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


  1. anon
    5th September 2012

    Promoting a false sense of security is so common these days with regard to child protection. With CRB checks parents and others are lulled into a false sense of security when actually a CRB check does nothing more than check whether the person has a conviction listed on the databases being checked at that moment in time – this does not stop those who are committing offences but have not been caught – so parents must not stop been vigilant simply because someone has had a CRB check.

    Here we have the same principle – flick a swtich, monitor everything we do online, treat us all like criminals and some parents will wrongly believe this somehow makes their kids secure – it doesn’t. No amount of government surveillance of the majority of the population will replace parenting and personal attitudes towards safety but it will give them even more information on everything we do and share with family and others.

    What is that they say, be careful what you ask for!

  2. Claire Perry’s Porno Problem - Guy Fawkes' blog
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  3. Chris Puttick
    5th September 2012

    If you want a serious debate, I’ve got a different (and very biased) perspective on the best way forward. But it’d be a good debate :)

  4. Richard Baron
    5th September 2012

    Even if the statistic from the magazine were respectable (which it is not), one would have to ask how “sexual images” was defined. Plenty of 14 to 16 year olds would need the guidance of the researcher on what was meant by these words, and that guidance would be a massive potential source of bias.

    Moreover, can people aged 14 to 16 remember exactly what they saw on the Internet several years earlier, or if they can remember, whether they saw it before or after age 10?

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