At times the campaign to prevent internet filters has bordered on the surreal, such as when the Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz said, ‘no one should be panicking – but why should there not be a moral panic?’ Or the time when Helen Goodman MP thought parents weren’t capable of switching in filters themselves because, ‘the minute you talk about downloading software, my brain goes bzzzz’. And who can forget Claire Perry MP dismissing overblocking as, ‘a load of cock’?
Against this background of moral outrage and technological incompetence, ORG has been trying to make people aware that filters don’t work, are dangerous for internet freedom and could give parents a false sense of security when it comes to their children’s use of the internet.
But now it looks like Claire Perry has won. Every major internet service provider in the UK is promoting filters that block websites containing material that isn’t appropriate for children. This means that your internet service provider gets to decide what you can or can’t see online, regardless of how old you are.
No laws were passed for this to happen. There was no debate in parliament, just a series of closed meetings, following a report by Claire Perry MP. A report that was sponsored by Christian charity Safermedia and radio broadcaster Premier Christian Media.
This has been done in the name of keeping children safe from pornography, although the filters include a whole load of other categories, including web forums, alcohol, smoking, suicide and anorexia. No one knows exactly which sites are on the list. Recently, the government asked to add secret extremist website lists to the blacklist as well so we can only expect that this list will grow and grow. Then there’s the problem that a whole load of sites get blocked by mistake - from churches (they mention wine!) to political blogs that have been miscategorised as hate speech. And a lot of sites that children should have access to - such as sites on sexual health - are also blocked. Once your website is on a blocked list, there’s no easy way to get off it.
Let’s be honest, no one wants their kids seeing porn or stuff that might upset them but David Cameron’s suggestion of, "one click to protect your whole home and keep your children safe," is deeply irresponsible. It may come as a surprise to Cameron but parents might need to act like grown ups when it comes to adult content. Talking about porn, extremism or self-harming sites might not come naturally to most of us. But we have a responsibility to equip our children with the skills they need to navigate their way in the digital world - just as we do in the non-digital world. Filters don’t do that.
If parents want to switch on filters, that is their choice. But it should be an informed choice and there are alternatives to blanket filters, such as device-level filters, which are more effective.
If parents don’t want filters, they shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed or that they are failing as a parent because they’ve decided to take responsibility for how their kids use the internet. If you don’t have kids, then there is absolutely no reason you should feel pressurised into switching them on. Filters are harmful for people who are browsing for information about domestic violence, safe sex or drugs health but they are not going to stop a tech-savvy teenager who is determined to find adult content.
If it turns out the public don’t want filters to censor what they see online, then politicians will start asking for blocks that are even harder to switch off. They will continue to claim that filters can solve every social ill. We have to discredit this ridiculous idea. We don’t have to put up with censorship just to make their lives easier.
To get this message across we want to produce a high-quality, funny film that will re-start the debate about why filters are a bad idea. It will cost us £12,000 to get this campaign off the ground.
We have launched a campaign on Indiegogo to help raise the money we need and we have less than four weeks to raise it.
Update: In a couple of instances, the word default was used in this article. They have now been removed. April, 29th, 2014.