This Is What Happens When You Let the Daily Mail Set Your Policy Agenda

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 19 2013 1:34 PM

The U.K.'s Porn Filters Are Blocking Sex-Ed Sites, Domestic-Abuse Hotlines

Of pornography, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once claimed, “I know it when I see it.” The same, it seems, cannot be said for the automated pornography filters that the U.K. government has required the country’s major Internet providers to install on everyone’s broadband service.

An investigation by the BBC finds that the filters—part of conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s “war on porn”—are failing to block some major porn sites. Worse, they are blocking important educational sites, including an award-winning, youth-focused sex-education site called BishUK.com.  Also blocked as “pornographic” by British ISP TalkTalk’s porn filter are sites like the homepage for the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Center. Meanwhile, TalkTalk failed to block 7 percent of the 68 major porn sites tested by reporters for BBC’s Newsnight.

A typical article in the online version of the Daily Mail, the U.K. newspaper credited with spurring the government to crack down on Internet porn sites.
A typical article in the online version of the Daily Mail, the U.K. newspaper credited with spurring the government to crack down on Internet porn sites.

Screenshot / Mail Online

Another ISP, Sky, succeeded in blocking 99 percent of the actual porn sites tested, but also blocked porn-addiction sites—which seems a little counterproductive, no? A third provider, BT, blocked online domestic-abuse resource centers.

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At the same time, parents’ groups are complaining that the porn filters are problematic even when they work. That’s because they imply to parents that children can be kept safe on the Web simply by activating certain filters, rather than by actually talking to them about the risks associated with various online behaviors.

This is, of course, what happens when you take your domestic-policy agenda from the Daily Mail, whose anti-child-porn campaign was widely credited with spurring Cameron to action. No doubt this is all working quite well for the Mail, however, which in addition being a righteous crusader against pornography is one of the Web’s leading purveyors of wardrobe malfunctions and sideboob.

Previously in Slate:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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