections of free speech. While their claims may have hold in the production of pornography, it gives them no protection for distribution or purveyance in the public square. Our schools and homes increasingly depend on the Internet as a public venue for education, commerce and communication..
I applaud Cameron for taking the lead to do what is morally responsible in the face of that which is morally reprehensible. We should do likewise.
Matthew studied economics at Brigham Young University and business and government at Harvard University. He is a GM at Deseret Digital Media where he oversees Deseret Connect and Deseret News Service. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @Sanders_Matt or subscribe to the Reframing the Debate email feed.