A serious debate about child protection

Yesterday I was a guest on Radio 4’s PM Programme debating a new petition to be handed in to Government on Thursday calling for a ‘default block’ on internet browsing.

One of the key statistics relied upon by the campaign  is that “1 in 3 10 year olds have seen pornography online “. They do recognise it was published in Psychologies Magazine in 2010, but the appearance is given that this is a serious statistic.  It’s also used in their ‘Key Facts’ briefing.

When you dig a little deeper however, that definitely isn’t the case. The full section in the magazine reads:

“We’ve had plenty of letters from concerned readers on this very topic, and when we decided to canvass the views of 14- to 16-year-olds at a north London secondary school, the results took us by surprise.

• Almost one-third first looked at sexual images online when they were aged 10 or younger.”

So, the statistic – used to introduce the PM segment and at the heart of the petition’s press release – is based on one magazine’s anecdotal research at a single school.

The groups behind the petition highlight how this debate has gone far beyond one of child protection and has sadly become a moral crusade. Hardly surprising that in the past those connected have campaigned against the BBC’s decision to broadcast The Jerry Springer opera, accused the X Factor of being soft core porn and promote work by the Witherspoon Institute, which has an equally morally-tinted approach to ‘research’.

As we’ve warned before, the only way you can expect to adopt the network level filtering being called for is to monitor everything everyone does online. So when the one of the campaign’s leading figures, Miranda Suit, praised China’s approach to internet governance you can understand why we think that it’s right to question the motives of those calling for a default block.

Two independent, comprehensive Government studies have shown that default blocking gives parents a false sense of security, while failing to significantly reduce access to content. Both reports – the Bailey Review and the Byron Review – said that prompting people to choose what happens is the best solution. The Government gave industry  until October 2012 to implement Active Choice, and we think that the best way to proceed is to look at the actual evidence of whether that works, rather than try scare the public with hokey stats that are a thinly veiled cover for a moral judgement being imposed on society by a minority.


120904 Nick PM Internet Control by Big Brother Watch