How Will the ‘Porn Block’ Work?

Posted: July 10, 2019 | Safer Schools No Comments

We all want to live in a world where our children and young people are protected from harmful content online. It’s encouraging to hear topics in the news recently such as ‘Porn Block’, ‘Age Verification’ or ‘Age Restrictions’. These sound great in theory but are they realistic or simply sound bites?

What is the Proposal?

The UK Government is set to introduce plans for a new ‘porn block’ in early 2020, proposing the introduction of an Age Verification (AV) system.

The proposal means UK internet users would see a static age verification page or prompt, asking them to verify their age to access adult content. This may involve having to upload identity documents, use credit cards or buy ‘age passes’ to prove they’re an adult.

Why do we need it?

According to Pornhub (2018) UK adults are the 2nd largest consumer of pornography after the United States.

As the global adult porn industry continues to bank billions of dollars every year, Pornhub remains the 16th most visited site in the UK with an average of 92 million hits every day (Alexa Internet Rank, 2019).

The problem is that pornography and adult content aren’t just confined to dedicated 18+ sites online. Instead it has become widespread on social media platforms.

In 2013, TechCrunch reported that 11.4% of blogs on Tumblr were reported to contain adult content- despite users only having to be at least 13 years old to use the platform.

In December 2018 following disputes about the increasing amount of sexualised imagery on its platform, Tumblr banned all adult content. Twitter has also come under the spotlight for having easily searchable and accessible adult content on its platform.

The use of ‘snapchat premium’ is also of concern for policy makers, parents and other safeguarding professionals.  Premium Snapchat is when a user creates a private account where they share adult photos/videos of themselves in return for payment. Under these circumstances, it’s not hard to imagine that around 50% of 11-16-year olds have reported being exposed to online pornography (UKSIC, 2016; Children’s Commissioner 2017).

Easy access to explicit material is of significant concern for all who care for, support and work with young people. It can distress younger children and can have detrimental impacts on young people and their relationships.

In 2017, The Children’s Commissioner reported that 5 out of 10 boys and 4 out of 10 girls thought that porn was realistic. With almost half of young people feeling as though porn is real, there is no doubt that this can impact their emotional, social and physical development.

Young people may experience self-esteem issues, unrealistic body expectations, feelings of inadequacy and desensitisation from over exposure to pornography.

Despite these impacts, around 30% of parents think the block won’t work because children will get around age verification requirements (Internet Matters, 2019).

Will it Work?

Very few would disagree with a move to restrict access to pornography for children and young people.

Yet, no system is likely to be perfect and age verification has faced major criticism for its anticipated ‘unintended consequences’ as well as the wider implications it’s likely to have on privacy and freedom of speech.

Concerns about age verification have been highlighted by the government itself, with their own impact assessment stating:

“Adults (and some children) may be pushed towards using ToR (dark web) and related systems to avoid AV (age verification) where they could be exposed to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with.”

(UK Government Impact Assessment on Age Verification, 2018)

 

Does this mean that Age Verification could be counterproductive?

Blocking access to adult content does not decrease the demand or behaviours that drive some young people to access it. Verification could be ineffective because explicit content is not just available on dedicated websites like Pornhub, but on social media platforms used by children and young people.

Age verification will of course make it harder to access porn on mainstream websites, but it fails to consider that children and young people will still be at risk of exposure to explicit content through peer to peer sharing, and on popular social media platforms or other so called ‘tube sites’.

The Dept. for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport stated that legislation will focus on pornographic websites, rather than social media platforms where explicit content ‘is only a small part of the overall content’ (DDCMS, 2019).

Most importantly, users will be able to bypass the UK age verification restrictions in seconds using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to mask their location.

You should know that VPN Apps have legitimate security features and may also be used to access streaming content in other countries, their use alone is not an indicator a young person is accessing pornography.

If you aren’t familiar with VPNs, visit an App store to help you understand their purpose, and how to recognise if a young person is using one.

In summary, even though the block may make it harder for a young novice user to access porn, it is unlikely to solve the problem entirely. The battle to keep our children safe online must continue beyond Age Verification.

What WILL work?

It’s hard to envision a flawless system that adequately restricts young people’s access to adult content. However, by installing parental controls and content filters across all the devices our children use, we can reduce the likelihood that they will stumble across inappropriate content online.

We need to better understand the impact porn can have on young people and have honest, age appropriate conversations to empower them to be safer online.

Age verification is a chance for us as parents, teachers and safeguarding professionals to recognise that we need to work together to educate and empower young people to understand the impact porn can have on their wellbeing and relationships.

But crucially, only by being honest and informed ourselves can we truly protect young people online.

Tips for Talking to Young People about Pornography:

 

    • Talking to children in your care about any difficult subject can be challenging, choosing the right moment and placing the issue in the wider context of talking about ‘the facts of life’ can make it easier for all involved. Check out our video on ‘talking to your child about online risks’ here.

     

    • Explain to your child why pornography can be damaging. You might want to mention unrealistic portrayals of body image, its impact on relationships including desensitisation, and the unrealistic or staged depictions of sex- simply stating that it’s wrong may encourage feelings of shame.

     

    • If your child is searching for inappropriate content online, they may be curious about the body or sex (this is natural). You can use this opportunity to have an age-appropriate conversation with them, giving them a chance to ask any questions they may have on ‘the facts of life’.

     

    • Talk about what they can do if they stumble across something that upsets them online. This could include turning off the computer and coming to talk to you or someone they trust.

     

    • For younger children, you might want to make sure that should use parental blocks and safe search filters to reduce the chances of them coming across explicit material. This will also give you some confidence knowing that it will be less likely for them to stumble across inappropriate content online. If you have access to the Safer Schools App, within the ‘Need to Know’ section, visit the ‘Home Safe’ and ‘Device Safe’ pages to find out more.

If your child needs support, you can tell them about Childline.

If you need some support you can contact Family Lives.

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